Located in the sunken lands of northeast Arkansas, Lepanto first served as a high spot in the swamps surrounding the area. As the 20th century approached, a series of levees and drainage ditches was built and the region became a major player in the timber industry.
The town of Lepanto, named after a port in Greece, was incorporated in 1909. In the years following, the town flourished thanks to improved drainage, a cotton gin, and the addition of a bank, a telephone company, a newspaper, and the arrival of the railroads. After World War I, the timber industry declined and the price of cotton plummeted, impacting the growth of Lepanto. Combining those issues with damage from the flood of 1927, the town underwent economic hardship even before the Great Depression.
It was during this trying time in Lepanto’s history that a great idea was born. The Lepanto Terrapin Derby started in October 1937 as a fundraiser for the town’s American Legion. Eight decades later, the event still happens annually, now under the direction of the Lepanto Fire Department.