History of Arcadia, Florida
Desoto County was first conceived on May 15, 1887 and confirmed a county in April 1887. It was named after the Spanish explorer, Hernando DeSoto. It was cut out of Manatee Co with the county seat in Pine Level. The first meeting held in the new county was on July 1887, to vote on a new county seat. On August 25, 1887, 13 voting precincts were approved and the survey can be found in the first Record of Deeds at the county court house. An election was held in December of the same year, but it failed to bring a majority vote.
The forerunners for the new county seat were Fort Ogden, Brownville, Nocatee, Punta Gorda, Pine Level, and Arcadia with Nocatee as the favorite. Sources reveal there was a yellow fever outbreak that quarantined many communities, so a second vote was postponed. On August 4, 1888 a second vote was taken and again failed to produce a majority vote. Finally, on November 6, 1888, a third vote was taken and Arcadia won the county seat by 21 votes.
At the time, Arcadia wasn't much of town at all. Residents of the county soon started moving closer to the new county seat which caused Arcadia to grow, but drove many communities to extinction such as Pine Level and Fort Winder to name a few.
In the late 1870's, the railroads were completed through Desoto Co and it changed the growth of the county and brought wealth for many. In 1881, phosphate was discovered on the banks of Peace River that flows through the county. Mining of this mineral brought much prosperity for many years. In 1921, Desoto Co was divided into present day Desoto, Charlotte, Hardee, Glades and Highlands counties.
Today, Arcadia is the "Heart" of the county and a very visible pride in their history can be found virtually everywhere in the city. Most of the historical buildings you find today were built after 1905 when on Thanksgiving Day a fire destroyed a major portion of the town. Much like it was over a hundred years ago, Desoto Counties main source of economy relies on agriculture, citrus groves, phosphate and cattle.
Arcadia, Florida Early History
Edited by Spessard Stone from The Tampa Morning Tribune of Tampa, Florida of January 10, 1909
Arcadia, the county seat of DeSoto County, has sprung into existence within the last twenty-one years. There was a settlement in the vicinity many years before 1887, the year in which the town was incorporated, but up to that time, on account of inadequate transportation facilities or an entire lack of them, the community did not attract much attention. In 1887, DeSoto County was created by a division of Manatee County. At that time the county seat was at Pine Level, eleven miles due east of Arcadia, and three miles east of the new county line. This location was not sufficiently central for the accommodation of the residents of the new county, and it was decided to hold an election for the capital of the new county. Three elections were held before this momentous question was decided. However, the citizens of Arcadia came to the front with a proposition to erect a courthouse at their own expense and present it to the county, if the seat of county government was established there, and it won the final decision with an overwhelming margin. The courthouse given the county by Arcadia is standing today in a good state of preservation. Pine Level was evacuated in 1888, but prior to its desertion court was held there for the new county. A temporary building was used for county offices and court purposes after moving the seat of government to Arcadia until the completion of the new building, which was in 1889.
Among the early residents were the families of S. E. Whidden, R.C. Hendry, F. M. Waldron, Thomas Williams, and many others.
The railway passed through Arcadia in 1886. This gave an impetus to the growth of the little city on the plains, and when it was incorporated in 1887, it had a population of four hundred. In 1895, the county was voted dry and since that time there has been no intoxicating liquors legally sold within it. The first school was established in 1887 with B. G. Granger as teacher. The first church, which was Methodist in denomination, was built in 1888, Rev. S. B. Carson in charge. The same building is being used today.
Arcadia Before the Fire
On November 30, 1905, four entire business blocks were destroyed by fire right in the heart of the business district. Only two buildings were left standing, and they were made of brick. The destroyed portion of the city did not carry ten per cent of its valuation in insurance. This was a monstrous and total loss to Arcadia.
Arcadia After the Fire
After the fire, the citizens of Arcadia went to work to build a city that would stand out as a model for other cities of the same size. The first thing they did was to establish a fire district by city ordinance in the business center, in which nothing but substantial brick, stone or concrete buildings were to be allowed.
Its streets were graded and paved, shade trees were planted, the streets were named and numbered, a water works and electric light plant were built, and many other improvements were made.
There are now many fine brick and concrete business blocks in the business part of Arcadia. Handsome, magnificent buildings that would do credit to any city, were built, and the tale is not finished as yet.
The population today is between 2,500 and 3,000.
The officials of Arcadia are P. C. Brown, Mayor; Frank Horton, Clerk; T. D. Marshall, City Marshal; Dr. Ed. Green, Tax Collector; and H. L. Carlton, Assessor.
The City Council of Arcadia is composed of F. W. Hayes, President; J. M. Hollingsworth, Walter Graham, J. A. Hendry, and R. A. Whidden.
Electric Light Service
The city of Arcadia is well lighted by electricity. The plant, which is owned by the Arcadia Electric Light and Telephone Company, has a paid in capital of $50,000. The current of this company extends five miles into the country and is utilized in the orange packing houses.
The officers of the company, all citizens of Arcadia, are J. J. Heard, president; C. C. Chollar, vice president; J. L. Jones, secretary and treasurer; Ed. Scott, general manager.
Arcadia is equipped with a modern, local and long distance telephone service, installed in July 1901. Connections are made with the Bell long distance companies for all points north and with an independent line at Punta Gorda for all points in the southern part of the state. There are now 220 phones in use in Arcadia, the rates being $1.50 for domestic and $2.00 for commercial purposes.
A company of progressive citizens subscribed the amount necessary for the cost of construction of a comprehensive sewer system and installed a system of sewers that covers eighteen city blocks. Recently an ordinance has been granted by the council compelling all residences and places of business along the route to be connected with this system of drainage. The system empties into the Peace River below Arcadia, and the system is extended throughout the city as needed.
The city of Arcadia owns one of the most complete waterworks systems in any small city in the state. The city voted a bond of $30,000 for the purpose of building the waterworks, school building and improving the streets. The water is very healthy and is secured from a 6-inch well, 300 feet in depth. There is a storage tank 125 feet high, having a capacity of 50,000 gallons, the consumption amounting to 25,000 gallons per day.
There are fifty-five fire hydrants distributed at all prominent street corners. The waterworks furnish good protection against fire.
There are six mails per day in and out of the railway, besides several routes that extend out into the farming and orange growing districts. In 1907, receipts were $5,763.41 and expenses were $2,554.64
There are Methodist churches, white and black, Presbyterian, Baptist, Episcopal, Evening Lights.
DeSoto County High School is located at Arcadia. The structure costs about $15,000 and was built of beautiful white stone. A five-acre campus surrounds the building. Each of the eight grades below the high school has a separate teacher, except the first, which has two. 280 pupils are enrolled in the graded school and 37 in the high school.
The trustees of the high school are: J. L. Jones, chairman; C. H. Mitchell, secretary; T. B. King. The faculty is composed of the following teachers: high school- W. B. Jones, A. M., principal; Jas. O. Bickley, B. S.; Miss Mary Riherd, A. B.; Miss Lillie Penick, instructor in music; Miss Nancy Blasingame, instructor in expression; Grammar school- Miss Carolyn O'Neal, Miss Laura Mitchell, Miss Geneva Highsmith, Miss D. Beatrice Brinson, Miss May Dula Wolf, Miss Marguerite Smith, Miss Alice Leitner, Miss Ruby Leitner. The salary of these teachers runs up to $800 per month for a term of eight months.
Arcadia has many beautiful homes and more pleasant cottages. The streets in the residence sections are well laid out and nicely kept. They are lighted with electricity and the ample supply of water enables the residents to keep their lawns in a handsome condition. There is little or no lawlessness in Arcadia, and it is an ideal place to live.
Arcadia, Florida Early History, Part 2
Edited by Spessard Stone from The Tampa Morning Tribune of Tampa, Florida of January 10, 1909
Arcadia Board of Trade
The Arcadia Board of Trade was organized on May 15, 1905 for the purpose of doing things for Arcadia collectively that had not been done and could not be individually. The officers of the Board of Trade are J. L. Jones, President; J. J. Heard and E. Heard, Vice Presidents; Ed. Scott, Secretary and Treasurer; the board of governors comprising the above officials along with J. W. Burton and E. T. Smith.
Firms and others doing business in Arcadia [not cited elsewhere] are as follows: dry goods, S. Rosin, M. Kanner & Co., A. J. Dozier & Co., W. L. Carlton; grain and groceries, Dishong Brothers; general merchandise, W. H. Seward, Gore & Scott, M. A. Fairchild, P. C. Brown, F. Marquis; Furniture and hardware, L. L. Morgan; E. T. Smith, Arcadia Hardware Company; drug stores, Ed. Green, Jake Wey, Henry Cross, C. H. Smith; meat markets, Durrance & Co., W. F. Esplaub, Hendry & Hahn; restaurants and cold drinks, J. M. Lanier, Randall & Hodge, M. F. Bridges; Arcadia Bakery; bicycles and fruit stands, M. L. Bryan; jewelers, H. A. Iverson, S. F. Adams; wagon makers, L. L. Morgan, E. M. Barnett, J. H. Pendarvis; gunsmith, W. S. Davenport; barbershops, B. F. Wood, J. J. Mayes, L. Bryan; Attorneys, Treadwell & Treadwell, J. W. Burton, W. E. & G. Leitner, R. E. Brown; physicians, Ed. Green, C. H. Smith, K. H. Smith, R. L. Cline, D. L. Main; dentists, C. P. Baird, D. G. Barnett; civil engineers and surveyors, W. B. Clay, C. S. Nobles; Land and insurance agents, Walter Graham, S. J. Simmons, E. H. King, A. M. Smith, J. D. Jones, J. H. Peeples; commission merchants, N. A. Faulkner, W. E. Daniels. Also, there are several livery stables, one theater, one picture show, and several contractors.
DeSoto County claims more range cattle than any county in the whole south. Thousands of heads of cattle are pastured on the prairie lands with the owners having grown wealthy from this industry.
Arcadia ships more citrus fruits than any other city in Florida. DeSoto County produces five percent of all the oranges shipped out of Florida, and ten percent of all the oranges shipped out of the state are shipped from Arcadia. During the shipping season, Arcadia hotels are filled with buyers from all parts of the north and east. The shipments have increased from 164,518 boxes to an estimated 207,260 boxes in 1908. There are five large packing houses. Many fine nurseries are located at Arcadia from which the seedlings and budded stock is secured. These nurseries not only supply the local market, but also make shipments to Cuba, as well as to all of the orange producing portions of Florida.
The First National Bank, established in 1900, has resources of $204,332.62, of which loans and discounts are $131,438.07; capital stock of $30,000 and surplus of $48,000. The officers are: T. B. King, president; Albert Carlton, vice president; J. G. King, cashier; W. M. Platt, assistant cashier. The directors are the preceding three men plus H. L. King, E. H. King, A. J. Carlton, J. H. Treadway, C. C. Chollar.
The DeSoto National Bank, organized in June 1907, has resources of $160,913.22, of which loans and discounts are $83,496.20; capital stock of $50,000 and surplus of $5,000. The officers are: W. G. Welles, president; John W. Whidden, vice president; B. F. Welles, cashier; L. A. Stroud, assistant cashier.
State Bank of Arcadia, also organized in June 1907, has resources of $119,870.75, of which $86,986.27 is in loans; capital stock is $50,000. The officers are: J. J. Heard, president; Eugene Holtsinger, vice president; David H. Scott, cashier. The directors are the preceding three men plus R. E. Brown, D. T. Carlton, E. F. Childers, J. C. Hickman, P. W. McAdow, J. Ed. Raulerson, A. B. Williford.
The South Florida Land and Trust Company, with its main offices in Arcadia, has a capital stock of $1,000,000. The officers of the company are: J. L. Heard, president; T. B. King, vice president; Ed. Scott, treasurer; Walter Graham, secretary.
The large orange interest and cattle business of this section brings many strangers to Arcadia, but with the hotel accommodations at hand there is little trouble in taking care of them. There are five hotels in the city: the Arcadia house, Southern, Cottage, Floyd, and Central hotels, and numerous boarding houses.
Hotel Arcadia, the principal hotel in Arcadia, was opened for business in 1888. Many notables from all parts of the United States and Europe have been its guests at various times and the deals that have been planned under its roof, having for their development of South Florida, would read like fairy tales if reduced to writing. The present owners and managers, Mr. and Mrs. A. Roe, purchased the property in 1904, and proceeded to remodel and refurnish throughout. The building is furnished with hot and cold water, lavatories and baths and has ample verandahs.
The DeSoto, a new thirty-room stone house has just been completed at a cost of over $27,000, but is not yet occupied.
The Arcadia ice plant has a capacity of seven tons of ice for each twenty-four hours and has a capacity of 100,000 pounds of cold storage and can take care of 50,000 pounds of fresh pork at one time without any serious inconvenience. It not only furnishes all the ice consumed locally but ships large quantities to the various cities and towns nearby.
Arcadia has two lines of railway. The Atlantic Coast Line railway has furnished shipping facilities since 1886, and within the last eighteen months the Charlotte Harbor and Northern railway has completed its line from Arcadia to Boca Grande.
The citizens of DeSoto County are a moral, upright people. A. C. Freeman, a native of Jasper County, Georgia, came to Punta Gorda in 1889. He was elected Sheriff of DeSoto County in 1904 and was re-elected for a second term in November 1908. The docket books for a year back, courtesy of Sheriff Freeman, show there were eighty-five arrests with forty-five convictions during the past year.
Florida Baptist Orphanage
The Florida Baptist Orphanage, opened February 1, 1904, is located one mile north of Arcadia. Besides the original large two-story brick structure costing $12,000, we have a new brick building, two-story, the upper the boys' dormitory and the lower the schoolroom. This cost $5,228. The foundation for a sanitarium is laid and the brick for completing it is on the ground--all paid for.
The nature and purpose of the institution is to maintain, support and educate indigent white orphans of the state of Florida, irrespective of religious creed or nationality. All white destitute children of sound mind and body, between the ages of three and ten years, inclusive, may be eligible to admission, except that no child can be admitted whose father is living. We now have fifty-nine in the home. Twenty-eight have joined the church. The children are not being brought up in idleness, but are trained for life's work.
During the late 19th century Arcadia was the county seat of what would become many counties. In 1921 legislation enacted called for Arcadia to remain the county seat of Desoto County and resulted in the creation of present day counties of Charlotte, Hardee, Glades and Highlands. Prior to this break up Arcadia's population had grown considerably with over 1,000 permanent residents and boasted 3,000 square miles (7,800 km2) for ranching. During Thanksgiving Day in 1905 the town was destroyed by a large-scale fire that originated from a mid-town livery stable. Furthermore the fire was exacerbated because the town did not have a working water system or fire department. The estimated monetary damage was $250,000 but there was no loss of life. Much of the business district was not spared. It would be years before the town recovered.
From 1917 to 1922, Arcadia was the home of Carlstrom Field, a grass airfield of the U.S. Army Air Service named for deceased aviation pioneer Victor Carlstrom. Carlstrom Field was used for pilot training both during and after World War I. In May 1941 the site again became an airfield for military primary flight training, operated by the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Institute (now Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University). Carlstrom Field, one of several satellite fields in the Fort Myers Area, also trained pilots for the Royal Air Force until its closing in 1945.
Arcadia was featured in an episode of the "Travel Channel" show "Cash & Treasures Treasure Hunter: Kirsten Gum", the episode aired in 2006. The episode included locals helping Kirsten dig for fossil shark teeth in the Peace River.
Popular Youtube hairstylist Celebrity Seaborn styles many notable Arcadia citizens, such as Haiti, better known as Haiti of Arcadia.
History of the Arcadia Opera House
The Arcadia Opera House was founded in 1906. In 1905 a large fire destroyed most of downtown Arcadia and the Opera House was one of the first buildings to be built. It was built by John J. Heard in which it housed his bank downstairs, the Florida Loan and Trust Company. The rooms upstairs surrounding the theater were rented out to help business owners get back on their feet after the fire and to continue to supply services to the residents of the county.
The owner of the building, Dick Cernoch, says that it was also used for dances, political meetings, movie theater and the local USO. Local historian Howard Melton said that while the adults viewed the show the children would be sent outside or they would play tag in the hallways. They then would be invited back in to sit in front of the stage for a show of their own. He also remembers the theater from when he was a child. He said that it was used for graduation ceremonies, black face comedians, vaudeville, silent movies and talkies. He also said that since the churches and schools didn’t have auditoriums the used the Opera house for all their large functions.
The Opera House hasn't been a performance art venue in decades, but the building is remarkably well-preserved. The second floor, the original performance hall, is now home to the Opera House Antique Mall and Museum.
History of the Arcadia Rodeo
The Arcadia rodeo began back in the middle of 1928 when the American Legion wanted to raise money to help pay for a new building. A local businessman, who was a member of the American Legion, asked a prominent rancher (Zeb Parker) if a rodeo could be held to raise money. Mr. Parker agreed it could be done and offered to furnish the stock for free.
In preparation for this event, special arrangements were made to bring in a group of Seminole Indians. The American Legion and the Lion's Club volunteered to sponsor a parade. Two thousand Shriners were expected to march in the parade. The Governor of Florida, Doyle E. Carlton, notified officials he would be attending the rodeo and the Wauchula band provided the music. The first rodeo was such a success that the American Legion was able to pay off the mortgage on the new building in four years .
During the early thirties (even though the local economy was devastated by the national depression) the rodeo continued as people struggled to simply earn enough to afford the necessities of life. During these years the rodeos were held in the Limestone Community of Desoto County, where the interest in rodeo was kept alive.
In 1938 at the urgings of his son (Billy Welles) and a friend (Gerald Taylor- a local rancher and businessman), Ed Welles agreed to promote and finance the rodeo. The Arcadia rodeo became an annual event at the Welles' arena until the sudden death of Ed Welles on June 11,1950. However, the tradition of rodeo was so firmly entrenched in the hearts of so many Desoto Countians that on January 10, 1952, at a meeting of the Rotary Club, what would become the Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo, Inc. as we know it today was reactivated.
The rodeo continued at the Welles' arena until 1959 when the arena was moved to its present location. In 1973 the Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo, Inc. joined the ranks of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
The Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo, Inc. has evolved from its pioneer beginnings (when competing cowboys and ranchers matched their skills for the entertainment of local audiences) to a national sport drawing top cowboy athletes from all over the nation. Cowboys who compete for purses and points are aiming for the "Super Bowl" of rodeo: the National Finals held annually in Las Vegas.
History of DeSoto County
In 1821 there were two counties in the state of Florida. What is now DeSoto County was at first part of St. John’s County, which included most of the state lying east and south of the panhandle, with St. Augustine the county seat. In 1824 a portion of this huge county became Alachua County; Newnansville was its county seat. From Alachua was carved, ten years later, Hillsborough County with its county seat in Tampa. In 1856 Manatee County was formed and ten years later Pine Level became its county seat. This county stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to Lake Okeechobee. DeSoto County was created from Manatee County on May 10, 1887. It contained 3,750 square miles. extended about 30 miles inland from the west coast to Lake Okeechobee, north to Polk County and south to Lee County. Pine Level was the county seat of DeSoto County for approximately 18 months. What is now DeSoto County has been part of five counties during its history.
Arcadia replaced Pine Level as the county seat in November, 1888. The forerunners for the new county seat were Fort Ogden, Brownville, Nocatee, Punta Gorda, Pine Level and Arcadia with Nocatee as the favorite. Sources reveal there was a yellow fever outbreak that quarantined many communities, so a second vote was postponed. On August 4, 1888 a second vote was taken and again failed to produce a majority vote. Finally, on November 6, 1888. A third vote was taken and Arcadia won the county seat by 21 votes. In 1921, DeSoto County was divided into present day DeSoto, Charlotte, Hardee, Glades and Highlands counties
Arcadia was a small settlement located on a bluff overlooking Peace River. It was first known as Waldron’s Landing, and then as Raulerson’s Landing. Harris Raulerson used to transport potatoes from this landing, for resale elsewhere, in his side-wheeler steamboat. Pioneers who brought their potatoes to the spot for sale to Raulerson began to call it Tater Hill Bluff. James “Boss” Hendry was a lumberman and Baptist preacher. When he was moving his sawmill by ox-drawn wagons to the area he stayed overnight in the home of Thomas Albritton, a fellow Baptist at Lily. Learning that Hendry’s birthday fell on the following day, Mrs. Albritton and her daughter Arcadia baked a cake for him. Touched by their kindness, Hendry, who predicted that a town would arise in the bluff’s vicinity, promised to have it named Arcadia.
In the late 1870’s, the railroads were completed through DeSoto County and it changed the growth of the county and brought wealth for many. In 1881, phosphate was discovered on the banks of Peace River that flows through the county. Mining of this mineral brought much prosperity for many years.
Thanksgiving 1905 was a disastrous day in Arcadia’s history. A fire of undetermined origin engulfed the business district and destroyed more than 40 buildings. However, there was no loss of life.
A new business district soon rose from the ashes.
Cattle have played an important part in the settling and economy of DeSoto County from the beginning. In the early 1890’s the infamous cattle wars started and lasted for several years. This era was the most turbulent in the county’s history and was almost comparable to the Seminole Indians Wars. In the 1890’s Arcadia was known as one of the wildest towns in Florida.
Located on the fringe of Florida’s citrus belt, DeSoto County has in recent years made great strides in citrus production and processing. In the beginning, oxcart loads of citrus fruit were hauled to packing houses that dotted the area. Since the packing houses have all but disappeared, the fruit is now trucked to the processing plants.
Soon after the United States entered World War I, two airfields were established near Arcadia. They were Carlstrom and Dorr Fields, and they were the US Army’s main southeastern aviation training centers. Dorr Field was discontinued immediately following the war. Carlstrom continued in operation as a flying school until 1923, when it was moved to Texas. Prior to the entrance of the United States in World War II, Carlstrom and Dorr Fields were reopened as Army Air Force primary training schools under the Riddle organization. British Royal Flying Cadets were trained at several flying training centers throughout south Florida.
Twenty-three Royal Air Force Cadets, who died during training in south Florida, were laid to rest in the City of Arcadia’s Oak Ridge Cemetery. They are honored each Memorial Day by services conducted by the Arcadia Rotary Club.
The first official Rodeo in Florida is said to have been held in Arcadia, November 1929, sponsored by the local American Legion Post. Arcadia’s Rodeo has grown in size, comparable to any in the country. The Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo is held every March and in the Fall. In July the Arcadia All-Florida Rodeo produces a not to be miss Bull-A-Rama Extravaganza! It draws more than 10,000 spectators.
Today, Arcadia is the “Heart” of the county and a very visible pride in their history can be found virtually everywhere in the city. Most of the historical buildings you find today were built after 1905 when on Thanksgiving Day a fire destroyed a major portion of the town. Much like it was over a hundred years ago, DeSoto County’s main source of economy relies on agriculture, citrus groves, phosphate and cattle. With a future that is sure to be as bright and colorful as its past, DeSoto County will continue to be the hub of Southwest Florida.