As the United States entered into World War I, the Army in 1917 announced its intention of establishing a series of camps to train prospective pilots. They sent a survey crew to Southwest Florida looking for suitable sites to build airfields. About six miles southeast Arcadia, Florida a 700-acre site was found. After executing a lease for the land in January 1918, the Army began construction of about 90 buildings. The buildings included 14 hangers that housed four to eight plans each, a hospital, and six barracks that housed 175 men each. Headquarters, maintenance, and officers’ quarters were in dozens of wooden buildings. Enlisted men temporary quarters in tents. The airfield was named after 1st Lieutenant Victor Carlstrom
A sub-field in Lebelle, Florida, Valentine Field, was opened for pilot training. The field had been named for 2d Lieutenant Herman W. Valentine had been killed in an airplane accident at Carlstrom Field on May 4, 1918.
After the armistice, Carlstrom Field served as a testing area for various aircraft, dirigibles, and other aeronautical weapons. Final testing of an experimental unmanned aircraft called the “Kettering Bug”, one of the earliest examples of a cruise missile, was successfully tested and launched in October 1919.
By January 1920, primary pilot instruction was on a small scale with the opening of the Air Service Pilots’ School. Due to administrative difficulties, the school was moved to San Antonio, Texas. In 1926, the War Department ordered a small caretaker force remain to dismantle most of the remaining structures and sell them as surplus and the field was finally closed. During the 1920s and 1930s, the land was leased to local farmers and ranchers.
Carlstrom re-opened in March 1941 due to need for pilots during World War II. When it reopened, it went under the name Riddle Aeronautical Institute. The 53d Flying Training Detachment was activated exercised Air Corps oversight of Embry-Riddle. With a new facility adjacent to the old buildings, Riddle was contracted to train the Royal Air Force aviators under the Arnold Scheme and graduate the first class in August 1941.
In 1947 with the end of the war, Carlstrom Field became the site of the psychiatric hospital, G. Pierce Wood Memorial Hospital. Name for the former Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, George Pierce Wood, Sr. Most of the buildings remained and were used by the hospital. Plane hangars served as maintenance buildings. The bandshell used for dances and entertainment during the war remains on the site.
Even though mental health advocates claim that the care at the hospital was substandard, a federal judge ruled it was. The U. S. Department of Justice had sought to intervene in the case. No matter what the outcome would be, the state had already decided to hospital closed in 2002. From then until 2011, it served as the DeSoto County Juvenile Correctional Facility. In 2014, the state of Florida sold the property to Power Auto Corporation, with the plans to build a driver training facility and a hotel. Most of the property remains unused today.
The only thing that remains of Carlstrom field today is a plaque on the administration building and a B-17 weather vane on the top of the building.