Sebring – Little Town, Big Business
Built around the shores of beautiful Lake Jackson, the focus of the city centers on Circle Park in downtown, a favorite and traditional location for many events and activities throughout the year. The city has a pedestrian and bicycle path around Lake Jackson, providing over 12 miles of safe walking and riding while enjoying the lakefront. Here in the center of the Sunshine State, you’ll find crystal clear lakes for fishing, boating, skiing and sailing, and more than a dozen golf courses. Our small town makes this a relaxing country getaway – and our central location provides easy access to Florida’s best attractions without the hustle and high prices of the major tourist areas. It’s the best of both worlds – within two hours of most major attractions yet removed enough for that get-away-from-it-all feeling.
Known as “The City on the Circle,” Sebring, Florida extends the same warm welcome it has since it was founded in 1911 by George Sebring. This pioneer conceived a unique circular plan as a focal point for this entire lakeside community. His idea was that all roads should lead to and from the center of the community, and despite many modern highway improvements since, thus it remains today. The community experienced a boom era in the 1920’s as a result of its founder’s plans.
Investors, railroads, real estate entrepreneurs, northern bankers and others were intrigued by the layout of this community and saw it as a potential economic bonanza. The development of cattle ranches and citrus groves contributed to the creation of new empires, all complemented by connections to other cities throughout the nation by Seaboard Air Line Railroad’s Orange Blossom Special.
By the mid-twenties the population had grown nearly fourfold and much of the early development had reached its peak. The “City on the Circle” had developed into a business Mecca and the demand for housing outstripped developers’ ability to construct. Biltmore interests financed the $30 million dollar development of Harder Hall, a major resort complex complete with its own golf course and home sites. This historic structure is due to undergo a total renovation and expansion in the next few years.
By the late twenties an end to the boom was caused by fraudulent land sales, railroad embargoes and clogged shipyards. Following the “Crash of ‘29,” the area’s economy was given a huge boost by the development of Highlands Hammock State Park, a Civilian Conservation Corps project, and the establishment of Hendricks Field, a WW-II bomber training base, by the US Army Air Force.
One of Florida´s oldest parks, opening to the public in 1931, this park was established when local citizens came together to promote the hammock as a candidate for national park status. During the Great Depression, just prior to World War II, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) developed additional park facilities and the beginnings of a botanical garden. Many visitors enjoy bicycling the scenic 3-mile loop drive or hiking along the park´s nine trails. An elevated boardwalk traverses an old-growth cypress swamp. For equestrians, there is an 11-mile, day-use trail. Picnicking is another popular activity as are ranger-guided tours of the park. Highlands Hammock offers a full-facility campground, as well as a youth/group tent campground.
Today, the Sebring Regional Airport is on that site of Hendricks Field. It is quite common for the Chamber of Commerce to meet visitors who served as U.S. Army Air Force Cadets in training at Hendricks Field and whom return many years later with wives and family members to show them where they learned to fly and maintain military aircraft. Because some of the wives were local Sebring girls, the lives of these families and the history of the airport will forever be intertwined.
Area pride and excitement was revived in the 50’s when annual international sports car racing began at the airport, using excess runways. The world renowned “12 Hours of Sebring” was born at the airport and continues today as the oldest road race of its kind in North America. Well over 100,000 people from all over the world attend this annual event.
Like many downtown areas across America, downtown Sebring suffered a slump in the 70’s that began to correct itself in the 80’s. Downtown Sebring, which was chartered in 1913, has been designated a 1920’s Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
Archival records claim that George Sebring’s “Circle Plan” for downtown was based on the design of Heliopolis, an ancient Egyptian city. Looking to the future, the Sebring City Council, through special legislation, created the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to spearhead redevelopment in the downtown area. As a result of outstanding efforts by this agency, Sebring was named a “Florida Main Street Community” in 1996 and since that time over $16 million dollars has been reinvested in downtown.
Today downtown Sebring is an eclectic mix of fashions, accessories, shoes and sportswear shops; boutiques; music stores; a pottery shop where products are made on-site; restaurants; tea room, antique galleries and other compatible business and professional offices that make it an exciting and fun place to be. It is not uncommon to see visitors, arriving from north or south on Amtrak, strolling through the downtown area looking for bargains and specialty items. Nearby Bed and Breakfasts and hotels provide accommodations for overnighters. All of this is within walking distance of Sebring’s Cultural Center that includes the public library, the Sebring Historical Society, the Highlands Art League and Museum and the renown Highlands Little Theater, where prime rib and performances just do not get any better. The Sebring Historical Society displays an outstanding Sabre Tooth Tiger Mural painted in 1941 by Charles R. Knight, a respected artist, paleontologist and scholar of prehistoric animal life. Banks, law offices, accounting firms, real estate, insurance and investment agencies are also within a block or two of Circle Park.
Retail business has exploded along US 27 in Sebring over the past dozen years. An enclosed shopping mall, with five major anchor stores plus dozens of small businesses including restaurants, home decor, family clothing, kitchenware, sports, travel, music, books, cards and gifts, computers and movie theatres makes indoor shopping a great experience. In addition to the mall, every need from automobiles, insurance, home furnishings, hardware and building supplies, supermarkets, discount stores, antiques, real estate, banking and investment services, and many other types of goods and services can be found along US 27. You might say, “it’s a shoppers world” in the Greater Sebring area where the economy steadily improves each year and where locals and visitors alike are welcomed by area merchants and professionals.
Information courtesy of Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce