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Toad Suck Ferry: A link to the past

Posted: April 25, 2011 - 9:51pm

Ah, progress! Every element in society seems not to be immune to it — even the Toad Suck Ferry, that storied conveyance that transported people, their wagons and livestock — and later automobiles and trucks across the Arkansas River.

Gone is the colorful flat-bottomed, barge-like ferryboat. Here today is a modern crossing — a bridge over a lock and dam at the western edge of the city’s limits at the Arkansas River.  

Flashback to days of yore, and the story goes that the Toad Suck crossing has been a means of travel for hundreds of years. In prehistoric times?

It’s possible since there is ample archaeological evidence that supports this contention. In all likelihood, Indians would have selected this site for crossing the river for the same physical reasons that influenced early settlers, using every floatable device at hand. 

Historians believe that with the emergence of the 17th century, boats of many stripes churned back and forth across the river — the Toad Suck landing apparently being a favorite location in their travels.

It also proved to be a stopping point for travelers anxious to quench their thirst. Ergo, the establishment of drinking stands otherwise known as booze palaces or the like. The owners of ferryboats coveted licenses granted by county courts that allowed the sale of liquor in taverns at ferryboat landings.  

The taverns prospered. One place in particular known as the Toad Suck Tavern attracted thirsty locals and travelers alike.

It came by its name honestly, it was said, since its derivation was due to the heavy imbibing by the tavern clientele, especially one fellow whose drinking habits were heroic. When he drank copious amounts, he  “swelled up” like a toad. It was only fitting that he was called a “Toad Suck” since he resembled an inebriated toad, whatever that was.

At any rate, that was the name ascribed to the place and it was only natural that the ferry would claim the name Toad Suck Ferry. 

The name has endured, of course, attaching itself to the annual Conway festival. 

According to local lore, a gentleman named J.M. Williams who lived near the ferry for most of his 80 years, concocted the Toad Suck name. It was his contention that toad suck apparently was said to be a physical condition that manifested itself by bloating the individual who drank to excess. The individual who drank copious amounts was said not to be drunk but swollen.   

The Toad Suck Ferry was a busy conveyance carrying people and other traffic to Perry County until the 1960s, when it succumbed to the construction of Toad Suck Bridge and Reservoir. 

The Toad Suck label was perpetuated by Congress at the behest of the Conway Chamber of Commerce and the Faulkner County Historical Society.

At last notice, the Toad Suck ferry was plying the waters of lakes in north Arkansas, faithful to its original purpose and doing nicely.

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Vivian Lawson Hogue 04/25/11 - 11:14 pm
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The actual possible/probable origins

for the name aren't as entertaining and don't sell as many whatever-on-a-stick for the mere total of your life savings, but it would be good if another article could present that side as well.

catfish
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catfish 04/26/11 - 01:09 am
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Vivian I have always been

Vivian I have always been suspicous of that toadsuck name story. Give us an article telling us another side.

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Vivian Lawson Hogue 04/26/11 - 01:25 am
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I could,

but they probably have someone who would rather get paid to do it!

catfish
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catfish 04/26/11 - 01:40 am
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Aw come on, after all it is

Aw come on, after all it is for the good of mankind.

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Vivian Lawson Hogue 04/26/11 - 01:55 am
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Well, okay, I'll

tell you this much. I think I've covered this before, but it has been awhile. Probably this time last year! I remembered seeing that even the Encyclopedia of Arkansas writer didn't mention other possible origins, so maybe it bears repeating. (By the way, I don't see Duck River Suck, Tennessee or the Suck River in Ireland having festivals.)

Anyway, some possibilities that are a little more scientific: A suck in a river can be somewhat explained as a type of eddy or whirlpool. It is also a term for when water rises up on the river bank and when it recedes it leaves a temporary "suck," or isolated standing of water. It is easy to see how toads might gather at such a place. A more sophisticated possibility is that it is a variation on a French word, of which we have many in Arkansas (such as "Sumac cover," from which the word "Smackover" [Arkansas] comes.) Will that do till next year?

beachkrp
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beachkrp 02/23/12 - 01:04 am
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The story I was told.

The story I was told for the name is this. There is a strong undertow there, and toads would get stuck in the undertow and would not be able to get out. As the ferry would cross the river, the swirling toads would try to suck on to the side of the ferry to try to escape the undertow.
Toad Suck Park is somewhat infamous for the number of drownings that take place there, because of the undertow. There was a guy I went to college with (I didn't know him socially or have any classes with him but I knew who he was) drowned there some 20 years ago.

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GravelGertie 04/26/11 - 04:42 am
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Sumac

This comment is a bit off topic, but it is something I have always been curious about. How many people pronounce "sumac" as "Sue Mack" and how many say "shoe make"? You just happened to make me think of that, Mrs. Hogue.

catfish
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catfish 04/26/11 - 09:16 am
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Well Vivian that makes more

Well Vivian that makes more sense than a man sucking on a bottle till he swells up like a toad. I always did think that one was silly.

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Vivian Lawson Hogue 04/26/11 - 12:03 pm
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Hi, Gertie,

I say "sumac" but that is only because my father was a botanist. However, the country side of him informed me that if someone ever said "shoemake," I would know what they meant and be polite enough to not giggle. I was fortunate to learn many things from him and to enjoy the wild plants with "exotic" names. Such as the "calf slobber" that is getting ready to bloom in my back yard.

Catfish, it has been brought up to me that it is odd that Toadsuck Daze vigorously invites kids to enjoy a festival that has to do with excessive drinking! That hadn't quite registered with me since I haven't attended or participated since the relocation, but I guess there is some truth to it! :-) And think of the toads that have been burdened with a reputation for over-imbibing.

BuzzBy
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BuzzBy 04/26/11 - 01:59 pm
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My last ride
Unpublished

Toad Suck ferry was plying the waters of lakes in north Arkansas

Indeed it was traveling with my daughter from Bull Shoals to
Branson for a day at Silver Dollar City taking the less travled route.

We went and where going to take a ferry across the lake I forget the HWY # but none the less what should appear but my old friend the Toad Suck Ferry.

What a beautiful ride!!! (Dewey Cox)

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