NUMBER NINE... NUMBER NINE... NUMBER NINE...
This is the Number Nine Baptist Church in Number Nine, Arkansas. Number Nine straddles highway 150 a mile from the bottom of the Missouri bootheel just north of Blytheville. There's not much here other than the church and the Number Nine Cotton Gin for which the town is named. I went into the Langston offices (the company that owns the gin) and spoke with Mrs. Johnson, who told me the origins of the name in addition to the locations of numbers eight and ten.
Back around the turn of the century before this land was covered with cotton and soybeans it was covered with timber. Lumber companies built strings of lumber mills to convert trees into boards. The mills, spaced a mile or so apart, were numbered. The mill at this point was Number Nine Mill. When a hamlet sprang up here, it too was called Number Nine because everybody already knew where Number Nine was. As the timber was cut and the land was cleared and converted to agriculture, the lumber mill machinery was converted to the milling of grain and the ginning of cotton.
This is Number Eight, below on the left, by the way. I knocked on the door of one of the homes at this intersection and although it doesn't appear on any map and there's no sign planted on the roadside, the resident verified that this spot is known as Number Eight. To get to Number Eight, take the dirt road north from Number Nine. At the Missouri state line take a left and then a few yards later another right (a jog to the left, as they say). The next intersection where the dirt road crosses Missouri highway 0 is Number Eight. There you go.
Number Ten is a little harder to pin down. It's about a mile and a half south of Number Nine along Crooked Lake Bayou. There's a graveyard at the bend of a dirt road that crosses highway 312. Since there's a graveyard at Number Nine, I think it's reasonable to guess that a graveyard also marks Number Ten.
Incidentally the nearby town of Hickman was once named Forty Eight Gin. Locals pointed out to me the point where "the Forty and Eight" once stood at the southwest quarter of the intersection.
"I SAW THE FIGURE FIVE IN GOLD..."
Way on the other side of the state is this place, Figure Five. It's right about five miles north downtown Van Buren on highway 59, and although that's a tempting explanation, it's not the reason for the name of the town. Just as Number Nine had an uncharted companion known locally as Number Eight, Figure Five also has a buddy to the north named Figure Four. Again it's not on the map, but Figure Four is two miles north of Cedarville at the Ozark National Forest Boundary. Stop at Cedarville and ask an old timer to tell you where to find Figure Four.
So here is where the figures came from. Back in 1837 Squire Stevenson, who had a cabin on Flat Rock Creek blazed a trail to aid in guiding men driving horses, cattle and wagons from Hog Eye to the railhead at Van Buren. It was a trip of about six days and camping areas along the way were marked with the numerals "1" through "5" blazed on trees. Small settlements grew around three of these campgrounds, and the settlements took the names of the landmark figures three, four and five. Figure Five is the only one remaining.
Fans of irony take note. The sign for the grocery store in Figure Five is written using a figure four.
Fifty Six (on highway 14 near the famed Blanchard Springs Caverns) was so named in 1918 for the Fifty Six school, which was so named because it was in school district number fifty six, or so they say. Today it's in the Stone County School District. Eight years ago the school closed down when Stone County School District absorbed the Big Flat School District. So far I haven't been able to find a time when Fifty Six was actually in school district number fifty six. I've found mention of there being some eighty school districts in Stone County in the 1920's, so I've got no reason to doubt the story, but I haven't confirmed it yet, either.
So why the suspicion and scrutiny of a story that sounds perfectly plausible? According to post office records, almost a hundred miles away and fifteen years earlier in Craighead County a town petitioned the government for a post office. The federal government rejected the name proposed by the locals and an alternate name, Bradman, was approved. The rejected name was Fifty Six. The town quickly passed out of existence and the post office at Bradman only operated for one year.
I checked the USGS Geographic Names Information Service database (GNIS), which lists all former and alternative as well as current geographical names. I checked the spellings Fiftysix, Fifty Six and Fifty-Six and found only those two towns in all of the U.S. had ever been called 56. Both of those petitions listed Fifty Six as the preferred name. Those petitions were submitted within fifteen years of one another. And is it coincidence that both locations have the same lattitude?
Dang peculiar, that. It looks to me like somebody in Arkansas early in the century was determined that there would be a town named Fifty Six and was pretty particular about the geographical placement of it. Incidentally, the Old Fifty Six was at 35 deg 57 min 09 sec North and the Present Day Fifty Six is at 35 deg 57 min 27 sec North. I don't know what all to make of these coincidences, but if freemasons aren't involved I'll eat a bug.
ELEVEN POINT FORTY FOUR
If your map is detailed enough, you can still find the towns of Eleven Point and Forty Four, both of which are located at river crossings and both of which have more or less been reclaimed by nature. The name of the town was to be Piney Bridge, named for the bridge crossing Piney Creek, but the government selected the alternate name of Forty Four. The unverifiable story goes that the alternate name came about frivolously because there were forty four names on the petition asking for a post office, and of course the petitioners had no reason to believe that the name Piney Bridge would be rejected. Forty four exists hypothetically a stone's throw east of the highway 56 (there's THAT number again) bridge at Piney Creek.
Eleven Point was named Cavenas until 1949. It took its new name from the Eleven Point River, which appears on frontier maps as the Levé Pont River. So once again we see the French influence on Arkansas geography. Not surprising, I guess, when you consider this used to BE France.
For less than a year in 1880 there was a town named Eleven in Jasper County. Again this was an alternate name submitted to the government. The rejected name was Jasper. There's a Twentythree at highway 167 and Honeysuckle Road north of Bald Knob. There are some with obvious explanations, Three Brothers, Three Sisters, Three Forks, Four Forks, Four Gum Corner. There are some foreign numbers, Uno and Octa. There's a Three Way on highway 91 west of Jonesboro.
That's about it. I'm closing this article with some photographs of road signs. I get a little aggravated that nobody thought to place a road sign exactly nine miles from Number Nine or five miles from Figure Five, just so they would read "Number Nine 9" and "Figure Five 5." Once again that's probably one of those things that's funny only to me.
Arkansas Historical Quarterly, v. 19, p. 201.
Baker, Russell Pierce, From Memdag to Norsk.
Deane, Ernie, Arkansas Place Names.
Heritage, Journal of the Crawford County Historical Society, April 1967, pp.-16-17.