When I was a kid, those were magic words.
"Downtown" was more than just a place to shop, although it was that, too – and usually in unique specialty places.
Downtown had one-of-a-kind restaurants and rare-book stores. Downtown was where decisions were made that could give us new parks or take away parking.
Downtown was where outsiders – some famous – arrived for art shows, live theater or concerts. We could people-watch, visit historic sites and stare at tall buildings.
There was excitement downtown, unlike sleepy streets of houses. There was something about "downtown" that gave a place its identity.
I was happy to find a downtown in Sanford when I moved to the area. I tried an ethnic restaurant that wasn't a chain. I discovered a shoe store that sold shoes for hard-to-fit customers. (Alas, now closed.) There was even a local department store where I shopped for a dress to wear to my niece's wedding.
Nothing against shopping centers, mind you, but for a newcomer, there was not much about them that said to me "This is Sanford."
A lot of new communities didn't grow up around downtowns. In the car age, many think a central place isn't needed anymore. So I hope I can be forgiven for thinking that the seemingly young town of Lake Mary was one of those "post downtown" cities when I moved to a 25-year-old condo near Heathrow.
When I found the Lake Mary Historical Society's museum was designated as a National Historic Trust landmark, I discovered the past – and future – downtown of Lake Mary.
Downtown revolved around Country Club Boulevard. If you've driven Lake Mary Boulevard, you passed Country Club on your way to somewhere else. Maybe, like me, you thought it was a road to a gated golf course condo.
But if you turned north, you found the building once home to the Lake Mary Chamber of Commerce (one of Florida's oldest), then its city hall, and now a treat of a museum.
It was built by Frank Evans, one of Lake Mary's pioneers. Next door is another building he's credited with that began life as Lake Mary's first gas station, but now serves other purposes.
But Evans wasn't the only person who created Lake Mary's downtown.
A man named A.E. Sjoblum also brought his family to town and rolled up his sleeves. He built three different general stores, one located between present day Crystal Lake Avenue and the South Florida railroad, that gave life to Lake Mary.
None of those buildings survived, but they must have been the hangout for early "Lake Marions."
Sjoblum was a postmaster who not only sold stamps, but also lumber, groceries and cemetery plots. He was a true master of all trades; as a notary, he could marry you and bury you.
Country Club seems a quiet road now, but it once was part of the only path to Sanford. The only other route was by train – and Sjoblum would flag it down for you.
Today, Country Club is home to a new city events center. Among other activities, the center will host marriage ceremonies. A.E. Sjoblum would be pleased. A real downtown is coming back.
Lake Mary has a lot of plans to bring downtown back. The plans are exciting to me – places for a retired me to live within walking distance of new shops, parks and a new passenger rail station.
I hope there's room for a bit of yesterday, though. The maps show the Frank Evans museum, but unconnected to "downtown." A planned pedestrian trail is nowhere near. City hall has Central Park, but the museum has no green.
What would Evans think? I may find out. Each October, the historical society has a ghost walk and spirits of early settlers greet visitors walking to Lake Mary's historic cemetery. Maybe one of those pioneers will give a blessing to the return of downtown.
Sheryl Stolzenberg is a comprehensive planner for Seminole County. Comments can be sent to her at Sheryl.firstname.lastname@example.org or Herald publisher Gene Kruckemyer at GKruckemyer@MySanfordHerald.com. Topics for The Sanford Herald’s Centennial Forum opinion series are chosen by the community writers.