The city was named after the creek of the same name which flows through its center; this had been named by early French explorers, as France had claimed this territory through the eighteenth century. The name Papillion is derived from the French term (papillon) for butterfly. According to local tradition, the early French explorers named the creek as Papillon because they saw so many butterflies along its grassy banks. The spelling was changed through a transliteration of the French word.
Papillion was platted in 1870 when the railroad was extended to that point. Papillion (sometimes referred to as "Papio" by its residents) is one of the last of the late 18th-century, Paris-inspired frontier cities left in the Midwestern United States.
Halleck Park, a recreation area in the heart of the city, includes many trails, open spaces, trees and a number of areas of interest, including Papio Fun Park, Papio Bay Aquatic Park, Papio Pool, and Papio Bowl. The park also offers tennis courts, volleyball courts, playgrounds, "The Duck Pond", Monarch Field ("The Pit"), and E.A. Fricke Field.
It also has nine other softball diamonds within the park for youth. The diamonds are sited on three fields: Halleck, Blonde, and Papio Bay. Village Park, Papio Bay Aquatic Center (including two water slides and a zero depth pool) and Walnut Creek recreational park are among the other recreational amenities in the city.
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