Toad Suck Ferry: A link to the past

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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