Our home town! I explained in our last post how we came to Highlands County, but I never really told more about Sebring, the county seat and our official residence. While I worked for the Sheriff, I claimed I was from Highlands County as I spoke to different schools, Civic Groups and Chambers of Commerce in the county. But Bill always said he lived in Sebring.
My heart was always in Sebring and that was the small town we grew to love after we started visiting here in 1996. In fact, my mom and step dad came to visit us here in 2005. At the time, they were traveling full time in a Class A motorhome. They liked it so much, they ended up buying a manufactured home here. One of my sisters and her husband also bought a snow bird home here. And recently, my step sister and her husband also relocated here. And that is usually how it goes with us “transplants” to the county. But the “core” of this county and it’s residents are those who’ve lived here for generations. And Sebring in particular has a rich heritage.
Sebring, founded in 1911, is best known as the “City on a Circle.” The best facts I found about the founder, George Sebring, came from an newspaper article published in 2008. I’ve taken some excerpts from it below.
George Sebring….upright, driven, high school drop-out who became a self-made millionaire and founded two towns was the heart and soul of Sebring from the time it was just an idea germinating in his head until his death in 1927.
When he died after spending 16 years of his life molding the town that was a pine forest when he bought it, Sebring had changed forever.
George Sebring realized that citrus could be grown successfully in Central Florida’s sand hills, and that could have been the basis of Highlands County’s citrus industry. He built Sebring’s roads, sidewalks, the first buildings, paid for the town’s utilities in the early days, strung telephone lines across town and installed telephone stations so that people didn’t need to have phones in their homes.
“If there was a need, he would get it done,” said Carole Goad, archivist with the Sebring Historical Society. “If there was no money he did it himself.”
He and his family, especially his son H. Orvel Sebring, brought the early settlers from Ohio and Pennsylvania. His unique downtown circular plan with roads radiating off the Circle piqued the curiosity of northern bankers, entrepreneurs and developers. Pete Pollard, the Sebring Community Redevelopment Agency executive director, said in the 1910s only Sebring, Hollywood and Miami Springs were platted in that fashion in Florida, and Sebring’s Circle could have been the first.
George Sebring also left behind the City Pier and hotels like the Kenilworth Lodge that catered to prosperous Northern winter visitors. When he died, Sebring had less than 10,000 residents.
In Sebring, its founder saw a land of “sunshine, fruit and flowers.” George Sebring wasn’t trying to make a quick buck building Sebring. The town he had in mind was to be a “delightful, wholesome community,” where Christian workers, preachers and evangelists could retire, and sick people could recuperate in warm weather along pristine lakes with white sand beaches.
A thrifty man who is believed to have saved 10 percent of whatever he made, the city changed its founder, too. George Sebring went broke building Sebring, Goad said. After the boom times of the early and mid ’20s, the state was on the verge of the Great Depression when George Sebring passed away.
Who Was George Sebring?
A devout Methodist who frowned upon drinking, George Sebring gave away free lots to churches that wanted to build a sanctuary in the fledgling town, said Virginia Neel, who has lived in Highlands County since 1954 and is well-versed in local history.
Early deeds also contained a covenant that prohibited the sale of alcohol, and at one point the Sebring Town Council passed a resolution offering a $5 reward for the arrest and conviction of anyone selling intoxicants.
George Sebring’s religious convictions may have influenced Sebring’s early days but the man himself was low-profile.
He refused to run for political office even when asked. If he had a message for city officials, it usually got sent with someone else, Goad said.
“He was not a man of great ego,” she added. “He was goal-oriented but did not want to be in the forefront.”
While in apparent semi-retirement after selling his share of the pottery business to his brother, he toured the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, according to “Sebring, City on the Circle,” by Stephen Olausen. George Sebring was not just into traveling. He liked to hunt, fish and was into car racing. It’s these past-times that brought him to Florida. While not fishing at Florida’s unspoiled lakes, he was promoting auto racing on Ormond Beach and Daytona Beach.
Born in Ohio, he married a second time after his first wife died. Pictures of the father of six show a well-dressed, medium-built man with kindly eyes. An obituary on him in the Sebring Daily News, dated Jan. 5, 1927, describes his “expressive face” and eyes that glowed with pleasure, twinkled with laughter or grew dark with “sudden sympathy.”
Here is a bit more about what you “must see” in Sebring from the Highlands County Convention & Visitors Bureau website:
Highlands Hammock State Park
The Children’s Museum
Allen C. Altvater Cultural Complex
Located just off of Circle Park in Historic Downtown Sebring
Highlands Little Theatre
Highlands Museum of the Arts
Greater Sebring Chamber of Commerce
227 U.S. Highway 27 North
Sebring, Florida 33870
Phone: (863) 385-8448
Fax: (863) 385-8810
Downtown Sebring Websites
Events and Businesses in Historic Downtown Sebring
downtownsebring.org and destinationdowntownsebring.com
There is so much more to say on a personal note, I’ve decided I will have to write this in several parts!
Below is our dream Sebring, Florida retirement and pool home. We absolutely loved the lifestyle we had here. Little did we realize what having grandchildren would do to that dream. Being parents of only one child also had an impact, I am sure. As I mentioned in our last post, we never fully understood the ramifications of our daughter not moving to Florida with us….but in the end, it is working itself out.