By Dr. Curtis Varnell
Toad suck, Blue Ball, Booger Hollow, and Possum Grape are just a few of the weird city names in Arkansas. Where does a town get its name?
In cases like Greenwood or Charleston, the name comes from early settlers. Dardanelle, one of the oldest cities in western Arkansas, perhaps received its name when the 300-foot-high rock face at the river’s edge reminded early explorers of the Dardanelles in Turkey or perhaps it was named for Jean Baptiste Dardenne, an early Spanish land-owner. Scranton was named for Scranton, Pennsylvania and was a coal-mining community. Some suggest Booneville was named for Daniel Boone but more than likely was named for the French explorer Benjamin Bonneville. Bonneville was a close friend of Thomas Paine and, in his time, was an explorer like Lewis and Clark. Walter Cauthron, one of the earliest settlers in Logan County, joined an exploratory expedition headed by Bonneville in 1821. They passed through the region and Cauthron remained and started a town he named in honor of his friend. In his later life, Bonneville settled in Fort Smith where he has an elementary school named for him. Over the years, Arkansas dialect changed the name to Booneville.
Some of the more unusual stories circulated around the naming of a town involves the small adjacent towns of Caulksville and Ratcliff. In 1897, the Arkansas Central railroad was building a train to the coal-mine located in Paris and Carbon City. Caulksville, named for early settler Robert Caulk, reportedly did not want the railroad to build a depot in their town because they did not want to constantly hear the whistle and associated noise. The railroad simply formed their own town right down the road, put up a depot and named the new town Ratcliff after their chief engineer, Samuel Ratcliff.
I grew up in the metropolitan city of Midway, population of perhaps one-hundred. The small town located on Highway 22 about twelve miles east of Paris, had no name until 1926 when Highway 22 was created. A Paris Express article dated 1930 stated that the newly created town had three stores and a Mrs. Nancy King was about to build a roadhouse. Needing a name, the locals called it Pumpkin Center. With its “hicktown” connotations, not everyone was happy. Supposedly Jodie Parson, a town leader, was away on a visit when the town was named. When he returned, he immediately called a town meeting and demanded a change. The city council then choose the name Midway for the new community.
Why Midway? Some said it was half-way between London and Paris, nearly the same between Dublin and New Blain, all local towns. I always thought it was because if you left my home and traveled in a straight line due North you would go all the way around the Earth and come right back home. Go in a straight line east and you would encircle the earth and come directly back home from the West; Midway has to be the actual center of the Earth and my universe growing up.