Burns Park skating rink, pool popular in '30s, '40s

Published on Sunday, 18 May 2014 23:05 - Written by KENNETH DEAN kdean@tylerpaper.com 

Walter Todd and his sister, Marie Dusek, share fond memories of a skating rink and swimming lake in Tyler.

Todd, 86, and Mrs. Dusek 79, talked about their days of fun at Burns Park skating rink and swimming pool, on U.S. Highway 271 near Camp Ford in the 1930s and ’40s.

“There was the skating rink and the swimming hole, and they had a place where they sold hot dogs and whatnot. It was always pretty busy, especially on the weekends,” he said.

Mrs. Dusek laughed and said she was the tagalong, with her parents making her brother take her to the park while he was “courting” a girl.

“I was like the fifth wheel, but we did have a lot of fun,” she said, chuckling.

Mrs. Dusek said at the time Tyler had very little for kids to do, so it was a popular spot for kids and their families.

“I was about 8 or 9, and I just remember it was a nice little place,” she said.

Todd said he learned to skate in the rink as a student at Rice Independent School, which was not part of the Tyler Independent School District at the time.

“The schools were real big on doing stuff with the kids then, and the parents were usually real involved,” he said. “I remember my first time I was wearing white pants and shirt, and the floor had some kind of grease on it for cleaning. I remember falling a lot and, of course, my white clothes were black by the end of the day.”

Mary Jane McNamara, Smith County historian, said she, too, has fond memories of the park.

“It was enormously popular, and the swimming pool had a sand and gravel bottom and was spring-fed, so it was good and cold,” she said.

Ms. McNamara said the old B&C Motor Co. ran a bus route to the park and to Tyler State Park, so many would ride the bus to Burns Park. 

“I don’t think there was another skating rink in the Tyler area then, so in the cooler months it was packed, and when the weather was warm, well, the swimming pool was the popular part of the park,” she said.

Ms. McNamara said she did not know when the park closed but felt confident in saying she believed World War II was the reason it ceased to exist. 

“There were no boys, as this town’s boys all went off to war, so I think it just hurt them because there was no reason for the girls to go if there wasn’t any boys,” she said, laughing.

Despite the many hours spent skating, Todd said he spent more time at the swimming hole. 

“I was trying to court this girl and had been trying to impress her from about the second grade, so we would go out there or meet out there,” he said.

However, the young girl Todd was trying to impress would not become his wife, but instead he would meet his wife, Della, after he was discharged from the Army. 

The two have been married 58 years and did not return to Tyler until 1985.

Todd said he often thought about the many memories created at Burns Park, and even tried to find the place once he returned to Tyler.

“I remember driving out there looking for it and realizing it was gone. I remember thinking, there would be no more of those kind of days,” he said.