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|History of Burns Park
As you hike the Burns Park Scout Hiking Trail not only will you see beautiful woods, hills and streams but you can relive the interesting history.
You will truly appreciate the beauty and heritage of our nation's second largest municipal park, Burns Park.
Read all of this information before hiking the trail. It goes by most the places mentioned herein so take your time, explore and enjoy walking the paths Indians, settlers and soldiers have used for many years.
The First People
The Quapaw Indians were the first recorded people to inhabit this land. The first white settlers along the Arkansas River in the early 1800's complained to the government of Indians raiding their farms, stealing livestock and occasional loss of lives. Through many treaties all the Quapaw were moved out to reservations in Oklahoma by 1830 making way for many more settlers to move in. The only sign that Indians once lived here is the few stone arrowheads that are found in plowed fields or washouts.
The First Settlers
The first known settler in the park area was John Christian Heilman. The cemetery on the knoll by white Oak Bayou is marked with a monument to the graves of him and his daughter Louisa Matilda.
John came from Germany with his parents and two brothers and ran away from home at age 14. Working on a boat he came up the Arkansas River and chose this area to homestead around 1830. His first wife died leaving him with five children. He then married Jane Rosenbaum, age 17, in 1841 after giving her family a parcel of land on which to homestead. John and Jane had four boys and the girl whom only lived for two years.
John built a store which was the only one along the route between Little Rock and Fort Smith. He sold tobacco and food from the fertile land he farmed. He was also a skilled cabinet maker. He died in 1852 at the age of 46 of a coughing disease and was buried beside his daughter.
Raising the Children
Jane was left with her four boys and five step-children to raise. With the education she got in Germany before coming to America she taught the children and sold milk, butter and eggs. The children had to help with chores and providing food for the table. There was an abundance of deer, turkey and squirrel to be hunted and fish to be caught out of the White Oak Bayou and Arkansas River. As the step-children married and moved away, Mrs. Heilman took in other children who were orphans.
The original cabin of John Heilman was falling apart so Jane had a new larger house built in 1859. It was two small cabins connected by a breezeway or dogtrot. The home place was located just North of the Burns Park boundary at the corner of the old Conway Highway and Crystal Hill Road.
The Civil War
The Civil War started in l862 and bad times set upon the Heilmans and most all families of Arkansas. The soldiers from both sides took guns and livestock leaving the family with little food and defenseless. Jane's oldest boy, Chris, was conscripted into the Confederate Army and drove a wagon load of cotton to sell in Mexico. Many wounded and hungry soldiers stopped here and were always given help.
A Confederate soldier is buried in the family cemetery located behind the old house place. Sorrowful times continued for Mrs. Heilman. Her youngest son, Willie, died as the result of a fall off a mule at age nine. Chris, who was 21 by now, returned from the Civil War and soon died from a tropical disease he contracted there. Another son, Henry, was killed in a fall from a pecan tree.
After the War
She was left with George who soon married and raised seven children living in the same house. They went to school at the Crystal Hill School which sat at the entrance to Burns Park on Military Drive. Jane taught Sunday School and lived to be 84. She was buried in the family cemetery in 1908. George lived till 1939 and other relatives still live in the Crystal Hill area.
The old home place was starting to fall down so it was carefully taken apart and one of the cabins was moved to the park in 1975. It stands across from the Heilman cemetery. The hand hewn timbers are well preserved for being built before the Civil War. Other early park residents were the Rosenbaums (Jane's relatives), Shillcutts, Sullivans, and Bremyers.
The Goverment Buys the Park
The United States government came in between 1900 and 1915 and bought up all this land. It was called Camp Pike and was used for a rifle range and for training maneuvers for soldiers during World War I. Fox holes which the trainees dug can still be found on the hillsides. The area was later part of Camp Robinson.
Dr. Burns Moves to Town
Dr. William Milton Burns moved to North Little Rock, then called Argenta, in 1912 and practiced medicine for the next 50 years. He was elected mayor in l919 and 1923. He was always dedicated to helping the youth in the community and served several terms on the School Board. He was the team physician for the North Little Rock High School Wildcat football team which he supported for many years. It is estimated Dr. Burns delivered 8,000 babies in his career.
A Champion for the Land
Dr. burns started a drive in 1948 to buy 870 acres of land called River Reservation from the United States government. In 1949 the city council appropriated $20,000 for the purchase. Dr. Burns headed up the Park Committee and with volunteer help started clearing brush and building pavilions and picnic areas. Even though past retirement age he helped build the lake and covered bridge to provide a place for kids to fish.
It was no surprise that in April, 1950, Mayor Ross Lawhon declared the city park would be named Burns Park. Dr. Burns died of a heart attack in December of 1953. He had so many friends his funeral was held in the North Little Rock High School auditorium. A granite memorial was made in his memory and placed at the entrance to the Park on Military Road in 1968.
More land was bought and many more improvements were made with the help of men like Joe Poch, Mayor Casey Laman and many others. The city now has a Parks Commission and a well staffed Parks Department that does an excellent job. In the 1375 acres there is a 27 hole Golf Course, Indoor and Outdoor Tennis Court, Special Playground for handicapped children, Boat Launching Ramps on the river, Pavilions, Archery Range, Trailer Camping Area, Boy and Girl Scout Camping area, Water Slide, Amusement Park, Baseball and Soccer Fields, and many special events each year like craft shows and concerts.
The Scout Trail
The original Burns Park Scout Trail was built in 1968 and thousands of patches were earned hiking it. Another trail was built in late 1985 to early 1986. Over 1000 hours were spent by Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from all over central Arkansas. It will be maintained by Scouts and all visitors are welcomed to hike it.
You Can Help
A good view of the park and community surrounding it can be seen from the Observation Point on the East side. As North Little Rock continues to grow we will find that Burns Park is an island of woods in a ocean of buildings and roads. We each have a responsibility to help preserve and take care of Burns Park by picking up trash and doing park improvement projects. That's the way Dr. Burns and John Heilman would have wanted it. Enjoy your hike.
Additional reading on North Little Rock and Burns Park can be found in the book " Indelible Footprints " by Evelyn Eubanks.
1. For whom is the park named?
2. What was the land used for during World War I?
3. Who were the first known Indians to live there?
4. Where was John Heilman from?
5. What Bayou runs through the park?
6. In what year was the log cabin built?
7. When was the land bought from the government for the park?
8. How many acres are contained in the park today?
9. When was the Burns Park Scout Hiking Trail first built?
10. List 3 things you can do to make the park a nice place to visit.
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Quapaw Area Council - Boy Scouts Of America
3220 Cantrell Road, Little Rock, AR 72202
(501) 664-4780 -- Fax (501) 664-4785
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