The Arts Shine in Downtown Sanford

“Sanford Spinners” honors the local baseball team and pitcher Howard Auman, who led the Spinners to the Tobacco State League championship in 1946.

It all started with ugly walls downtown.

Well, eliminating ugly walls downtown, that is.

In 2015, Liz Whitmore, a historic preservation planner for the city of Sanford proposed ideas for a series of murals and public art projects that would “polish a lump of coal into a diamond.”

“Fairview Dairy” graces the side of Yarborough’s Homemade Ice Cream & Grill.

The goal was to “recognize historical figures and events that may have been forgotten,” Whitmore says, and in the meantime, turn those ugly brick walls into a dynamic destination.

When You Go

Along with the Otocast app tour, a printable map of the mural trail is available to download from the city’s website.

The first building-sized mural to be completed highlights the Sanford Spinners, a baseball team in the Tobacco State League, which played during the late 1940s. Pitcher Howard Auman led the Spinners to their first league championship in 1946 and is memorialized on the mural pitching directly at onlookers. Completed in May 2015 on the edge of downtown Sanford, this mural paved the path for two more to come that same year.

In the next five years, 12 murals would be completed — all, except two, in the downtown area. The remaining are in nearby Jonesboro. More than $300,000 has been raised to fund the project, the majority through private donations and sponsors.

“Silent Wings” honors three glider pilots who served during World War II.

“It’s a town of 30,000 people,” Whitmore said. “Never did I dream the project would be so well received.”

“What sets us apart is all the murals tell the story in some way about the town or county. There is a historical foundation behind all of them,” said Kelli Laudate, executive director of Downtown Sanford Inc. “There is a lot of town pride and ownership here.”

“Off to War” is a tribute to the area’s current and former armed forces members.

The murals also serve as an educational opportunity to teach new residents and young people about the area’s history in a vibrant way.

North Carolina muralists Chris Dalton and Scott Nurkin have been the artistic drivers of the murals, completing all 12 between the two of them.

The area’s agricultural heritage is remembered in “Tobacco History.”

“So many people stop and visit while I’m painting. They’ll bring me lemonade in the summer,” said Dalton. “It’s been an honor, honestly, to be a part of it because everyone has been so supportive.”

Many of her concepts have three-dimensional elements incorporated into the design, like cow heads on the Fairview Dairy mural and a spinning wheel on “Bringing the Arts Together” interactive mural.

Other downtown highlights include “Wings,” a popular
spot for Instagram photos.

“I like it when the kids go crazy,” said Dalton, a 10-year resident of Sanford. “Whatever makes them happy and teaches them about art.”

Before painting begins, the artist submits a scale replica to be approved by Sanford’s Appearance Commission, which Whitmore heads. The replicas are then raffled off at the completed mural’s dedication ceremony as a keepsake for the community.

The “Before I die” interactive wall invites passersby to add their hopes.

“We have special dedication ceremonies,” said Whitmore, as one of the ways to boost excitement in the public. “We had vintage planes fly over at the first one. It’s really wonderful.

Despite impressive progress, she isn’t finished adorning Sanford. Additional murals are planned, as well as more interactive art, namely street pianos painted by local artists for the public to play on.

The Railroad House Museum is near downtown Sanford.

“I have a list of things we would like to have done, many of them reflecting history and heritage — who we are and where we are going,” Whitmore said.

“There is so much more we want to do … rich history that we haven’t even tapped.” Visitors can access a special guided tour of the mural trail by downloading the free app, Otocast, which hosts a GPS-activated audio narration that details each mural’s history and contains behind-the-scenes progress photos and directions for locating the art.

The Otocast tour includes all the city’s public art, including sculptures and interactive displays. Two of the most popular attractions are located on Charlie Watson Lane, a pedestrian alley off of Steele Street. The “Before I die” wall allows observers to chalk in their goals and dreams. Nearby, the vibrant “Wings” mural, containing 15-foot high butterfly wings and three-dimensional mini butterflies, has become an iconic spot for photos.

Families can also participate in a train scavenger hunt to locate 12 miniature replicas of Sanford’s No. 12 Locomotive Engine, which is proudly displayed in Depot Park. Pick up a scavenger-hunt passport at the Visitor’s Center (or download a digital version) to record your findings, then turn in for a prize when completed.

Also in Depot Park is the historic Railroad House Museum, a beautifully-restored building, regarded as the oldest home in Sanford. The museum’s collection includes fossils and artifacts spanning millions of years of history.

All of these attractions are located in the downtown district, an easily walkable handful of blocks. As you meander the mural trail, be sure to pop into boutiques and dining destinations.

Pizza at La Dolce Vita Pizzeria or barbecue at Smoke & Barrel might precede a cold treat at longtime Sanford favorite, Yarborough’s Homemade Ice Cream & Grill. Or opt for sweets and sips on Wicker Street with donuts at Sandra’s Bakery and craft beer at nearby Hugger Mugger Brewing Company.

Along the mural trail, consider these additional Sanford stops, all without leaving downtown.

Shopping Stops

Sanford Antique Mall
Owned and operated by John Bane and Jenks Youngblood, the huge antiques mall features a whopping 75 dealer spaces within 18,000 square feet.
118 S Moore St., Sanford
(919) 775-1969

Shops of Steele Street
The emporium offers jewelry, clothing, books, Gund, household wares, handmade children’s and doll clothes, and unique boutique items.
102 S. Steele St., Suite 101, Sanford
(919) 777-6959

Southern Charm on Wicker
Shop selling handmade goods from vendors all across Lee & Chatham counties.
218 Wicker St., Sanford
(919) 584-7559

High Cotton Couture
Boutique featuring on-trend women’s clothing and accessories.
115 S. Steele St. Sanford
(919) 292-2686

Downtown Restaurants

Smoke & Barrel
120 S. Steele St., Sanford
(919) 292-1374

La Dolce Vita Pizzeria
226 Carthage St., Sanford
(919) 777-5277

Hugger Mugger Brewing Company
229 Wicker St., Sanford

Hugger Mugger Brewing Company bartender Drew Lyerly

Yarborough’s Homemade Ice Cream
132 McIver St., Sanford
(919) 776-6266

Double cheeseburger from Yarborough’s Homemade Ice Cream and Grill.

Sandra’s Bakery
225 Wicker St., Sanford
(919) 775-1467

1 Comment

  • Steve says:

    I sort of grew up in Sanford in the 60’s and 70’s and when i left for college in Chapel Hill i only went back to visit my parents until they passed in 2000 and 2013. i do remember going to Yarborough’s ice cream back then as my dad loved the black cherry. I am surprised that it is still there. There was not much to do in town back then and good to see how it has grown. I remember the Rose’s store on main which sold hot dogs downstairs, and a few other things to do but not much. Your story may prompt me to take a trip back down there sometime to just look around and checkout the old homeplace.

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