The fall season is just a few days away and that means summer is almost over. But there was a time, a number of years ago, when a place not far from the Denison Dam on the Oklahoma side was a beehive of activity, even after those white shoes and pants were put away for another year and we were settled in to school and dragging out our sweaters.
While this was all under way, Burns Run, which at the time was designated “The Coney Island of Lake Texoma,” was still a bustling place of activity while the weather still was warm enough to enjoy a weekend at the beach within driving distance.
That was THE place to swim at the time since Denison had no swimming pool in the 1950s except for the pool in the basement of the Barrett Building downtown. I remember that pool well because that is where I was taught to swim by a police officer named Lewis Carlat. Incidentally, he also taught me to drive during driver’s education classes at Denison High School.
My friend Jim Sears posted a picture on Facebook last weekend of a very busy Burns Run. All that is missing from the picture are the carnival and rides, including a Ferris wheel, that was across the road from where the photo was taken. The caption that I feel surely was attached to the original picture said it took place in 1967.
However, my husband’s eagle eye said the cars parked along the road were were from the 1950s and a little older. We decided it must have been about 1957 when the photo was taken.
That’s the concession stand with the circus striped roof and a hot dog stand on the right in the picture. Weather must have still been warm from the looks of the people milling around on the beach and in the water. It is appropriate to say that it was a jumping place to spend a day with family and/or friends.
That was my time to enjoy going to the lake with friends to swim, lie on the beach for a tan (before the days we worried about the sun giving us skin cancer) and taking a picnic lunch to eat further to the right where almost 90 concrete picnic tables and benches were available under the trees.
When I saw the picture, I decided it would be the focus of a good column so I looked in my file and found the Burns Run folder. Inside was a column published June 6, 1993, that was written by my friend Calvin Mauldin for The Denison Herald. Calvin was a local freelance writer that provided a number of excellent local feature stories that included pictures that ran on the cover of our Lifestyle section about that time.
Calvin passed away in July after a very interesting life as a lover of cars from working as a mechanic, a buyer and reseller, and a model builder of plastic cars to a writer of stories that appeared in a number of automobile magazines as well as the Herald. Writing was what he liked to do best. He also was a paperboy for the Herald from the age of 12. As his obituary read, “He was a gentleman and a gentle man, kind hearted, honorable, humorous and loyal.” All that is true.
His feature story on Burns Run began talking about when the Denison Dam was dedicated in July 1944, very little was said about tourism and the potential money to be had there. In the beginning, the dam was designed for flood control and to eventually generate millions of kilowatts of electricity that would produce millions in revenue. But as Calvin said, “the forces of the mighty Red River now captured, the Lake Texoma reservoir began to fill, as it did, thoughts of recreational use stepped to the forefront.”
In those early days of the lake, one of the best places was Burns Run on the west end of the Denison Dam. In late April 1947 with Memorial Day just around the corner, there was a frenzy of work building the gravel roads while the beach area was cleared for safe swimming. Preparing that area in itself wasn’t enough to bring in amusement money, so the portable and one permanent concession stands were brought in. When July rolled around, thousands of people had visited Burns Run.
During that year’s off-season, the park was developed more and that summer census figure climbed to eventually give Burns Run the Coney Island image. In July that year, carnival ride operator Alvin Bain set up his amusement rides north of the beach with his “Texas sized” Ferris wheel, a wild tilt-a-whirl, kiddie rides and a merry-go-round.
The rides were so popular and brought more people to the area, so Bain came back the next year and set up his carnival rides on what he called a permanent arrangement. Over the winter of 1948 and the spring of 1949, Burns Run reached the high point of being an attraction as an amusement park. A penny arcade was built along with several other permanent concession stands that provided frozen custard, hamburgers and Dixie dogs, root beer and ice cold brew.
Calvin talked about the person who had an eyewitness view of the area, Wayne Bacon, who had the best seat in the park with the carnival rides. Edwin Best who had just taken over ownership of the carnival rides in 1950 told Calvin he remembered Wayne calling it work there, but he was 13 years old, making $9 a week and having the time of his life.
Wayne told Calvin that July the Fourth was the busiest time during the season. On regular days, the rides opened about 3 p.m. and closed at midnight and it was shoulder to shoulder with people. He said it wasn’t unusual for Edwin to sell $100 in snow cones at 10 cents each with the crowd on those days. Rides were nine cents or 10 for a dollar (somehow that doesn’t compute) and that brought in at least $200 a day. When Wayne graduated from high school, he left the carnival after 1955.
Then in 1957 the rains came and Texoma rose to a devastating 643 feet, causing Burns Run to shut down and move out, never to bounce back. By 1965, most of the picnic tables and buildings had been dismantled, sealing the end of Burns Run and its image as the Coney Island of Texoma.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her bi-weekly column, which appears in the Wednesday and Sunday editions. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.