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Florida: DeSoto County Walking Tour of Downtown Arcadia

Florida history, culture, wildlife, fiction, and other topics.

DeSoto County, Florida:  Welcome to Historic Arcadia!  A Leisurely Stroll through Time Walking Tour

Introduction

Settlement in the Arcadia area began in the mid-1850's as southwest Florida endured the Third Seminole War (1855-1858) followed by the U.S. Civil War.

Known first as Waldron’s Landing, Raulerson’s Landing, and “Tater Hill Bluff,” Arcadia was established as a post office in 1883; incorporated as a town in 1886 (nine months after the arrival of the first train); became the county seat in 1888; and was reincorporated as a city in 1901. According to legend, the town was named for Arcadia Albritton Coker in gratitude for a birthday cake she baked! 

Citrus cultivation and truck farms (especially watermelon) were early--and enduring--industries. During the “range wars” or “cattle wars” of the late 19th century, Arcadia was as wild as any frontier town.

Following the devastating fire of Thanksgiving Day, November 30, 1905, Arcadia decreed only brick or block structures downtown. The City prospered through the teens and twenties: three railroads, the Dixie Highway (western route), a Tourist Camp, and the All-Florida Chautauqua Amphitheatre were built, and the first rodeo was held in 1929--now the Arcadia All-Florida Grand Championship Rodeo.

During World War I, two U.S. Army Air Fields were established for training pilots, so Arcadia called itself “Aviation City.” The air fields were rebuilt prior to World War II and initiated the city’s renewal following the Great Depression and its rapid growth in the late 20th century.

In 1984, more than 370 historic homes and businesses were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and 2017, the Historical Society and the Peace River Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution installed a Florida Historic Marker to commemorate the Arcadia Historic District. In 1985, the Florida Main Street program revitalized downtown when many shops began selling antiques.

Arcadia was again in the Main Street Program after the disastrous hurricanes of 2004, including a direct strike from Hurricane Charley.  In 2017, many structures were damaged by Hurricane Irma. 

The DeSoto County Historical Society was founded during the centennial celebrations for Arcadia and DeSoto County in 1986-1987. More details and structures are available in the Walking Tour of Historic Arcadia, Florida booklet on sale in shops and from the Society.

1. Tree of Knowledge

#1 Tree of Knowledge

Tree of Knowledge - Now a City of Arcadia Park, the Tree of Knowledge was so named because of the frequent “campaign oratory” beneath its boughs. In 1889, two trees were planted to honor the births of Robert Morris Whidden and Inez Carlton, but the trees died in the early 1930's. In 1938, a ten-year-old sapling was planted and dedicated. Later, a stage was built with public restrooms in the rear.

2. Railroad Depot, 4 W. Oak

picture postcard of arcadia train depotRailroad Depot, 4 W. Oak - Built by the Atlantic Coast Line in 1911, this red-brick train station replaced the original wood-frame depot built by the Florida Southern Railway in 1886, and later used by the Florida Southern Railroad and incorporated into the Henry Plant System of railroads. After Plant's death in 1902, the Atlantic Coast Line purchased the line and constructed this new depot.  Lee Stevenson rehabilitated the structure in 1988.

3. Daniel T. Carlton Building, 2-8 W. Oak

picture postcard of carlton building

Daniel T. Carlton Building, 2-8 W. Oak, circa 1904, is one of three structures that survived the 1905 fire. It is the City's only building designed in the "Italianate" architectural style. Simon Rosin opened the Boston Store downstairs, and it was replaced later by Miss Gertrude’s dress shop owned and operated by Gertrude Morgan. Many businesses rented the offices upstairs, including attorneys, milliners, and others. The DeSoto County Health Department rented the upstairs for 35 years.

The history of the D. T. Carlton Block by Carol Mahler

(A version of article was first published in The Arcadian newspaper on Sept. 21, 2017 pages 12-13 and is reposted courtesy of Carol Mahler)

 

1902-1910

 

• On March 28, 1902, Edward A. Thomas and his wife Bessie A. Thomas sold for $100.00 nearly a quarter acre of property at the northeast corner of DeSoto Ave. and Oak St. to Daniel T. “Tom” Carlton as recorded on p. 680 of Deed Book 40.

• Around 1903, a commercial structure, the only example in Arcadia of the Italianate architectural style popular between 1880 and 1900, was built for Carlton.

• Born on July 14, 1864, in Hawthorne, Carlton had moved to Fort Ogden in 1887 and then to Arcadia. On April 15, 1891, he married Nancy Mizell (1864-1963), and they had three sons: Zachary (1887-1906), and twins Clarence (1892-1968) and Clyde (1892-1911).

• Tom Carlton served as Arcadia’s postmaster 1889-1893 and 1897-1905. In the 1910 U.S. Census, he was listed as a real estate salesman, and he built a “Colonial Revival” home at 500 W. Oak St. (The home was damaged in Hurricane Charley in 2004.) He owned citrus groves—listed as his occupation in the U.S. Census of 1920 and 1930—and a gas station which he leased. He died on Jan. 8, 1955.

• The 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance map locates the Arcadia post office in the northeast corner of the Carlton Building. The State Bank is the southeast corner, next to a dry goods-clothing store

   —The Boston Store, opened by Simon Rosin (1883-1966) when he moved to Arcadia in 1905

   — and grocery—the Dishong Brothers, General Merchants.

• The law office of John W. Burton (1874-1920) was also advertised as located in the Carlton Building in 1910. In that year’s U.S. Census, Henry C. Burton (1887-1963), his brother, worked as a clerk in a law office—maybe his brother’s.

• In 1910, Robert W. Rowell (1868-1918) had a Photography Studio upstairs in the Carlton Building. In 1911, Mrs. Della D. Ender (1858-1950) also had a Photography Studio. (She is listed in the U.S. Census for 1910 and 1920 as a studio photographer in Tampa.) In 1913, a newspaper article notes that G. B. Russell was moving his studio out of the Carlton Building; however, when he photographed students for the 1916 high school yearbook, he advertised his business there.

• Recorded on p. 48 of Deed Book 69, Carlton sold the building in May 1910 to Erasmus F. Childers (1879-1935), listed in that year’s U.S. Census as a real estate salesman.

 

1920-1940

 

• In the 1921 Arcadia City Directory, the Boston Store and Morgado & Welles, Grocers and Meats (managed by John Blake (1862-1925); owned by Indalecio Morgado and Edgar C. Welles(1893-1950)) were downstairs, and the “Chamber of Commerce Building” was upstairs: Mrs. Louise B. Iverson, millinery and dressmaker; Langford & Sharon Attorneys: William C. Langford (1877-1921) and James G. Sharon (1877-1956); Richard F. Lewis (1874-1945), real estate; Walter. D. Bell (1882-1966), attorney; Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) where the Arcadia Woman’s Club and United Daughters of the Confederacy held their meetings; and R. Percy Jones (1876-1955), attorney.

• On the 1914 and 1923 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, the downstairs is occupied by a restaurant and three stores. In the 1926 Arcadia City Directory, the Boston store occupied two storefronts and the Arcadia Cash Grocery—managed by John Blake—the third. The Chamber of Commerce offices had moved to the newly constructed City Hall, so the upstairs offices were occupied by Lewis-Hendry & Co., real estate, Richard F. Lewis and James A. Hendry (1868-1941); J. A. Hendry’s wife Pearl R. Hendry (1884-1943), milliner; Earle A. Rabb (1901-1992), chiropractor; Charles P. Covington, attorney; and “City Rest Rooms . . .for out-of-town ladies who come into our city for the day.”

• In the 1930 U.S. Census, Edith Scott (1884-1975) is listed as a manager of citrus groves. In a 1935 newspaper photo, the Carlton Block was called the Scott Building, with three stores on the first floor and 18 offices upstairs even though Scott had sold it to the First National Bank in 1934 to satisfy “notes and stock assessment due by the said estate of David H. Scott” (Deed Book 228, p. 47).

 

1940-2020

 

• Between 1946 and 1980, the DeSoto County Health Department occupied the second floor of the Carlton Block, where several generations of DeSoto County students received their vaccinations. Erma “Bill” Whitlock (1910-1993) was director from 1946 to 1974 followed by Carolyn Prescott (1933-2014) who retired as manager in 1991.

 

• In 1999, Sunny South Packing Company, owned by the Morgan family estate, sold the structure to Jim C. Green (1943-2003), owner and operator of DeSoto Appliances. After his death, his wife Leora sold the building to Thompson Ventures. In 2004, Thompson Ventures sold the building to Charles and Martha Craven. They rehabilitated the building and opened the Oak Park Inn in 2008. Innkeeper Chris Brown bought the structure in 2015, and Hurricane Irma wrecked the structure on Sept. 10, 2017. In 2018, Sanjaykumar Patel bought and rehabilitated the structure. He reopened the Oak Park Inn in 2019.

4. W. H. Seward Stores, 10-14 W. Oak

Newspaper clipping of W. H. Seward Stores

W. H. Seward Store, 10-14 W. Oak - Built in 1900, the building next to the Carlton Block was one of three to survive the 1905 fire. Seward sold dry goods, hay and grain--with a livery stable in the rear. He built another shop--to sell clothing--to the west of his original store. At that time, the brick in the upper brick facade was changed to "tie" the two structures together.

5. Daniel/Houstoun Buildings, 30-32 W. Oak

Daniel/Houstoun Buildings photograph

Daniel/Houstoun Buildings, 30-32 W. Oak - Built of "patent stone" or "rusticated blocks," the Daniel and Houstoun buildings were constructed in the year following the fire and proudly proclaimed the date “1906” in their facades.  Historian Howard Melton called W. E. Daniel the first merchant in Arcadia. He was a pioneer grocer--both retail and wholesale.  The Houstoun name has been “erased” from the facade.

6. First National Bank, 34 W. Oak

 historical photograph of first national bank of arcadia

First National Bank, 34 W. Oak - The First National Bank of Arcadia, also known as the King Building, was built in 1905. Financed by Ziba King--cattle baron and Florida State Senator--it was one of three structures that survived the 1905 fire. The bank has been remodeled several times, and the tower was removed. The most recent “modernizing” facade disguises the elegance of this handsome structure.

7. Owen Parker Building, 15 W. Oak

# 7 Owen Parker Building

Owen Parker Building, 15 W. Oak - Owen Henry Parker had a wood-frame "grain and grocery" store that burned in the 1905 fire. He built this structure but did not reopen his business. The first floor was the location of the Harry Cross Drugstore and other stores; in 1926, McCrory’s 5 & 10 Store opened and remained until 1988.  The upstairs business and professional offices have been renovated to make a private residence.

A brief biography of Owen Parker by Carol Mahler

(A version of article was first published in The Arcadian newspaper on May 19, 2016 (page 12) and is reposted courtesy of Carol Mahler)

The Last Chapter Coffee House and Cafe and the Hot Fudge Shoppe are located in the Owen Parker Building, 15 W. Oak St. Who was Owen Parker?

Owen Parker was the grandson of John Parker (1818-1991), born in Sampson County, North Carolina. With his family, he moved Florida in 1831.

He served four enlistments during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). On December 12, 1839, in Columbia County, Florida, he married Jane Elizabeth Smiley Hooker (1809-1891), widow of Stephen Caswell Hooker who died in 1837. In 1831, she had moved with her parents to Alachua County and married Stephen Hooker.

John and Jane Parker moved to Hillsborough County in 1843. Under the provisions of the Armed Occupation Act of 1842, he homesteaded 160 acres in Simmons Hammock where he was listed in the 1850 U.S. Census. A cattleman, he also served as sheriff/tax collector, county commissioner, and justice of the peace.

He fought during the Third Seminole War (1855-1858) and moved his family to Manatee County. He represented Manatee County in the Florida House in 1860-1861. After the U.S. Civil War, he moved to Homeland where he is buried. Jane is buried in Joshua Creek Cemetery. Their children are Martha J., Louisa Sophia, Thomas Owen, John M. H. “Jack”, Jasper Newton, and Lewis Henry.

Owen Parker is the son of Lewis Henry Parker (1842-1901) who was born in Columbia County, Florida. With his parents, Lewis moved to Hillsborough County in 1843.

In 1861, a doctor certified that Lewis has “forefinger of his right hand removed which would be much in the way of loading a gun, and I do not think he is qualified to perform military duty.” Nevertheless, he served in the army for the Confederate States of America.

On February 1, 1866, in Polk County, he married Lydia Elvira Starnes (1846-1882). He moved from Homeland to Joshua Creek in 1868. In 1869, he was listed with the men ages 18 to 45 liable for military duty in Manatee County. In 1878-1879, he served as county commissioner. In 1879, he represented Manatee County in the Florida House.

DeSoto County was created in 1887. In 1888, he and three others donated a total of $3,000--the sum to be matched by the County--to build a courthouse if Arcadia were chosen county seat. It was, and he served on the building committee.

In the 1900 U.S. Census, he is listed as a farmer, and his sons John and George (ages 31 and 22 respectively) are living with him as well as a African-American servant, 19-year-old Harry McLeod.

He died of a broken neck. He had left home on a cattle drive, and the next day his horse returned home without him. He was found with a cigar clenched in his teeth which indicated an instantaneous death.

Their children were Finis Eugene born in Homeland; and the others born in Joshua Creek: John Newton, Cuthbert C., Lewis Henry, George Robert, William S., and Owen Henry.

Owen Henry Parker (1872-1934) married Dora L. Carlton (1881-1950) on April 16, 1899, in the old Hawthorne School. Born in Hawthorne, near Nocatee, she was the daughter of Jeremiah and Eliza Jane Langford Carlton. She joined the United Daughters of the Confederacy and served as its president.

In 1900, Owen Parker bought 15 W. Oak St. and may have built a wooden store on the site. In 1902, he sold to his brothers Finis and George Parker for $8,000 “one stock of cattle branded “85” and “an undivided quarter interest in Lewis H. Parker estate cattle branded letter S plus right, title, and interest in what is known as the “stockade and sweet orange grove pastures in DeSoto County.”

He is listed in the December 1, 1905, issue of the DeSoto County News as one of the merchants whose business was destroyed in the Thanksgiving Day, November 30, fire: “O. H. Parker, grain and groceries.” His new brick building was announced as completed in a 1907 news article.

In the 1910 U.S. Census, he is identified as a “fruit farmer.” He built a bungalow in 1920 near his 20 acres of citrus groves as part of what the newspaper called an “Ideal Florida Farm.” The house had “six rooms, bath, electric lights, and running water--in fact, all modern conveniences.” The construction cost was $7,000.

Cleaning a gun, he accidentally shot himself while his wife was shopping in Arcadia. His obituary notes that he had lived on the same property since 1909, so another structure may have preceded the brick bungalow built in 1920-21. He and Dora are buried in Joshua Creek Cemetery.

Owen and Dora had two children: Leon Edwin (1900-1960) and Herbert Dean (1903-1998). In 1999, Gary Frank Parker sold the Owen Parker Building as part of the estate of of his father Herbert Dean Parker.

History of the Owen Parker Building First Floor by Carol Mahler

(A version of this article was first published in The Arcadian newspaper on May 26, 2016 (page 11) and is reposted courtesy of Carol Mahler)

The Owen Henry Parker family owned the two-story building at 15 W. Oak St. for nearly 100 years. What stores have been located downstairs?

In 1903, Jacob Franklin Stonebreaker (1869-1932) had established the Arcadia Hardware Store. He had moved to Hull in DeSoto County to work for the C.C. Comer [phosphate] Company in 1894-1895. He married Sadie Maude Gaskins (1877-1959), and they moved to Arcadia. His store was destroyed in the Thanksgiving Day, November 30, fire as listed in the December 1 issue of the “DeSoto County News.” He moved the store into the Parker building in 1907. Until his death, he operated the store--later with his son George (1898-1977). (George and his brother Frank (1896-1918) served in World War I.)

The 1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows the downstairs tenants of the Owen Parker building were a “hardware & crockery” store and a “soft drinks” shop.

John M Lanier (1868-1961) and his wife Ollie Stelle Lanier (1875-1972) moved to Arcadia in 1897. He opened the “Lanier Cold Drink and Confectionary Store” (that also sold cigars in 1898) and moved into the Parker building at least by 1909. Lanier also owned a “steam laundry” next to his home at 200 W. Hickory Street, and an interest in T. A. Cassel’s “Famous Indian Remedy” for indigestion. He closed the soda business in 1915 and bought movie theaters.

The 1914 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map shows a drugstore in place of the hardware store. Harry Cross (1877-1948), the son of John Cross who founded Liverpool on Peace River, opened his drugstore in 1907 in the Opera House building and moved to the DeSoto National Bank, and then by 1914, to the Parker Building for a total of 30 years in business. He and his wife Rose Hardin Cross (1889-1977) lived in a home at 428 W. Hickory St., built in 1907 by P. R. Read who also was its first resident.

In the 1940s, the McCrory’s Five and Dime Store opened in the Parker Building. According to the Arcadia City Directories, the managers were Harry F. Marshall, 1956-58; Calvin E. Johns, 1960; Marvin K. Jordan; 1962; John C. Marshall, 1964; Paul J. Fontaine, 1966.

Beginning in 1968, women became managers: Mrs. Mae M. Glazier, 1968; Mrs. Cecelia Rider, 1970-75; Marie Heydoph, 1976-1982; Dottie Mikels, 1983-1986; Ann Nichols, 1987-88.

In 1989-1999, Goodwill Industries operated a thrift store; Betty Hall was the first manager, and Valerie Williams became manager in 1992.

After the death of Herbert Dean Parker, his son sold the building in 2000 to William E. and Colleen Martin, and in Nov., they opened the Buck-and-a-Half Store. They sold the building in 2003 to Charles and Martha Craven. First, they remodeled the upstairs as their residence and then the first-floor storefront. In 2007, they opened the Last Chapter Bookstore and Coffee House and the Hot Fudge Shoppe was added in 2012.

History of the Owen Parker Building Second Floor by Carol Mahler

(A version of this article was first published in The Arcadian newspaper on June 2, 2016 (page 11) and is reposted courtesy of Carol Mahler)

Current owners Martha and Charles Craven remodeled the upstairs of the Owen Parker Building, 15 W. Oak Street, for their residence. Who else had lived there?

According to the City Directory of 1921-1922, Herbert Owen Parker, son of Owen Parker, and his wife Elsie Petrey Parker resided upstairs--perhaps only in one room. He worked as a clerk in John H. Whidden’s auto supply store at 9-15 E. Oak Street--the Williford Building. However, many other businesses were tenants of the second-floor offices.

Since 1916 and perhaps earlier, C. L. Cravens and Joseph G. Kimmel, civil engineers, had an upstairs office in the Parker building.

A native of Peoria, Clement L. Cravens (1867-1947) attended Tri-State School of Engineering of Indiana and Armour Institute of Technology in Chicago. Resigning a county engineer position in Illinois, Cravens moved to Arcadia in 1911. He was appointed City Engineer in 1912 when the city was extending and rebuilding the city water and sewerage systems after a huge street repair project. In 1914, he married Miss Ollie M. Huffman (1884-1970) in Olathe, Kansas, who had spent the past winter in Arcadia.

After completing work for the city, Cravens was elected County Engineer in 1916 and with the exception of three years as Resident Engineer with the State Road Department, served as city and county engineer in the construction of streets, roads, bridges, buildings, etc., for two decades. He is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

In the 1940 U.S. Census, Joseph Glenn Kimmel, age 53, born in Nebraska, was listed as a “civil engineer for agricultural development” living in Sarasota. His wife Rebecca, age 53, was born in Georgia as was their son, J. Glenn Kimmel, age 20, a “surveyor of farms.” He had graduated from Sarasota High School and attended the University of Florida for two years. He was killed in World War II.

After Mrs. Bertha Potter Palmer’s death, her sons Honoré and Potter Jr., focused on the sawgrass area east of Fruitville for horticultural experimentation and farming. However, first it had to be drained. In 1921, they formed the Fruitville Drainage District and hired Arcadia engineer J.G. Kimmel, of the Cravens and Kimmel engineering firm.

In the 1921-22 City Directory, Dr. Cecil Vaughan (1868-1942) had his office upstairs. According to an advertisement in the February 27, 1920, issue of the “DeSoto County News” he was a physician and surgeon specializing in the “Diseases of Women,” with office hours 2-4 p.m, and a business and residence telephone.

In the 1920 U.S. Census for east Arcadia, he was born in India to parents born in England. His wife Catherine Moncreaf (1886-1963), had parents were born in Scotland. Cecil and Catherine had emigrated to the U.S. in 1903 and moved to Florida from Detroit, Michigan, “where the doctor had a lucrative practice,” because of Mrs. Vaughan’s “lack of health,” according to a March 5, 1920, article in the “DeSoto County News.” They are buried in Orange Hill Cemetery in Tampa.

Also listed with an upstairs office is Dr. Joseph Henderson Coffee (1879-1937), a doctor of genito-urinary diseases and laboratory work according to an advertisement in 1919 issue of the “Arcadia Daily News.” He served as the Grand Chancellor of the Knights of Pythias as elected at the state convention in Tampa announced in the April 29, 1921 issue of the “DeSoto County News” and as state representative for DeSoto County in 1930-32. He is buried in Bosque Bello Cemetery, Fernandina Beach.

The first fraternal order to be chartered by an Act of Congress in 1864, the Knights of Pythias also had a club meeting room upstairs in the Owen Parker Building. The organization’s mission was to “heal the wounds of the Civil War between the North and South and promote friendship among men and relieve suffering.” It was named for the ancient story of friendship between Pythias and Damon.

The 1921 City Directory also listed the office of Architect William Bradford (1851-1926). In the November 9, 1916 issue of “DeSoto County News” is the following note: “Mr. Bradford is the able and efficient architect of Arcadia who made the plans for our new school house. We are proud of the building, hence well pleased with Mr. Bradford.” That year, he also served as the architect for the Charlotte Harbor School. He is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

Also with an office upstairs was the Standard Growers Exchange, incorporated in 1912, was the “largest of the independent marketing agencies in the Florida citrus industry” according to the Aug. 4, 1921, “St. Petersburg Times,” when it merged the Florida Citrus Exchange. It had more than a dozen citrus packing houses, including one in Arcadia.

The 1926 City Directory lists 15 W. Oak St. as the “Parker Building” and identifies the upstairs offices of physicians J. H. Coffee and Murdock L. Crum (1873-1929), nephew of Rhoda Crum Parker, wife of Jasper Newton Parker, a brother of Owen Henry Parker. In 1897, he married Lilla Lee Futch (1876-1929) and served as Major in U.S. Army 1917-1920. He is buried in Oaklawn Cemetery, Plant City, Florida.

8. Morgan Building, 20 W. Oak

photo of morgan building

Morgan Building, 20 W. Oak - L. L. Morgan was the first to rebuild after downtown Arcadia was destroyed by fire on November 30, 1905, and the upper facade includes his name and the construction date of Feb. 1906.  He sold hardware and furniture downstairs and did undertaking on the 3rd floor--as did his competitor, E. T. Smith, at the other end of this block. Damaged following Hurricane Irma revealed distinctive columns and handsome transom windows covered over in a previous remodeling.

9. E. T. Smith Store, 35 W. Oak

photo of e t smith store

E. T. Smith Store, 35 W. Oak - The owner and construction date is spelled out in the tile foyer of the E. T. Smith Store. Smith sold hardware and furniture on the first floor.  Undertaking was done on the second floor. Smith moved his hardware store, and his daughter Emily owned and operated it  until she retired in 1975. The building was used as a bowling alley and for the Arcadia Book and Music Store. 

10. Greene-Wey Drugstores, 25-31 W. Oak

photo of building

 Greene-Wey Drugstores, 25-31 W. Oak - Both Dr. Edwin Greene and his son-in-law Jake Wey were pharmacists, and in 1906, they opened side-by-side drugstores. Later, Jake Wey's establishment became a Rexall Drugstore and then was purchased by Dr. Louis Koch. Koch swapped storefronts with C. E. Adams who had opened a mens wear shop in the Rosin Arcade. Adams' shop became Mercer's as commemorated in the stained glass sign in the transom window.

11. Heard Opera House, 102-108 W. Oak

postcard of heard opera house

Heard Opera House, 102-108 W. Oak - J. J. Heard financed the Heard Opera House in 1906 and opened his Florida Loan and Trust Company downstairs. This was followed by Dozier’s Department Store--owned by A. J. Dozier--which added its name in tile in the foyer floor. Later, Eaton’s Department Store operated downstairs.  The upstairs had offices facing Oak Street and Polk Avenue, and the auditorium was used for operas, other performances, and as a civic auditorium.  Later, films were shown.

Opera House Haunted by Phantom Orphan Asylum

A version of this article was published in the Apr. 4, 2019, issue of the Arcadian.

 

What orphanage was built where the Opera House now stands? This question seems to haunt those who investigate paranormal activity in the structure; however, the historical record offers no substantiation of the phantom orphans’ asylum.

The property was originally owned John Jay Philbrick and his wife Mary A. Philbrick, Peter A. Williams and his wife Malvina Williams, Raymon Alvarez and his wife Florence Alvarez—all citizens of Key West, Florida. In 1888, the Philbricks, Williams, plus George D. Warren and his wife Susan M. Warren, had donated block 29 for a new courthouse after voters had elected Arcadia as the new government seat of DeSoto County formed in 1887. The deed was recorded on July 1, 1889, Deed Book 15, pp. 78-80.

According to pp. 78-80, Deed Book 15, on June 22, 1891, J. W. Whidden— “attorney in fact” for the Philbrick, Williams, and Alvarez families—sold the property where the opera house now stands for $50.00 to his nephew Andrew Green (1854-1925). In the 1910 U.S. Census, Green was 55 years old and worked as Arcadia’s postmaster. He lived on Brevard Ave., with his wife, Martha E. Green (1859-1945), and nine of their 13 children: Herbert, age 31, a post office clerk; James, age 22, a surveyor; Imogene, age 18; Ursula, age 16; Ida, age 13; Rollo, age 11; Susie, age 9; Andrew, age 7; married daughter Maude Lane, age 29, a post office clerk; and her children Nellie Mae, age 6, and Kirby L, age 3.

On July 10, 1894, the Greens sold the property for $1,000. to Samuel Joseph Simmons (1854-1942), and the sizable purchase price implies a structure, as recorded on p. 244 of Deed Book 26. In the 1900 U.S. Census, Simmons worked as a merchant and lived with his sister and her family in Arcadia. In 1901, he married Julia Humphries Simmons (1870-1956). In the 1910 census, he worked as a real estate agent, and they had three children: Samuel J., Jr., age 8; John H., age 6; Paul, age 4. (Later, James P. was born.) Samuel served two terms on the Arcadia City Council.

On Oct. 12, 1905, the Simmons sold the property to John J. Heard for a $2,000 promissory note. On Nov. 30, the Thanksgiving Day fire destroyed the property. In the Dec. 1 issue of the DeSoto County News, Heard is listed as losing his “dwelling house” as well as suffering damage to his citrus packing house—located where the Plaza Hotel was later built. In the 1900 U.S. Census, Heard was listed as a “fruit dealer,” married five years to his wife Lowe, with children William A., age 3, and James N., age 4 months. (His daughters Julia and Marguerite were born about 1904 and 1911 respectively.)

Interestingly, the Dec. 1 issue also published a legal notice for the Florida Baptist Children’s Home—known locally as “the orphanage”—advertising staggered terms for its Board of Directors. It had been founded in Arcadia in 1903 on land at the northwest corner of W. Gibson St. and N. Arcadia Ave., about one-half mile north of the Opera House.

After the fire, Heard built the Opera House in 1906 and opened the South Florida Loan and Trust Company on the first floor. In the 1910 census, he was listed as president of a “state bank.” According to Howard Melton in his book Footprints and Landmarks: Arcadia and DeSoto County, Florida, Heard also founded the Arcadia Electric Light, Ice, and Telephone Company; and owned (with David Scott) the Carlton Block; the Central Hotel; the Arcadian Mercantile Company; and was president of the State Bank of Kissimmee.

Heard left Arcadia in 1911 and moved to Jacksonville where he founded the Heard National Bank. When it went bankrupt in June 1918, he and four other prominent businessmen were arrested. However, by Sept. 1920, every depositor was paid in full, and all cases against the bank were dismissed.

12. W. F. Esplenlaub Meat Market, 110 W. Oak

photo of esplenlaub meat market building

W. F. Esplenlaub Meat Market, 110 W. Oak - William Esplenlaub and his wife, Katharina, arrived in Arcadia in 1891 and opened the meat market in 1895.  They also owned a 160-acre farm near Fort Ogden. After the 1905 fire destroyed their wood-frame butcher shop, they rebuilt on the same site. They had the first refrigerator in DeSoto County. 

13. Rosin Arcade, 101-117 W. Oak

rosen arcade vintage postcard image

 Rosin Arcade, 101-117 W. Oak - Built in 1926, the Rosin Arcade was the last commercial building constructed on Oak Street.  Simon Rosin signed a 10-year lease with the post office for the arcade’s south half and opened his Boston Store in the north half.  It was often called the “Post Office Arcade” as on this vintage postcard. Later, it was Koch’s Drugstore and Soda Fountain. Len and Elida Hazen restored the flamboyant Art Deco-style structure in 1989.

Rosin Arcade History by Carol Mahler

(A version of this article was first published in The Arcadian newspaper on December 14, 2017 (page 1) and is reposted courtesy of Carol Mahler)

With its flamboyant architectural style and unique color, the Rosin Arcade stands as perhaps the most distinctive structure in downtown Arcadia. Yet the “for sale” sign identifies the building by its hue rather than the name once etched into its decorative facade that honors the pioneer businessman who built it.

Born in 1883, Simon Rosin emigrated from Russia at age 10 and worked in a “Boston Store” in Chicago, according to an Apr. 3, 1947 article. About 1902, he moved to Ocala, Florida, and opened a store with a partner. In 1905, his partner bought Rosin’s share, and Rosin moved to Arcadia. He started the “Boston Store” in the Carlton Block, where the Oak Park Inn is today.

He married Rebecca Silverman, and their only son Marcus Aurel was born in 1907. (A cattleman and graduate of the University of Florida Law School, M. A. Rosin served as an attorney for the cities of Arcadia and Sarasota as well as DeSoto and Hardee counties before he died in an automobile accident as reported in the Jan. 21, 1953, “Tampa Tribune.” As DeSoto County had no Jewish temple, the Rosin family worshipped in—and was buried in the Temple Beth Shalom Cemetery—in Sarasota.)

Simon Rosin served on Arcadia’s City Council 1912-1913 and as mayor in 1918-1919. He was president of the Arcadia Auto and Sales Company in 1920-1921. His Boston Store was so successful that he opened franchises in Fort Myers, Mulberry, and Wauchula.

According to the Dec. 23, 1921, “Enterprise,” Rosin donated a pair of shoes to every child (total of 114) at the Florida Baptist Children’s Home in Arcadia making sure that each pair was well-fitted. The previous year, he had donated “a set of clothes” for every child.

On June 23, 1923, as recorded in Deed Book 179, pp. 135-37, Simon Rosin purchased from Mr. and Mrs. W. G. Welles joined by his brother Mr. and Mrs. B. F. Welles lots 1, 2, and 3, Block 42—the land at the southwest corner of Polk Ave. and Oak St. The property is vacant on the 1923 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map.

After that deed was filed on Oct. 19, 1925, Rosin purchased on Nov. 10 from Frank E. McGuire the east 30 feet of lots 1 and 2, Block 42, “occupied by 2 cement constructed buildings for a ten cent store, a school, and other offices.” (Perhaps this is Frank McGuire whose huge Plant City department store went out of business in 1920.) These structures at the corner of Polk Ave. and Oak St., must have been torn down or moved.

Arcades—structures with a covered walkway with shops on either side—were especially popular in Florida before the advent of air conditioning. Built in 1925, Fort Myer’s Post Office Arcade has similar characteristics to the one in Arcadia.

The Rosin Arcade was designed with two interior passages. The east-west hallway ran the full length of the building—open from Polk Ave. to the alley. Post office boxes lined the hallway’s south side because the U.S. Post Office rented the south half of the building. The old post office space—and the enclosed passageway—is now Mary Margaret’s Tea and Biscuit and part of Rattler’s Old West Saloon.

The other hallway opens on Oak St. and intersects with the east-west hallway giving access to the upstairs apartments and several first-floor businesses.

Some have said that the building looks like a wedding cake. Art Deco style influenced the frieze, the statue-like vases resting on the parapet, and the arched entrances, supported by Corinthian columns.

Rosin hired Contractor Ralph Cannon to build the arcade at a cost of $112,354.00—according to the May 28, 1926, “Arcadian.” Cannon was also the contractor for Arcadia’s City

Hall, 20 N. Monroe Ave., and the Florida Trust and Banking building, 120 W. Oak St. Rosin’s employee C. E. Adams supervised the arcade’s construction because Rosin was ill at the time.

On Feb. 25 1927, Rosin celebrated the “formal opening” of the new Boston Store with a seven-piece orchestra. No merchandise was sold, and souvenirs were distributed. A dance in the Arcade followed. An invitation to the event is on display at Mary Margaret’s.

On Aug. 9, 1927, the United States signed contract with Rosin to rent for ten years the south half of the building for the Arcadia Post Office according to Deed Book 220, pp. 428-31. When the lease expired, the post office moved to its present building constructed in 1937.

In 1930, Rebecca Rosin died—preceding her husband by 36 years—and was buried with her family in New York. She had been a member of the Arcadia Woman’s Club, Eastern Star, and Episcopal Guild, according to the July 10, 1930, “Arcadian.”

Rosin retired in 1939, and his employee C. E. Adams bought the Boston Store. He liquidated the merchandise except for clothing and shoes for boys and men, and opened Adams’ Men’s Store. He swapped locations with Koch’s Drugstore, according to a Mar. 1, 1939, article.

After renting the Rosin Arcade for seven years, Dr. Louis W. Koch purchased it in 1947. Born in 1884 in Illinois, he moved to Arcadia in 1905 and worked as a pharmacist until his death, as noted in his July 29, 1965, obituary. He is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery.

He started with Pharmacist Jake Wey. In 1928, he bought the Orange Drugstore and renamed it Koch’s Drugstore. In 1937, he purchased the Jake Wey Drugstore and move into that location. He also served on the board of directors and as president of the DeSoto County Chamber of Commerce.

In 1913, he married Omah J. Stephenson (1880-1969). She was an active member of Trinity Methodist Church. Their son—William S. “Bill” Koch (1916-1966)—earned his pharmacist degree from the University of Florida. After serving in World War II, he managed the drugstore, and his father supervised a variety store—Koch’s Gift Annex—where the post office had been.

In 1976, the Koch family closed most of the building because it had deteriorated. To save the structure from demolition, Len and Elida Hazen of Fort Ogden bought it in November 1989. They restored the building with a hotel upstairs and commercial spaces downstairs.

Born in Starke, Florida, in 1934, Leonard Monroe Hazen served in the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division after his high school graduation according to his online obituary (http://www.pongerkaysgrady.com/memsol.cgi?user_id=1664187). In Miami, he married Elida Maria Vergara, and in 1958, they started Len Hazen Painters, Inc., specializing in painting bridges.

The family moved to Fort Ogden during the construction of Interstate 75, and their business held the contracts for 80% of the Interstate’s bridges including the Sunshine Skyway. In addition, they owned groves and farms including the L & E Ranch. In 2007, Elida, and in 2014, Len died. They are buried in Fort Ogden Cemetery.

Rosin Arcade - Detailing on faux arches and windows

Detailing on faux arches and windows

 

Rosen Arcade Wall SconceWhile clearly Art Deco in style, these lights may have been added in the restoration, as the period postcard does not show them.

 

Rosen Arcade Open Air InteriorHere you can see the original open air arcade style of the building. The mosaic tile work on the floor is original to the building, but the grating around the entry was added later.

14. Morqus Block, 212-131 W. Oak

morqus block newspaper image

Morqus Block, 212-131 W. Oak - Built in 1906, the Morqus Block showcased the merchandise of Friedman Morqus: clothing, buggies, saddles, whips, harnesses, shoes--with repair shops--and jewelry. Departments for each category were oriented to the five identical entrances.  He first started a store in Arcadia in 1890 and retired in 1932, ten years before his death.  His son, Dr. Jim Morqus, was an optometrist in Arcadia for many years.

Historical Society exhibit features pioneer Arcadian optometrist whose office was at 127 W. Oak St.

by Carol Mahler

A version of this article was published in the Oct. 11, 2018, Arcadian.

The DeSoto County Historical Society features Dr. James “Jim” McCann Morqus, who served as Arcadia’s optometrist from 1914 to 1957, in an exhibit at Sevigny Associates Eye Care, 2442 SE Highway 70, Arcadia. The display is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mon. through Fri.

Dr. Morqus (1893-1970) is the son of Willie Agnes Thompson Morqus (1875-1959)— born and raised in DeSoto County—and Friedman Morqus (1865-1942), a native of Austria. He worked in Bartow before he moved to Arcadia in 1886. Four years later, he opened a store selling harnesses, saddles, bridles, whips, and repairing shoes, boots, and other leather products. A fire the next year destroyed his business. The Arcadia Commercial of Jan. 14, 1892, reported that he had “started up again, and today has a very good stock,” according to Footprints and Landmarks: Arcadia and DeSoto County, Florida, by Howard Melton, published in 2002.

In 1895, Friedman bought the jewelry stock of B. F. Wood and soon added watches. In 1906, Friedman rebuilt his shops at 121-131 W. Oak St. after they burned in Arcadia’s Thanksgiving Day 1905 fire.

An Arcadia native and DeSoto County High School graduate, Jim first worked in his father’s store. Then he attended the Northern Illinois School of Optometry in Chicago and earned his “Doctor of Optics” degree in 1913 and his “Bachelor of Ophthalmology” degree in 1914. His diplomas—plus a graduation program—are on display.

The Apr. 28, 1916, Arcadia Enterprise detailed “The Morqus Spectacle Factory” where Dr. Morqus made eyeglasses as an addition to “the largest retail jewelry and repair establishment outside of the larger cities in the state.” A May 19 article announced, “A new store building for F. Morqus & Son is being erected on Monroe avenue, in the rear of the Morqus block on Oak street.”

Dr. Morqus married Neva, and they had two daughters, Alice Elizabeth “Betty” who

married the Rev. J. M. McLeod, a Methodist minister in Lakeland, and Neva who married Dr. William Howard, an optometrist in Wauchula. A photograph of the family, circa 1930, is on display.

According to the July 8, 1921, Enterprise, Dr. Morqus “has had to devote almost his entire time” to optometry and so installed “new equipment and up-to-date devices.” His professional “shingle,” a gift to the Society from Joy Tinsley, is part of the exhibit.

Jim served as a 2nd lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps at Camp Joseph E. Johnston, Jacksonville, during World War I, and then as commander of the American Legion Post K-11 in Arcadia. An active member of Trinity Methodist Church and local civic clubs, he also served on the city council.

In 1955, he sold the jewelry store to Stuart and Teresa Reed, and they closed the business in 2003. Installed in 1921, some of the original jewelry store’s “show cases” and “wall cases” now display wares in Glass—Antique or Not, 127 W. Oak St. Owners Algie and Wolf Didlaukies donated a plastic magnifying glass/letter opener that advertises Reed’s Jewelers for the exhibit.

In the 1950s, Dr. William “Bill” Clement joined the practice of Dr. Morqus, and this partnership is included in the display thanks to a gift donated in memory of Jack V. Roberts: an

 

eyeglasses case and eyeglasses cleaning cloth printed with both the names of both doctors. Dr. Clement took over the practice in 1959.

Dr. Ronald “Ron” Sevigny knew both Dr. Clement and Dr. Howard professionally and sought their company at Florida Optometric Association (FOA) meetings around the state. Dr. Morqus had served as FOA president in 1931-1932.

Sevigny, Clement, and Howard were members of the Lake Region Optometric Association (LROA), serving DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, and Polk counties. Sevigny remembered that Clement and Howard both attended LROA’s monthly seminars. “They were very interested in continuing education,” he said.

A U.S. Air Force veteran with a doctorate in Optometry from the Massachusetts College of Optometry in Boston, Dr. Sevigny opened his practice in Avon Park in 1974. He bought the Wauchula practice of Dr. Howard when he retired in 1994. Now Dr. Sevigny works for Sevigny Eye Associates, owned by his son Dr. Mark Sevigny, with locations in Arcadia, Lake Placid, Sebring, and Wauchula.

15. Arcadia Garage, 120 W. Oak

arcadia garage  image from vintage advertisment

Arcadia Garage, 120 W. Oak - Originally, J. C. Hickman constructed the one-story Arcadia Garage on this site in 1910. It was the home of the town’s first Cadillac dealership. In 1926, Contractor Ralph Cannon added a second floor, and the building became the Florida Trust and Banking Company. The interior retains a marble wainscoting and several vaults.

16. Gore and Scott Buildings, 124-134 W. Oak

photos of gore and scott buildings

Gore and Scott Buildings, 124-134 W. Oak - The 1905 fire ignited in the stables behind the wood frame grocery store of Fred S. Gore. He rebuilt the structure in 1906.  In the 1920's and 1930's, the Woman’s Club Library was located in the upstairs of the corner building. The building to east was built later and was home to the Royal Bakery.

17. IOOF/WOW Building, 202 W. Oak

postcard of building

IOOF/WOW Building, 202 W. Oak - Two fraternal organizations, the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) and the Woodmen of the World (WOW), built this three-story structure in 1914.  Later, it was the Gordon Hotel, the Southland Hotel, the Elks Club, and finally apartments. This image was photographed in 1918 before the commercial building at the southwest corner of Oak Street and Monroe Avenue was constructed. It is one of four historic postcards reproduced by the Historical Society and available from the Society or select downtown merchants.

18. Schlossberg Block, 201-221 W. Oak

old photo of schlossberg block

Schlossberg Block, 201-221 W. Oak - Michael Schlossberg designed this commercial block, built in 1923, as an arcade for the store that he had founded in 1913. He started the first five-and- ten-cent store in Arcadia which operated for over 60 years, finally becoming a ladies dress shop known as Schlossberg’s. The arcade has been enclosed.

19. Arcadia City Hall, 20 N. Monroe Ave.

postcard of arcadia city hall

Arcadia City Hall, 20 N. Monroe Ave. - Built in 1926 in the Mediterranean Revival-style popular during the 1920’s building “boom” in Florida, the Arcadia City Hall also housed the Arcadia Fire Department. Although the structure is no longer used as a city hall, part of the building serves as DeSoto County Fire And Rescue Station 3.

The Town of Arcadia was settled in 1883, incorporated in 1886, and became the county seat in 1888. By the late 1880s the population was 300. On Thanksgiving night 1905 the town burned. Three brick stores survived. Using only brick or block, rebuilding began immediately. Most of those buildings remain today. During World War I with its two ftying schools, Carlstrom and Dorr Fields, Arcadia became known as the “Aviation Capital” of Florida. The land for Arcadia’s first city hall   (140x142) was a pineapple patch bought in 1917 for $3,000 from Fred and Ida Gore. City Hall was designed in the Mediterranean Revival style and was furnished in June 1926 at a cost of $45,216, including all furnishings. A section of the original nine-foot office counter and steel shelves for the vault are still in use. The fire station first housed a solid, rubber-tired, auto driven hose wagon with chemical tanks and a 1924 American La France fire truck which is still owned and running. The original 20-foot brass fire pole and the 400-pound siren are to be placed in the City Hall Museum. In 2004, restoration of City Hall began with funding from the Florida Division of Historical Resources and the City.

Sponsors: City of Arcadia and Florida Department of State

20. First Baptist Church, 27 N. Polk Ave.

photo of first baptist church

First Baptist Church, 27 N. Polk Ave. - This Romanesque Revival-style church was built in 1907.  The First Baptist Church congregation was organized in 1889, and the first wood-frame sanctuary was built in 1897. It was moved to S. Orange Avenue and used by  Elizabeth Missionary Baptist Church until 1987.  In 1977, the original stained glass windows were removed from this red-brick church and installed in a new sanctuary for First Baptist Church on N. Brevard Avenue. Now Heritage Baptist Church owns this structure.

21. U.S. Post Office, 109 N. Polk Ave.

postcard of arcadia post office

U.S. Post Office, 109 N. Polk Ave. - In 1937, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) financed the construction of this post office, the only structure in the "Art Moderne"-style in Arcadia and one of the city's few buildings with a basement. WPA-Artist Constance Ortmayer created a frieze of a bucolic scene entitled “Arcadia" that hangs in the lobby.

frieze by Ortmayer depicting bucolic scene with cow, fruit trees, and a family from the interior of the Arcadia Post Office

22. Margaret Way Building, 23 N. Polk Ave.

black and white photo of margaret way building

Margaret Way Building, 23 N. Polk Ave. - Harley Watson built this structure in 1925 for his Ford dealership with a service station to the south. Later, he donated the building to the church next door, and it was called “Watson Hall.” The First Baptist Church sold it to the City of Arcadia, and it was named for long-time City Employee and City Recorder, Margaret Way.  The structure is now used as “City Hall.” By the 1960s, stucco covered the beautiful brickwork and windows had been replaced; the City changed the facade again in 2011.

23. The Howard and Velma Melton Historical Research Library in the Ingraham Seed House, 120 W. Whidden

photo of ingraham seed house

The Howard and Velma Melton Historical Research Library in the Ingraham Seed House, 120 W. Whidden - John Morgan Ingraham opened a Seed House downtown and later (circa 1928) built a structure for it beside his home.  The Historical Society operates their library in this replica of the building. The Historical Research Library is open 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursdays, except for the 2nd Thursday of the month, the 2nd and 4th Saturdays, and by appointment. Research assistance is available.

24. John Morgan Ingraham House Museum, 300 N. Monroe Ave.

newspaper photo of ingraham family and house

John Morgan Ingraham House Museum, 300 N. Monroe Ave. - Built circa 1890 by Robert E. Whidden, the home has high ceilings, cross-ventilation, and porches used as hallways to keep it cool.  John Morgan Ingraham--who served two terms in Florida’s House of Representatives-- bought the home in 1919 and lived there until his death in 1980.  The DeSoto County Historical Society opens this museum from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursdays, (except the second Thursday of each month) in addition to the 2nd and 4th Saturdays. The exhibits include DeSoto County's railroad history, the Smith-Brown School, Pine Level, and more.

This page is maintained by the South Florida State College Library in partnership with the DeSoto County Historical Society.