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Arcadia – deSoto County
Tucked away east of Charlotte County where the majority of Gulf Coast homes are found within the community of Rotonda, Englewood is the county of deSoto.
The county is named after the Spanish explorer Hernando deSoto; Hernando County also takes his name. Arcadia is named after Arcadia Albritton, the daughter of pioneer settlers.
The county seat is situated in the City of Arcadia, the only town of any size within the county with a population of less than 10, 000.
At the present time Arcadia is a compact town of two parallel roads crossed by SR17 as it travels from Punta Gorda northwards to Lakeland. The centre of the town is largely populated by small antique shops stocked with everything from tea services, antique clothes and books to Victoria style windows still found in many British suburban homes, these are sold for around $125. 00 each.
The centre piece of one road is the Opera House. Thanksgiving Day, 1905 this building, along with the majority of Arcadia was destroyed by fire. At the time the town had no fire department or working water system and it took several years for the town to recover. Now the Opera House is outwardly restored to contain several inter-connecting rooms of bric-a-brac, curios and antiques. It has an impressed array of old film cameras and film industry memorabilia. The stairs to the stalls are steep but make the effort to climb them and I am sure you will find the visit worthwhile.
One of the original reasons Arcadia was built was the railroad that came through the town taking the phosphate from Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island northwards to Tampa. The railroad is now long gone but the original station building is used by a series of legal and financial institutions.
Outside Arcadia a few miles on the SR72 is a large juicing plant and the trucks loaded with oranges are a familiar sight through the roads. The work at the juicing plant and the surrounding farms helps maintain a large immigrant population as shown in the items in the grocery store and the many church services held in Spanish.
Friday 13th August, 2004 Arcadia was badly hit by Hurricane Charley which swept through with no mercy. The juicing plant was badly hit with their steel vats severely dented. The clock at the railroad station has been kept at the hour of Charley’s onslaught.
Another casualty of Charley was the Rodeo Stadium the home of the All Florida Rodeo series. Records show that the first official rodeo in Florida was held in Arcadia in November, 1929. The main rodeos are held on 4th July each year again in December and March with smaller events throughout the year. I attended one of the December events, with blue sky and sunshine and still wearing shorts to have one of the best afternoons’ entertainment I could imagine. Alas the somewhat old wooden seating areas took the full brunt of the wind and the stadium has had to be largely rebuilt but it still maintains its small-town feel.
I would recommend a journey inland from the Gulf of Mexico to the quaint old fashioned town – it is around 30 miles from Rotonda along largely empty roads lined with a few farms and then orange-groves. A useful lunch stop on the way can be found at the Navigator Restaurant just off the main road around two miles east of the I75 junction.
Go east and enjoy – it is certainly seeing the real Florida of yesteryear.
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