Remembering Story Book Land - INSIDENOVA.COM: Woodbridge

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Remembering Story Book Land

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Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2013 12:36 am

There was an old lady who lived in a shoe.

There was the crooked man who lived in the crooked house.

There was Little Bo-Peep who lost her sheep.

And there was the family who kept it all going.

For just over two decades, on a few acres of woods along U.S. 1 in Woodbridge, a family kept Mother Goose rhymes and other fairy tales alive at a children's amusement park.

Story Book Land is well-remembered by many longtime Prince William County residents, and many others who made the small amusement park part of their family vacations and road trips.

Henry Burda, the man who operated the park for most of its time, died Jan. 24, after a long illness.

His obituary lists the operation of the "popular children's attraction" as one of his many accomplishments.

In an interview, his wife, Gail Burda spoke fondly of the many summers her family spent running Story Book Land.

In 1959, her father, Delmar Tice, moved from New Jersey to Virginia to turn an 11-acre patch of woods alongside the highway into a magical place for children.

Tice designed and built the park, which he called Story Book Land.

"It was a children's park with houses and figures, all based on Mother Goose and children's stories," said his daughter, Gail Burda. "He designed it and built it. I think he had seen similar parks other places and he just thought it would be fun for kids."

Nearly everything in the park was inspired by Mother Goose rhymes or fairytales -- from the figures of Humpty Dumpty to the replicas of things like the house that Jack built, to the teenagers hired to portray Little Bo Peep and Little Red Riding Hood.

Soon after opening the amusement park, Tice needed help, his daughter said. So, the family joined him.

"We all worked there," said Burda, whose husband, Henry assumed the role of managing the park in 1962. "It was very much a family business."

The Burdas' children, the youngest of whom was just 1 when they moved to Woodbridge from New Jersey, grew up at the park, she said.

And just about everyone in the family worked there.

Gail Burda painted many of the figures seen throughout the park. Her sister, Jane Touchet, did much of the office work. Burda's mother spent time working there too, sometimes working in the gift shop.

Everyone in the family worked on advertisement, dropping off brochures throughout the area.

"It was a true family business, so we all did a little bit of everything," Burda said.

The park employed many other area residents, too.

"We hired a lot of high school students during the summer," Burda said. "For many of them it was their first job."

Burda said many of those hired as teenagers remember her husband as firm, but fair manager.

"Years later many of them have told us that working for him taught them how to hold a job," she said. "He was a firm task master, but he was fair."

The amusement park employed a good amount of animals as well.

There were ponies used for pony rides, lambs led around by Little Bo Peep, along with goats, bunnies, ducks and other assorted baby animals.

The animals contribute to some of Burda's most comical memories of the park, she said.

"We used to have some trouble with our ponies. One pony in particular was always getting out," she said. "On more than one occasion I can recall getting a telephone call from the police department saying that one of our ponies was walking down Route 1 and we had to go round him up."

Among Burda's other memories of the park are memories of her growing up there.

"The girls loved playing with Little Bo Peep and Red Riding Hood over the years, though I'm not sure how much Little Ride Riding Hood and Bo Peep liked it," she said.

Story Book Land is a part of the memories of many Prince William County residents.

A photo of the park is included in "Prince William County Then and Now," a book published by the Prince William County/Manassas Convention and Visitor's Bureau in 2007.

"Those who lived in the area in the 1960s can recall outings to this location and some remember working here during the summer," a passage in the book reads.

A Facebook page titled, "Storybook Land Alumni" has over 5,100 members and there dozens of people have shared photos and memories of visiting the park, of working there, or just of driving past the site, visible to passing traffic on U.S. 1.

"It was Heaven on Earth when I was 5," one visitor wrote.

Some said they thought they may have imagined the park and were glad to confirm it was real.

"I thought I dreamed it," one wrote.

Touchet announced the news of Henry Burda's death on the Facebook page recently, saying that he was "owner/operator of Story Book Land during its prime."

"He made summer employment possible for many Woodbridge area teens - some portrayed Little Bo Peep and Red Riding Hood, some ran the pony rides and little car rides, some sold tickets or worked in the snack bar. … The kids loved him," she wrote. "He will be missed by all who loved Story Book Land."

When Story Book Land opened, there wasn't much else on U.S. 1, or in Woodbridge.

Interstate 95 wasn't there yet.

There was no Marumsco Plaza, or anywhere else to shop, Burda said. The family had to drive to Springfield or Dumfries to do their grocery shopping.

"Route 1 was a very busy road when we opened because 95 wasn't open yet," Burda said. "And besides the weigh station, there wasn't much else there."

Story Book Land closed in 1981.

"After 20 years, I think we were all getting burnt out," Burda said.

Burda moved on to focus on teaching; her sister went to school to study nursing.

For many years after the park closed, some of its abandoned structures remained.

Today, the wooded area, adjacent to the Potomac Club subdivision's clubhouse is vacant. County land records show that the property now belongs to Potomac Club LLC.

In the mid-1990s, a puppeteer had plans to revive the park, according to news reports at the time, but those plans never materialized.

Story Book Land, as it once was, lives on only in memories.

"A lot of people tell us they used to bring their children there. We got lots of tourists, people from throughout the country and even throughout the world," she said. "A lot of school groups and church groups would visit, particularly in the spring. They would come in their big buses and it was very exciting."

Looking back, Burda says her family's experience with the amusement park was a positive one.

"Oh it was fun. It was a great place for kids," she said. 

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  • crook703 posted at 11:19 am on Mon, Feb 11, 2013.

    crook703 Posts: 67

    How you have memories when you said you aint never stop B...........somethin aint addin up wit your story B.........[whistling]

  • raywilliams posted at 10:48 am on Mon, Feb 11, 2013.

    raywilliams Posts: 53

    We used to drive by Story Book Land on our way to visit family in Alexandria. Mom always promised to stop but I really don't recall we ever did. Thanks for the memories!