Stumbling Around

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Not easy to get straight answer on Pumpkin Center

Pumpkin Center would seem to be an unusual name for a town or area – were there not so many of them. There are places named Pumpkin Center in California, Arizona, Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Mississippi, Virginia, Florida, and West Virginia, Most are unincorporated, rural areas.

The histories of the names of these places are sometimes understandable and logical. Other times, they’re a little murky. According to a web site, Pumpkin Center, AZ, is so-named because a store at a crossroads there started selling pumpkins during the 1920s when the area had trouble growing anything else. Pumpkins apparently grow very well in the desert. That’s logical. Another web site contains an interview with a 105-year-old resident about the origin of the name of Pumpkin Center, IN. “They just started calling it that,” he explains. That’s not.

With so many places named the same thing throughout the United States, it would seem that this would have to have been the result of some sort of devious plot by the Federal government. Indeed, the Census Department does have a program through which they can name rural communities as “census-designated places”. However, I talked with Census officials in Washington. They said that Pumpkin Center, LA is not a CDP. Interestingly, one of them is named “Mr. Fournier”. Is this some other sort of plot too or just a “mere coincidence”?

Pumpkin Center. LA is interesting and maybe even a little strange. I live there and I have a Hammond mailing address (even though the post office in Springfield is closer), a Springfield phone number, and a neighbor who works for the Albany police department. Children go to Ponchatoula schools.

Almost no one seems to know exactly why the place is called Pumpkin Center although theories abound. I say “called” because the area is unincorporated, not officially named anywhere, and loosely defined to be the area along Louisiana Route 1249 between Hwy. 22 and the Old Baton Rouge Highway. Interestingly, the web site for the Jerusalem Baptist Church proclaims that they are located in Pumpkin Center (not Jerusalem) but the web site for the Pumpkin Center Tire Center gives its address as Hammond (not Pumpkin Center). Even the sign on Interstate 12 designating the Baptist – Pumpkin Center Exit appears to be a violation of the Highway Department’s practice of only designating places with post offices. Neither Pumpkin Center nor Baptist has a post office.

I asked residents why the place is so-named and got a lot of different answers. Two people said that it was because “they” used to grow pumpkins in this area. While indeed it may be true that pumpkins have been and maybe even are grown in Pumpkin Center, further inquiry failed to substantiate this as being the reason for the name.

Other local residents attributed the name to an incident which had to do with a baseball team that represented the area in the 1920s. Apparently, back in those days, each community in this area had its own baseball team and it was great entertainment for everyone to gather at the baseball field to cheer on their home team. The local team played at a field just off the current Pumpkin Center Road owned by a Mr. Kinchen. The details of the stories vary.

One story says that a pitcher was warming up. Someone placed a pumpkin on a post and the pitcher threw a ball at it. He hit dead center. Someone said “You hit the Pumpkin Center” and the name stuck.

Another story, says that it was customary for the losing team to give the winning team a trophy or prize of some sort. When the team from Tickfaw lost, the local team claimed its reward. Pulling out a pumpkin, the representative from the Tickfaw team said “Here’s your prize you bunch of pumpkin-heads.”

It’s not clear why these incidents would lead to the name Pumpkin Center. At the time, there was a school in the area named the Gatlin School and the area was called the Gatlin Settlement so why was a change in its name needed or desirable?

One theory is that the name is a spin-off from the very funny and very popular Uncle Josh and Aunt Nancy show which was recorded on 78 rpm phonograph records. The records were widely distributed and listed to throughout the United States using a Gramomouth speaker which had been perfected in 1894. The couple sang funny songs, one of which included the line “We come from Pumpkin Center – ha, ha, ha!” People in unincorporated areas throughout the country began to ask “Why can’t we be named Pumpkin Center?” This was before the days of radio popularity. Maybe this is the reason that so many places came to be known as “Pumpkin Center.”

Asking that question locally, according to one story, was Albert Warren “Uncle Ab” Coates, the eldest son of T.M. Coates and an outstanding member of the community. Not only was he familiar with the name from the phonograph record, but, from time to time, he also grew pumpkins. He was known for his wit. He used to refer to the Jerusalem Baptist Church as the Needmore Church because “We need more members; we need more money; and we need more spirit.”

Apparently the need to more formally name the community coincided with the need to name the baseball team. Another name suggested was “Pea Ridge.” (If you think the name Pumpkin Center elicits jokes, try that one.)

At any rate, regardless of how or why it happened, some say that Albert Coates carried a pumpkin to the middle of the baseball field and proclaimed the place to be Pumpkin Center. Others say it was Will Hudson who did the deed and named the team the “Pumpkin Center Ball Team.” Opposing players apparently liked the name because they could call the players from Pumpkin Center the Pumpkin-Heads.

Most of the residents of Pumpkin Center are Baptists and the small community is served by three Baptist churches, This leads to one obvious question: “Why didn’t they name the place Baptist? The answer is that the name Baptist was already taken – by the small community just north of Pumpkin Center. But that’s another story.
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7 Comments:

  • At 7:09 PM, Blogger Vickie said…

    Thank goodness! I'd almost given up all hope of ever finding any information on how Pumpkin Center got its name! Thank you!

     
  • At 7:09 PM, Blogger Vickie said…

    Thank goodness! I'd almost given up all hope of ever finding any information on how Pumpkin Center got its name! Thank you!

     
  • At 8:03 AM, Blogger Monica Evans said…

    Wow, I was just bored on my roadtrip. I passed by Pumpkin Center LA and thought about how strange that a city was named after the popular orange squash. This post was very enlightening and entertaining and exceeded my every expectation. Thanks!

     
  • At 8:04 AM, Blogger Monica Evans said…

    Wow, I was just bored on my roadtrip. I passed by Pumpkin Center LA and thought about how strange that a city was named after the popular orange squash. This post was very enlightening and entertaining and exceeded my every expectation. Thanks!

     
  • At 9:27 AM, Blogger LeslieSATX said…

    I always envisioned a bunch of Baptists selling pumpkins!

     
  • At 9:27 AM, Blogger LeslieSATX said…

    I always envisioned a bunch of Baptists selling pumpkins!

     
  • At 11:02 PM, Blogger Southern Boyz Outdoors said…

    I'm 49 my Great Grandpaw Willie Hudson. (Not Will) He owned the first trading post in Pumpkin Center, La it was located on the corner of Tuttle Rd and Billvillie Rd. My grandma always told the story of being at the ball field and her Dad my Great Grandpaw bringing A Pumpkin to the Ball field and during a game between Tickfaw and the team with no name. So the team name came from the Pumpkin Then the ball field became Pumpkin Center Feild. Then the Community became Pumpkin Center, Louisiana. My Grandparents Howard Moore and Monice Moore owned the First store in Pumpkin Center it was called Moore's grocery. It's located on Pumpkin Center Rd right across from Jerusalem Baptist Church Rd.

     

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