(KAMR) — Every year, long before autumn foliage graces the treetops of Texas, farms and fall enthusiasts alike are already celebrating the harvest of one of the state’s seasonal exports: Pumpkins.
Did you know? Not only does Texas boast major pumpkin production, as recorded by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, but it also has been noted to have the highest concentration of towns called “Punkin Center” in the nation.
There is a Punkin Center, Texas, in at least five counties: Dawson, Eastland, Hardeman, Parker, and Wichita. However, the communities don’t always take their name from Texas’ gourds — and they also don’t technically exist.
The Punkin Centers of Texas are among the Lone Star State’s ghosts, with their stories as fast-fading as an unattended jack-o’-lantern.
You see, most of these towns aren’t even found near where most of the state’s pumpkins are produced. And their stories have mostly been forgotten or were never recorded in the first place.
Here’s a look at what we know and what we don’t know about Punkin Center, Texas.
Punkin Center in Dawson County
Dawson County’s Punkin Center may be the one out of the group with the most reasonable claim to the name.
As reported by the U.S. Census of Agriculture and the USDA, while Floyd County is sometimes called the “Pumpkin Capital” of Texas, the highest concentration of pumpkin production in the last few years has been around Terry County — just a few miles northwest of Punkin Center in Dawson County.
Dawson County’s Punkin Center is classified as an unincorporated town by the Texas Almanac, with little information available about its current population or when exactly it was established. However, historical reports about Dawson County have noted it was one of the areas of West Texas and the South Plains that developed the most rapidly, with a population jump from 37 people in 1900 to 2,320 in 1910. With that in mind, (and going by data from the draft registration card of a local farmer) it’s likely the town was established sometime between 1900 and 1940.
The reason for this Punkin Center’s little-recorded history may be the same as many other communities in the region: coming together at just the wrong time, when open trails were ending and railroad expansion was causing an agricultural boom.
During this time, farmers came into the area on the promise of bountiful crops like cotton and corn (and pumpkins). Communities arose in droves, then in the following years, were either incorporated into city boundaries or otherwise were thinned out as residents moved to other developing areas.
All this aside, the town is still noted as currently existing by the Texas Almanac and is listed on some maps from the USGS.
Punkin Center in Eastland County
Located just north of Carbon, Punkin Center may have actually been one of the first communities in Eastland County, and today stands as the final resting place of some members of the first settler families in the area.
As noted in county histories, the land is made of hilly, rolling terrain laced with major rivers, creeks, and their assorted tributaries, with a growing season considered to cover more than half the year. While the dense trees prevented the easy migration of buffalo, some farming and ranching communities began as early as the 1850s around the area. Around that time, the people living there included the families of John Flannagan, W. H. Mansker, and W. C. McGough.
While the first community, aptly named McGough Springs, doesn’t actively exist anymore, it did leave behind the seven graves that now make up McGough Cemetery on a farm northeast of the intersection of Highway 6 and Highway 2563. The hamlet that those graves call home is what is today known as Punkin Center.
Although again it doesn’t seem like a definitive creation date for Punkin Center was recorded, the reason may once again be found in the history of Eastland County. McGough Springs — where Punkin County now stands — was noted by county histories as being first established before the Civil War. While agriculture had started to develop in the area by 1860, isolation and conflict scattered the settlers around the county until the mid-1870s when the county seat was created.
Eastland County didn’t see a larger boom in development until 1880-1900, and the larger towns that resulted could have either marked the beginning of Punkin Center (which could have been established amid the population spike) or the end of its growth altogether.
Punkin Center in Hardeman County
Hardeman County’s Punkin Center rests about three miles due south of Goodlett, an unincorporated community that is the second of the Punkin Centers to have been established in West Texas — though in the easternmost part, on the border of the Panhandle-Plains.
Although the most well-recorded exports from the area were gypsum and alfalfa, not pumpkins, published histories of the county once again might point to the birth and death of its local Punkin Center: industry-triggered population boom in the 1890s and a decline in the 1930s.
Most of the communities in Hardeman County outside Quanah and Chillicothe are considered ghost towns, including Acme, Medicine Mound, and Punkin Center. Once thought an economic icon of the area, modern Acme consists of mostly the remnants of the sheetrock plant, and Medicine Mound is remembered through its museum after — as noted by a historical marker — it was mostly destroyed by a devastating fire. Just as Punkin Center joined its neighbors in being recorded by the USGS in 1960, it may have also joined them in vanishing shortly afterward due to people migrating elsewhere for work.
Punkin Center in Parker County
Once again considered a town that no longer exists by sources like the Texas Almanac, Punkin Center in Parker County appears on some modern maps as a hamlet in the city limits of Weatherford, on the way to Hudson Oaks in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.
Weatherford, according to published histories and city offices, was established around the same time as Parker County in the mid-1850s. The county itself had a population of over 4,200 people by 1860, and was focused on agricultural production. There was a major population shift into Weatherford from outskirt communities during and after the Civil War due to people wanting the security of an established city. While agricultural production and development boomed in the late 1800s due to railroad expansion, like in much of the rest of Texas, that also meant that Weatherford as a city expanded as well.
If Punkin Center existed, perhaps named for one of the crops in the area or for what the community hoped its main export would be, it could have either been dissolved amid the Civil War or simply gathered into Weatherford as the larger community grew.
Punkin Center in Wichita County
Last but certainly not least, there is one Punkin Center in Texas that stands with the most unique circumstances: You can’t send mail to Punkin Center in Wichita County, but you can call its fire department.
A few miles north of Electra, across the creek, currently stands the unincorporated community of Haynesville, which has also historically been known by its people as Punkin Center. It is also the only Punkin Center in Texas that has a clearly recorded origin and end — and the only one that definitively did not begin with an actual gourd.
Recorded in local histories as well as multiple books, including “1001 Texas Place Names” by Fred Tarpley and “Texas Place Names” by Edward and Jean Callary, Punkin Center in Wichita County got its name from the Pumpkin Center Blacksmith Shop store sign.
According to local records and Tarpley, the sign (and the name) was created when a man who worked for the blacksmith shop designed it around pumpkins, allegedly because he only had yellow paint, “couldn’t draw a horse,” and had seen the name in a cartoon strip.
Wichita County histories note that Haynesville, and subsequently Punkin Center, were established around 1890 and combined into one community in the early 1900s with the development of State Highway 25. While the locals decided officially to go with “Haynesville” as the community name, Punkin Center is still called as much by locals, on some official signs, and its volunteer fire department.
However, according to notes from local reporters, the titular sign for Punkin Center on the side of the road headed into the community may no longer be standing, marking a further slip into obscurity even for the most well-known of Texas’ Punkin Centers.
What happened to Punkin Center, Texas?
When discussing the numerous Punkin Centers in Texas, one might wonder why it’s so difficult to find out how many there were in the first place, and what caused them all to disappear.
It’s difficult to know because there’s a lack of records about them — both anecdotal and governmental. None of the Punkin Centers in Texas were ever incorporated and none of them established a post office. Because historians tend to mark the life and death of a community by when establishments like schools and post offices open and close, smaller towns like Punkin Center literally tend to fall off the map.
These towns not being officially established or developed could have happened for a range of reasons. For instance, Punkin Centers may have been caught up in the fluctuation of their counties’ populations never quite gained or kept the people needed, or not kept their populations long enough to really establish. Furthermore, it could also be because a town by the name of “Punkin Center” was literally not allowed to have a post office.
As mentioned above, Texas saw a major boom in population and community development in the latter half of the 1800s. Thousands of new towns popping up across Texas and westward in the years of railroad expansion, and federal postal authorities needed to be careful to make sure that the names of the new post offices — and their related towns — were as short, trackable, and unique as possible.
According to the National Archives, the first official guide for the naming of post offices appeared in 1891 – which you might notice tracks with the timelines of some of the sillier town names in Texas, as well as the start of a few Punkin Centers – and other rules were adopted in the following years. Many of these were focused on spelling and consistency, establishing that post office names needed to match their towns and railway stations, and governing length and structure.
For instance, a rule issued in 1894 read:
“To remove a cause of annoyance to the Department and injury to the Postal Service in the selection of names for newly established post offices, it is hereby ordered that from this date only short names or names of one word will be accepted. (Names of post offices will only be changed for reasons satisfactory to the Department.)”Postmaster General Miscellaneous Order 114, April 9, 1894
In the wake of this rule, specific prefixes and additions to names were considered objectionable by the federal postal authorities – including those that added “Center” to the end, such as Punkin Center.
Because of that, it was highly unlikely for any of the Punkin Centers in Texas, let alone anywhere else, to be approved for a post office after the late 1880s-early 1890s.
Where does that leave Punkin Center, Texas, in the end? As a quintuple in the history of the Lone Star State that offers a seasonal fun fact, as well as a glimpse into how many of the ghost towns in Texas came to be.
Punkin Center, all of them, also serves reminder of how important even silly stories about communities can be to ensuring someone, anyone, remembers them after the last road sign is taken down and the final building crumbles.