old Irish legend that must have come to Texas with some of its earliest
settlers has grown into a profitable business for Lone Star farmers
– cultivating a variety of squash that sells by the ton every fall.
We’re talking about pumpkins, of course. Or, to the Texas tongue,
It’s not too difficult to dig up the tale that transformed pumpkins
into edible holiday icons, but there is an interesting puzzle of geographic
nomenclature to consider: The Punkin Center Phenomenon.
If anyone ever tells you that they’re from Punkin Center, better ask
them to be more specific. Unique as that place name might seem, Texas
has four different communities called Punkin Center.
Listed alphabetically, there’s Punkin Center in Dawson
County, Punkin Center in Eastland
County, Punkin Center in Hardeman
County and Punkin Center in Parker
County. Oh, and in Wichita
County, the community of Haynesville is locally known as Punkin
Center even though Haynesville is the official name.
Elsewhere across the United States, four other communities call themselves
Punkin Center. But unlike Texas, which has to be bigger about everything,
each of the non-Texas Punkin Centers is in a different state – Arizona,
Kansas, Louisiana and Missouri.
Strange as the name Punkin Center may seem, according to the Web site
www.placesnamed.com, Punkin Center is the 4,438th most popular town
name in the U.S. It also shows up on a Web site devoted to America’s
funniest town names, but that site lists Punkin Center, KS, not the
Texas singer David Allen Coe sure likes the name. In 1976, he recorded
a song called “The Punkin Center Barn Dance.”
But here’s the weird thing about Punkin Centers in Texas. None of
them are in counties particularly known for their bounteous pumpkin
Floyd County, which
has an annual Punkin Festival but no community named Punkin Center,
is the top pumpkin-producing county in Texas. Other prolific producers
of pumpkins are Bailey,
and Lubbock counties.
Texas A&M University says Texas ranks in the Top 10 of pumpkin-producing
states (but don’t forget we’re No. 1 in terms of number of Punkin
Centers). The estimated value of Texas’ annual pumpkin harvest is
$4.6 million, most of the pumpkins going for ornamental (read: Halloween)
And that brings us back to that old Irish folktale, ... next
page ( Jack-O’-Lantern)
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" October
27, 2004 Column