Created by Ohio industrialist George Sebring in 1912, the original town of Sebring was built around a circle overlooking a lake.
So many of the original downtown buildings are still in use that the neighborhood has been designated a 1920s Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.
Records indicate that Mr. Sebring’s vision was based on the design of Heliopolis. Like the ancient Egyptian city, roads radiate from the center of the community. Despite many changes over time, Mr. Sebring’s essential design remains.
Sebring received its charter from the state in 1913 and was chosen to be the seat of the newly created Highlands County in a hotly contested election in 1921.
Surrounding the city, Highlands County developed a stable agricultural economy of citrus and cattle ranches.
By the mid 1920s, Sebring’s population had quadrupled from its founding and the area became a major winter resort. It pre-dates Palm Beach and attracted a wide range of visitors and new residents from all walks of life. The Seaboard Air Line Railroad and legendary Orange Blossom Special linked Sebring to the rest of the nation. Known as the City on the Circle, by the 1920s it had developed into a business center, attracting entrepreneurs, investors and real estate developers.
Biltmore interests, for example, financed the then $30 million development of Harder Hall, a major resort complex complete with its own golf course and home sites.
In fact, for a time, housing demand outstripped supply.
However, in 1926 the Florida real estate bubble burst – an early sign of the 1929 Wall Street Market crash and the Great Depression.
Despite the economic difficulties, its agricultural base helped Highlands County survive the worst times. Sebring specifically received a boost from the establishment of Hendricks Field by the U. S. Army Air Corps.
Following World War II, Hendricks Field was turned over to Sebring to be used for civilian aviation. Today, the Sebring Regional Airport occupies the site.
An even more important depression-era project was the creation of the award-winning Highlands Hammock State Park, built by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The park, which houses a CCC museum, is filled with pathways and boardwalks providing a glimpse into the past through preserved Florida wilderness.
Area pride and excitement were revived in the 1950s when international sports car racing began using the airport’s excess runways annually. The world-renowned “12 Hours of Sebring” continues as the oldest sports car race of its kind in North America – 2012 will be its 60th running.
In the 1970s, a combination of national slump and business moving to U. S. Highway 27 affected Sebring’s downtown area. In the 1980s, city fathers, local businessmen and professionals began looking to the future, developing plans to revitalize downtown. The city council, using special legislation, created the Community Redevelopment Agency to spearhead redevelopment in the downtown area. As a result, Sebring was named a Florida Main Street Community in 1996. Since then, more than $20 million have been invested in renovations.
Today, downtown Sebring offers a blend of shops, restaurants and professional businesses, all in easy walking distance of each other and the cultural center.
Retail business continues to grow along U.S. Highway 27, providing every need from lumber, insurance, antiques, pool supplies and new or used cars. An enclosed shopping mall with five major anchors and dozens of small businesses makes indoor shopping a pleasure.
Sebring has an optimistic eye on the future as its economy continues to grow. Its merchants and professionals remain dedicated to traditional values like friendliness, service and expertise.