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Sitting in Two States at Once

  • Ted Landphair

When you’re in Texarkana, you’ve just got to get your photo taken straddling two states in front of a courthouse that's in both of them.

When you’re in Texarkana, you’ve just got to get your photo taken straddling two states in front of a courthouse that's in both of them.

Texarkana, Texas and Texarkana, Arkansas are joined by a single street

Is it possible to be in two places at once? It certainly is if you’re in the southwest city of Texarkana, which straddles the border between Texas and Arkansas.

In almost every regard, Texarkana is one community. But it’s two distinct cities: Texarkana, Texas, population 36,000; and Texarkana, Arkansas, with about 30,000 people. They’re not twin cities. They’re more like Siamese twins, joined at a single, wide street.

State Line Avenue runs through a common downtown and dead-ends at a historic federal building that - like the street itself - is half in Arkansas, half in Texas. Upstairs in the courtroom, the judge’s chair is bolted to the floor, so he or she is always sitting in two states.

The yellow line separates not only the two sides of State Line Avenue, but also Texas to the left and Arkansas to the right.

The yellow line separates not only the two sides of State Line Avenue, but also Texas to the left and Arkansas to the right.

Outside, at a painted line and sign on the street, visitors photograph each other with one foot in “the Lone Star State” of Texas and the other in “the Natural State” of Arkansas.

But if you ask most townfolk, there’s only one Texarkana. Texas Texarkansasans and Arkansas Texarkansansans often go the same church, the same theater, the same parades and shopping malls.

Yet each side of the line has its own mayor, high school and police and fire departments. Most of the shopping centers and car dealerships are in Texas, and most of the industry, including a big Cooper Tire plant, is in Arkansas.

There are liquor stores on the Arkansas side, but Texas is “dry,” as the saying goes. You can’t buy booze on that side of town.

This mural, saluting legendary ragtime-music composer Scott Joplin, decorates a building on the Texas side of Texarkana, where he was born.

This mural, saluting legendary ragtime-music composer Scott Joplin, decorates a building on the Texas side of Texarkana, where he was born.

Arkansas imposes an income tax on state residents, while Texas does not. To make sure everybody in Texarkana, Arkansas, doesn’t pack up and move across the line into Texas to avoid the tax, the Arkansas legislature in Little Rock passed an exemption. If you’re an Arkansan living within the city limits of Texarkana, you pay no Arkansas income tax.

Each Texarkana needs the other. The airport’s in Arkansas, and most college and medical facilities are in Texas.

Once, in the early 20th century, for the only time in U.S. history, two sitting United States senators lived in the same small town at the same time. You guessed it. When Morris Sheppard wasn’t home in Texarkana, Texas, or William Kirby back in Texarkana, Arkansas, they were in Washington together, representing “Texarkana, U.S.A.”

Oh, by the way, there may be two Texarkanas, but there’s only one city slogan: “Texarkana, U.S.A., where life is so large, it takes two states!”

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