Piloting steamboats up the Arkansas River in the 1800s could made a man mighty thirsty, and when the river dropped below navigational levels it was just the excuse needed by captains and crew to disembark for alcoholic refreshments.
One such spot was near present-day Conway, Arkansas. While the steamboat personnel waited for the river to rise, local tavern owners made a killing selling them drinks. Residents, however, were not as happy to see the steamboat guys arrive and drink to abandon. They were known to remark, “They suck on the bottle ‘til they swell up like toads.”
That spot on the river became “Toad Suck.”
Naturally, there’s a festival.
This weekend will be the 34th annual Toad Suck Daze (Friday through Sunday, May 1-3, 2015) in downtown Conway. The original festival was held at Toad Suck Park near the Toad Suck Ferry Lock and Dam but moved to Conway after the river flooded in 1990.
The annual fete includes live music performances, arts and crafts, “Toad Market,” children’s activities, carnival rides and, yes, toad races. Proceeds benefit a scholarship program to promote higher education in the county.
“To date,” according to the festival web site, “$1.5 million has either been given in the form of a direct scholarship to approximately 221 Faulkner County students, or has been endowed with Central Baptist College, Hendrix College, University of Central Arkansas and the Arkansas Faulkner County Community Foundation.”
Don’t be put off by the name; this is one great festival. Last year, Conway’s Toad Suck Daze Festival won numerous medals, including three gold, from the International Festivals and Events Association Convention.
For more information on the Toad Suck Daze, visit http://toadsuck.org/.
Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.