After the U.S. declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917, the Arcadia Commercial Club (ACC) — a forerunner of the DeSoto County Chamber of Commerce — invited the federal government to build an aviation training camp near the city. The Nov. 22, 1917, Lakeland Evening Telegram newspaper reported that the U.S. Department of War had accepted the delegation’s proposal: “About 2,000 student aviators will be trained there, and to make preparation for their training the government will spend about three-quarters of a million dollars.”
The U.S. Army built two of 32 Air Service training camps in DeSoto County in 1917: southeast of the city, Carlstrom Field opened on Dec. 11 and Dorr Field on Dec. 26. Carlstrom Field was named for Lt. Victor Carlstrom, an instructor who died while training cadets near Newport News, Virginia. Dorr Field was named for Pvt. Stephen H. Dorr, who joined the Officers’ Reserve Corps in Fort Myers and was killed while training with the Royal Flying Corps near Toronto, Canada.
The ACC agreed to “construct and operate a line of railway” from the city to the camps. The railroad was completed to Carlstrom by Dec. 31, 1917, but the ACC was not able to fulfill its agreement. Eventually, the Atlantic Coast Line Railway provided service and extended the tracks to Dorr Field.
Proud of the pilot-training facilities, Arcadia called itself the “Aviation City of Florida” and installed welcome arches to so proclaim at north, south, east, and west entrances to the city. Jack Payne, a real estate agent, used the moniker as the title to a song he composed and dedicated to the “Commercial Club,” copyrighted 1919.
A 700-acre site, Carlstrom Field had 90 buildings, including 14 hangars for four to eight airplanes. The 107th, 108th, 111th, 205th, 284th, and 302nd Aero Squadrons trained at the field, and after Armistice they were consolidated into a Flying School Detachment. Dorr Field trained the 76th, 109th, 110th, 240th, 241st Aero Squadrons — also consolidated at the war’s end.
The DeSoto County Times in its Aug. 22, 1918, issue reported that Logan Brothers of Tampa won the contract to build a concrete road between Arcadia and Carlstrom Field. A present-day section of that road — named Carlstrom Field Road — joins State Road 31 to Airport Road. The Sept. 12 issue announced that a “camp of convicts” was sent to Arcadia to assist with the paving project.
Logan Brothers also built a concrete section and brick section of a road parallel to State Road 70 East that connected Arcadia to Dorr Field—now the site of DeSoto Correctional Institution. Today, cyclists, golf-cart drivers, and pedestrians travel between the Winn Dixie shopping center and Arcadia Village or Toby’s Mobile Home Park on the “Dorr Field Road.”
The Aug. 15, 1918, DeSoto County News announced that “Carlstrom and Dorr fields have been put on the map of the nation, and a great honor has been conferred upon these camps” by Lt. Herbert A. Thorndyke, chief engineer, who proposed “a uniform system for managing all the aviation fields ... [now] adopted by all the camps in the United States.”
The Jan. 2, 1919, Punta Gorda Herald reported: “Both Dorr and Carlstrom fields have been noted for their efficiency, having trained large numbers of expert flyers for the war. The records made by both camps have been highly complimented. The government has spent large sums of money on both camps. At the time they were constructed, the general impression seemed to be that the war would continue for some time longer than actually was the case.”
Dorr Field was demobilized in 1919, but an Air Service Pilots’ School trained cadets at Carlstrom Field until 1922 when all remaining personnel were transported to a “camp in Texas,” according to the June 23, 1922, Punta Gorda Herald. The structures were dismantled and sold as surplus, and the field was closed by 1926.
Trained at Carlstrom Field, John Paul Riddle returned to Arcadia, and the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Corporation rebuilt both “aviation training camps” in 1941 before the U.S. entered World War II—but that’s another story.