- DeSoto County
- Year Founded: 1883
- Previously known as: Waldron’s Landing, Raulerson’s Landing, Tater Hill Bluff
In 1883, Arcadia was a post office on Peace River, and after the arrival of the Florida Southern Railway in 1886, the Town of Arcadia was incorporated in Manatee County. In 1887, DeSoto County was formed, and the next year, Arcadia became the county seat, an honor it holds today.
In 1881, pebble phosphate was discovered in Peace River, and “mining” soon began. Workers traveled on the Arcadia Street Railway and Improvement Company, a mule-drawn railway on Oak Street. Later, the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad was routed through Arcadia to haul phosphate, used in the production of fertilizer, to Boca Grande’s deep water port.
Citrus groves were planted in Arcadia, and packing houses sold the fresh fruit. Today, oranges and grapefruit are processed into juice and juice concentrate at facilities, including one near Arcadia.
In 1901, the City of Arcadia was incorporated. On Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1905, a fire destroyed downtown. On December 1, the City Council voted for future construction of brick or cement. These handsome structures now house many antique shops.
During World War I, Arcadia became known as “Aviation City” for the two airfields that trained pilots: Carlstrom and Dorr Fields. In 1921, DeSoto County divided into five counties: Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, and Highlands. The 1920‘s building “boom” produced commercial structures, a new concrete bridge, many subdivisions, a nine-hole golf course–today’s Arcadia Muncipal Golf Course, City Hall, and the Arcadia Tourist Camp, now the City Mobile Home Park.
In 1928, Arcadia held its first rodeo which became the Arcadia All-Florida Championship Rodeo. In 1939, the Arcadia State Livestock Market opened. It closed in 2005, but cattle ranching remains an important industry. That decade, the City bought land for an airport, now Arcadia Municipal Airport.
In 1941, the Embry-Riddle Company redeveloped the two airfields to train pilots for the U.S. and her allies. Twenty-three British cadets are buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery. After the war, Carlstrom became G. Pierce Wood Memorial Hospital, which closed in 2002; the DeSoto Correctional Facility for Juveniles operated there until 2010. Dorr became DeSoto Correctional Institution.
In 1942, African-American students and teachers made cement blocks to prove their desire for a new school, and the Smith-Brown School opened in 1946. It closed in 1970 after the desegregation of schools. In 1961, a new concrete bridge, in use today, spanned Peace River. In 1971, Eugene Hickson was the first African-American elected to the Arcadia City Council. He served for more than 20 years, including as the first African-American mayor.
In 1984, Arcadia became a Main Street City, and revitalization of downtown began in time for the City’s centennial. In 1993, the City was profiled in The 100 Best Small Towns in America. The Main Street Program was renewed in 2005, following the hurricanes of 2004, including a direct strike from Hurricane Charley. Barack Obama was the first sitting president to visit Arcadia when he arrived to view the largest solar-generating power plant in the state.
Story of City’s Founding
In 1856, Thomas Williams pioneered the Arcadia area, then in Manatee County established in 1855. His brother-in-law, James Waldron, joined him in 1860, and the settlement on Peace River became known as Waldron’s Landing. Later, it was called Raulerson’s Landing, because Harris Raulerson used his side-wheel steamboat to haul potatoes, raised by local farmers, which gave rise to another early name: Tater Hill Bluff. In 1883, when this settlement on Peace River applied for a post office, residents gathered to choose a name. James Madison “Boss” Hendry had moved his sawmill to the area and, on the way, had stayed overnight with the Albrittons. After he told the family about his birthday on the subsequent day, their 22-year-old daughter, who was living at home with her husband, baked a cake for him. According to tradition, he repaid her kindness by naming the town for Arcadia Matilda Albritton Coker. In 1884, the year that Grover Cleveland was elected president, Captain John W. Whidden, a veteran of the Third Seminole and Civil Wars, opened a store for general merchandise on the river about 100 yards east of the present bridge. It was called J. W. Whidden and Son, and managed by his son Robert E. Whidden. Captain Whidden and John Kabrich constructed a flat boat to ferry people and freight to and from Pine Level, the county seat of Manatee County. In 1886, Arcadia enjoyed tremendous growth as the terminus of the Florida Southern Railway, and after “The Fort Ogden News” published a legal notice, 31 qualified voters marked their ballots to incorporate the Town of Arcadia on December 6. They elected B. F. Baldwin served as first mayor; J. W. Bailey, F. M. Waldron, W. E. Daniel, F. E. Waldron, W. H. Hollingsworth and C. G. Johansen were aldermen. George H. Altree, clerk and treasurer. C. G. Bonard, marshal and collector. When Dr. Edwin Green arrived on the first train to Arcadia on March 4, 1886, only sixteen families lived within one mile of the town, plus J.W. Bailey’s general store, which he had purchased from J. W. Whidden and son; a post office run by T. J. Herndon; and a school of 35 taught by D. S. Williams. Green, who later served as mayor, city clerk, treasurer, and tax-collector, suggested that north-south streets be named for Florida’s counties and east-west streets be named for Florida’s trees. Two additional streets are the namesakes of his daughters–Effie and Imogene. He opened the Arcadia Drug Store in 1887 and served as a physician in addition to a pharmacist. He also drew the plans for the first DeSoto County courthouse. DeSoto County was split from Manatee County in May, 1887, and Pine Level continued on as county seat of the new county until Arcadia was chosen in November 1888. In 1901, Arcadia was incorporated as a city by an act of the legislature. Safe in the vault of City Hall is the City Council Minute Book, written variously in green, blue, and black ink, that begins in 1901. The Minute Books (1886-1900) of the Town of Arcadia have disappeared.
Little Known Facts
In 1881, Captain Francis LeBaron of U. S. Army Corps of Engineers makes a survey of Peace River to explore the feasibility of connecting it to the St. Johns River: his two discoveries: impracticality of waterway and pebble phosphate in the riverbed.
After the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), Peace River was the northern boundary for the “Seminole Reservation”; the first survey of the Arcadia area, inside the Reservation, was completed the following year.
In 1931, George End opens the first Rattlesnake Meat Cannery just outside of Arcadia, and the Floridian Products Corporation uses every available part of the snake; in 1937 he moved his operations near Tampa, establishing Rattlesnake, Florida, for his cannery and reptilorium, with a post office.
Thomas Gaskins invented the “Gaskins’ Car Coupler” for railroad cars in 1895; he built one of the first stores and residences in Arcadia.
Frank Cline invented the Cline Rolling Straight Edge to help in building roads; his Hydraulic Track Adjustors invention was used by construction-equipment companies and the U.S. Army for tanks.
Arcadia once had a reputation as a frontier town as “wild” as any in the American West, and in 1895, Frederic Remington visited Arcadia looking for cowboys. He wrote and illustrated “The Cracker Cowboys of Florida,” an article about the “Cattle Wars,” published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.
Ed Scott served as the first chairman, a volunteer, of the department of roads, now the Florida Department of Transportation. He arranged for two major highways, U.S. Highway 17, also known as the Dixie Highway (established in 1915), and State Road 70 to intersect at the center of Arcadia.
Nicknamed the Kettring Bug, Charles Kettring’s “aerial torpedo,” a forerunner of today’s “smart bombs,” was tested at Carlstrom Field southeast of Arcadia in 1918.
Until his death in 1916, T. A. Cassels produced an “Indian-Remedy for Indigestion and Dyspesia,” a popular patent medicine, in Arcadia; supposedly, a Seminole had given him the recipe.
Lewis Bishop, who served on Arcadia’s City Council, invented the rotary mower in Arcadia; the State Road Department was his biggest customer.
Gator Roach Hives, a prototype of the modern “Roach Motel” was invented and manufactured for more than 50 years in Arcadia.
Name: Florida Baptist Children’s Home
Location: 100-218 Winifred Street
Historical Significance: Organized in 1900, the Florida Baptist Children’s Home served as an orphanage; the superintendent’s home is at the corner of Winifred and Arcadia Avenue; the remaining structures, dating from 1906-1920, extend west on Winifred Street. Street
Name: A. B. Williford Home
Location: 423 E. Oak Street
Historical Significance: Adelpheus Brook Williford built this Shingle-style home in 1908; his brick store, with a remodeled facade, dates to 1914, at 9-15 E. Oak Street.
Name: United State Post Office
Location: 109 N. Polk Avenue
Historical Significance: Constructed in 1937 as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project, the post office features, in its lobby, “Arcadia,” a marble sculpture by Constance Ortmayer, an artist of the Section of Fine Arts establish in 1934.
Name: Atlantic Coastline Railroad Depot
Location: 4 W. Oak Street
Historical Significance: Built in 1911, the depot replaced a wooden structure originally built in 1886 when the tracks were laid through Arcadia.
Name: St. Edmund, the Martyr, Episcopal Church
Location: 327 W. Hickory Street
Historical Significance: Although the larger masonry church was constructed in 1930 to resemble a “countryside chapel,” the smaller, original wood-frame sanctuary, built in 1895, still stands and serves as a parish hall.
Name: Old West Elementary School/Family Service Center
Location: 310 W. Whidden Street
Historical Significance: Constructed in 1925, this yellow-brick elementary school has the original 1906 DeSoto County High School in its “backyard’; the high school was replaced by another structure in 1914 which has since been demolished; the 1906 building was re-roofed as a one-story gynasium/cafeteria as a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project.
Name: Cary C. Carlton Home
Location: 321 E. Oak Street
Historical Significance: Born in Nocatee as one of the twelve children of Wright Carlton, Cary C. Carlton, a rancher, built his home in 1912 in the four-square Georgian style; at the front curb, cement steps, engraved with the home’s owner and date of construction, provided easy access to a wagon or carriage.
Name: Arcadia Historic District
Location: Brevard, Dade, DeSoto, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Mills, Monroe, Orange, Osceola, Pasco, Polk, Sumter, Volusia Avenues, and Cypress, Effie, Hickory, Imogene, Magnolia, Oak, Pine, Walnut, Whidden Streets
Historical Significance: In 1984, the Arcadia Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Name: Historic Parker House
Location: 427 W. Hickory Street
Historical Significance: Son of Seminole War Veteran John Parker, Jasper Newton and Rhoda Crum Parker built this family home in 1895, and in 1992, it became Arcadia’s first Bed and Breakfast Inn; the house recently reverted to a private residence.
Name: First Baptist Church
Location: 27 N. Polk Avenue
Historical Significance: Constructed in the Romanesque Revival style in 1907, the red-brick First Baptist Church replaced a wood-frame structure dating to 1897; it was moved to 101 S. Orange Avenue and served as the church for Elizabeth Missionary Baptist Church until it was torn down in 1987.
Name: 12-14 W. Oak Street
Location: Seward Building
Historical Significance: William H. Seward originally opened his store in Pine Level, the first county seat, and after Arcadia was chosen as the new county seat, he moved his business to this handsome brick building, constructed in 1900. It was one of three to survive the 1905 fire that destroyed downtown Arcadia.
Name: 124 N. Manatee Avenue
Location: Tom Gaskins, Sr., Home
Historical Significance: Inventor of the “Gaskins Car Coupler” for trains in 1895 and owner of an early “cash store” in Arcadia, Tom Gaskins built this home, with Queen Anne ornamentation, in 1886; his woodwork also decorates St. Edmund’s Episcopal Church.
Name: 516 W. Oak Street
Location: John Wesley Whidden Home
Historical Significance: Veteran of the Third Seminole and Civil Wars, Captain Whidden built his home in 1887 to face east; later, floorplan was redesigned so that the front now faces south on Oak Street.
Name: 23 N. Polk Avenue
Location: Margaret Way Building
Historical Significance: Built by the owner of the second Ford dealership in Arcadia, this 1925 structure is named for Arcadia’s longtime City Recorder.
Name: 212 W. Hickory Street
Location: Arcadia City Hall
Historical Significance: Constructed during the 1920s “building boom,” City Hall is a unique example of Mediterranean Revival architecture.
Name: 210 W. Whidden Street
Location: Howard and Velma Melton Historical Research Library in the Ingraham Seed House
Historical Significance: Designed as a replica of the Ingraham Seed House and built on the original site of his business, the Howard and Velma Melton Historical Research Library is an eclectic collection of historic photographs, documents, and other memorabilia curated by the DeSoto County Historical Society.
Name: 300 N. Monroe Avenue
Location: John Morgan Ingraham Home
Historical Significance: This classic frame vernacular “Cracker” home, built in 1900, was named for a later resident, John Morgan Ingraham, a businessman who served as state representative of DeSoto County in 1945-49; the home is currently under restoration by the DeSoto County Historical Society and will open as museum.
Name: 101-117 W. Oak Street
Location: Rosin Arcade
Historical Significance: The arcade, built by Simon Rosin in 1927, features a flamboyant style influenced by the Art Deco movement.
Name: 711 W. Hickory Street
Location: Major Micajah Singleton Home
Historical Significance: Major Micajah Singleton, a civil and mining engineer as well as a geologist, worked in the phosphate industry when deposits were mined from Peace River; he built this home with a separate kitchen, now 715 W. Hickory Street, in 1889.
Name: 200-202 W. Oak Street
Location: IOOF-WOW Building
Historical Significance: The Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the Woodmen of the World, two fraternal organizations, built this three-story, grand structure in 1914.
Name: 1519 N. Arcadia Avenue
Location: Johnson Home
Historical Significance: In 1885, Dr. Anthony Johnson purchased section 30 and moved into a log cabin built by the first settlers in what is Arcadia today, Thomas Dowdy and Matilda Herndon Williams, while this two-story home was constructed; the log cabin remained standing into the 20th century..
Name: 23 W. Oak Street
Location: L. L. Morgan Building
Historical Significance: The date of construction proudly displayed in the facade of this building is February 1906, only three months after the disastrous Thanksgiving Day fire destroyed Arcadia in 1905.
Name: 2-8 W. Oak Street
Location: D. T. Carlton Block
Historical Significance: The only structure with Italianate-style architectural features, this structure was built by Daniel Tom Carlton in 1904.
Name: 115 E. Oak Street
Location: DeSoto County Courthouse
Historical Significance: With three stories and a basement, the 1912 Greek Revival courthouse is setback from the street, in a park-like setting, forming the traditional Southern town’s “courthouse square.”
Name: 640 W. Whidden Street
Location: W. O. Ralls Home
Historical Significance: Owner of a sawmill and citrus groves, William Oswell and Annie Causey Ralls moved into this home in 1903; the two-story wing was added in 1915; it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011..
Name: 102-112 W. Oak Street
Location: Heard Opera House
Historical Significance: In 1906, John J. Heard built this structure for his bank, Florida Loan and Trust Company, with offices and an opera house upstairs; it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Name: 1-9 W. Magnolia Street
Location: Schlossberg Plaza Hotel
Historical Significance: The only historic hotel remaining in Arcadia, the Plaza was built by Michael Schlossberg in 1927.
Name: 607 W. Oak Street
Location: Mourning Jones Home
Historical Significance: John L. and his wife Mourning Johnson Jones built their home in 1892 in the Queen Anne-style; in 1889, Jones had founded the DeSoto Abstract Company, one of the first in the state.
Key Historical Events
Event: The Florida Southern Railway Arrives in 1886
In 1885, Albert Gilchrist and an African-American crew surveyed a route through Arcadia for the Railway. He served as governor (1909-1913), and created a subdivision in Arcadia. Work crews, including about 1500 African Americans built the railroad; some settled in Arcadia. The first train arrived on March 4, 1886.
Event: First Bridge over Peace River, 1892
One of Arcadia’s first merchants was W. E. Daniels. His business outgrew his first store, so he built a second one in 1895, with merchandise on the first floor, hardware and undertaking on the second. He helped raise funds to build the first bridge over Peace River in 1892.
Event: First Fraternal Organization, 1888
1888, the Masonic Lodge became the first fraternal organization organized in Arcadia. Later, the International Order of Odd Fellows and Woodmen of the World organizations were formed, and they constructed a three-story, red brick building downtown in 1914. The facade includes a monument marking the clubs’ initials and construction date.
Event: DeSoto Abstract Company Founded 1889
In 1889, John L. Johns founded DeSoto Abstract Company, one of the state’s earliest. Years before, he had managed Fort Ogden’s general store and then worked in the courthouse, where he saw the need for a history of each property. His brick office building, constructed in 1926, still stands.
Event: Florida Baptist Children’s Home Established in 1903
In 1903, the Florida Baptist Children’s Home was opened in Arcadia, and many of the beautiful “patent stone” structures, and the wood-frame superintendent’s home, remain. During the Great Depression, a beef cannery there was funded by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. In 1948, the orphanage was moved to Lakeland.
Event: 1905 Thanksgiving Day Fire
On Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1905, a fire destroyed downtown Arcadia. Neither a bucket brigade nor dynamite slowed the blaze which started in a stable behind the Gore and Scott store. Forty-two buildings and merchandise, valued at more than $250,000, burned. Three brick structures, still standing today, survived.
Event: 1906 DeSoto County High School
In 1906, the DeSoto County High School was constructed of “patent stone.” A larger high school (now demolished) was built in 1914. During the Great Depression, under the Work Progress Administration, the second floor of the 1906 school was removed, and the building was used as a gymnasium and
Event: Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad 1907
In 1907, the Charlotte Harbor and Northern Railroad began service to haul phosphate ore, used in the production of fertilizer, to the deep water port of Boca Grande. The train backed into the depot, now demolished, was built on South Monroe Avenue. Later, the “car shops” were moved to Arcadia.
Event: DeSoto County Courthouse in Arcadia
The DeSoto County Courthouse, no longer standing in Arcadia, was built in 1888. J.W. Whidden, L.H. Parker, and W. E. Daniels each paid $1,000 toward the cost of the wood-frame structure. In 1912, the brick Greek Revival courthouse, still used today, was constructed on the same property.
Event: All-Florida Chautauqua in Arcadia 1929
In 1914, the first Chautauqua programs were held in Arcadia in the Opera House. Although a Chautauqua Center was located in DeFuniak Springs, Arcadia was a more central location, so a 4,620-person amphitheater was built. The first and only All-Florida Chautauqua season was January 17-March 8, 1929.