Created By: Reno County Museum
PUNKIN CENTER - There are no pumpkins in Punkin Center.
Never have been, says 85-year-old Anna Hill with a laugh, although she says she has considered taking a tire she painted orange, printing on it the words “Punkin Center” and putting it at the intersection of where this little neighborhood once existed.
“I thought about putting that up so people at least know where it is,” she said.
There are only five other states with a Punkin Center, including Texas, which has five or six. But this Reno County ghost town is the only one that shows up on a website dedicated to the nation’s funniest named towns. There’s nothing there anymore, except for a old garage that’s falling down in the middle of a pasture, and Anna and Dalton Hill’s home, which is just a half-mile to the east.
Nevertheless, Anna Hill, who has lived in the same house since birth, said her memories are fond of the little stop in the road she calls home.
A gathering place and night baseball
In 1871, a man named Lawson brought his family to Reno County, settling at the intersection of Haven Road and Illinois Avenue, the site of the future Punkin Center. He donated some of his land for a school, called the Lawson School. Eventually, a small general store popped up as well.
Yet, for years, the small spot in the road didn’t have a name.
Loel Balzer, who wrote a special article on the town for The News in 1996, reported information provided by Norman Lowe on how Punkin Center was named.
“The store was still on the corner of the old Hill farm, across the road from the old Skelton farm, and across the corner from Lawson School House. The argument was: should the place be called Hillsville, Skeltonville or Lawsonville?”
A gang of men were widening the McGuire Grade on Highway 96, four miles west of Punkin Center on the old Santa Fe Trail. One day, a car came along, loaded down with brooms. One of the boys jerked one of the brooms from the car as it went by. The boss, Archie Brown, suggested we sell the broom to the highest bidder, and he would take the proceeds down to ‘Punkin Center’ and buy cigars for the gang. “This was done and the place was called Punkin Center from then on, and I was one of the gang.”
Another version tells of a farmer who was dating the new schoolteacher. He would joke that she was dating the mayor of Punkin Center. Eventually, the name stuck.
Either way, Punkin Center became Punkin Center, Anna Hill said. There were never any dreams of its becoming a metropolis like Hutchinson, but the center provided necessities for those who didn’t want to travel west into Hutchinson or north into Burrton.
In the 1920s, or maybe a little earlier, Anna Hill’s husband, Dalton, recalls, a new school was built.
According to Balzer’s article, the first, wood-frame school was moved diagonally across the intersection and turned into a grocery store and filling station. Residents built a new brick school in its place.
The store burned down in 1934, according to an article in The News at the time, but the family who ran it rebuilt it.
It quickly again became a gathering place for the local farmers, Anna Hill said.
That included her father, who would drop her and her siblings off for school in the family’s Model T Ford. On days he wasn’t busy farming, he would stop in at the store to get the latest news. According to Balzer’s story, farmers also would come before school let out so they could engage in a friendly game of cards in the back of the store.
“He’d sit there and visit half a day,” Anna Hill said with a chuckle. “It was a visiting place for the old farmers and, after school, the kids would play around there until it was time to go home.”
It’s where she became acquainted with her husband, she said.
Dalton Hill was one of the many who got the opportunity to play on the town’s lighted ballfield in the 1930s - one of maybe the only diamonds in the state under lights at the time, Anna Hill estimates.
A Delco light plant supplied electricity for night games, according to the book “Early Ghost Towns, Post Offices and Hamlets in Reno County, Kansas” by Bert Newton.
Things never got too wild, Anna Hill said. The store was robbed once.
Also, in 1941, Hutchinson resident Grace McQueen was arrested at the filling station for being in possession of 35 pints of whiskey. A Hutchinson police chief spotted the booze while he was riding around.
These days, the area neighborhood has virtually disappeared, Anna Hill said. Punkin Center died as progress advanced.
A victim of progress, Punkin Center is no longer even a spot on the road, although some gazetteer maps still show the community.
Balzer wrote that at the end of World War II, people began to drive to Wichita and Hutchinson for shopping. Consolidation changed the school districts and the Lawson School closed in the 1950s. The store closed later. It was purchased by a couple who moved it to West 30th Avenue in Hutchinson.
Anna Hill said she thought the building still stood but didn’t know the address.
“I love Punkin,” she said. “We spent a lot of time there.”
But, she added, “It’s a lot of time under the bridge.”
Story from The Hutchinson News.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Reno County Ghost Towns