Arcadia, Florida Early History, Part 1

Arcadia, Florida Early History

Edited by Spessard Stone from The Tampa Morning Tribune of Tampa, Florida of January 10, 1909

County Seat

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.

Pioneer Families

Among the early residents were the families of Hon. J. W. Whidden, S. E. Whidden, R. C. Hendry, F. M. Waldron, Thomas Williams, and many others.

Early Growth

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.

City Officials

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.

Telephone Service

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.

Sewer System

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 be 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, 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 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.

Ice Plant

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 school room. 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.


The man with small means, who is looking for a comfortable home in a country where something more than a mere living can be made, will find no country that offers greater inducements than the Peace River country. No place can a man start will less and more quickly gain independence. Its soil, climate, healthfulness and natural advantages make it the finest and richest country on earth.

See also:

All About Fair Arcadia (1897)

Arcadia Champion, Popular Paper

December 23-24, 2000, October 18, 2001, January 21, 2002, March 17, 2004, April 16, 2009