Street Smarts: Florist with knack for transforming desert into oases named northwest-side street

2014-01-28T00:00:00Z 2014-07-02T15:32:11Z Street Smarts: Florist with knack for transforming desert into oases named northwest-side streetBy David Leighton For the Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

A florist with a penchant for land ownership and a knack for transforming the desert into an oasis named a northwest-side street that bears the name of the city of his birth.

Francis Hallett “Hal” Burns Sr. was born to William B. and Lucy (Hallet) Burns in Sumter, S.C., in 1896. His father owned a hardware store, a line of work young Hal had little interest in. From 1915 to 1917, he lived on the East Coast, staying with relatives and learning to be a florist.

After the U.S. entered World War I, Burns enlisted in 1917. He served in France and suffered mustard gas poisoning, which led to tuberculosis. In 1919, he moved to Tucson for his health. He found a temporary home at the YMCA and signed up for horticulture classes at the University of Arizona.

The following year he bought 4 acres of desert land along a lonely dirt road called Speedway (at present-day Richey Boulevard)) and pitched a tent. Later, he sunk a well and built a one-room house with a screened porch surrounded by an adobe wall. A windmill was added and soon was pumping fresh water, changing the desert landscape into an oasis with green grass, colorful flowers and eucalyptus trees. The area was so attractive that in time hundreds of couples would tie the knot there.

His passion for plants led to his first job, in December 1919, at John Howe’s flower shop. In November 1920 Burns opened his own flower business inside The Palms cafe at 9 E. Congress St., and by 1923 he had his own store, Burns Flower Shop, at 15 N. Stone Ave. (It later moved to 25 N. Stone Ave.)

In 1931, Burns married May Watkins, a teacher who had grown up on the old John Slaughter ranch, near Douglas. Children soon followed: Francis Hallett Jr. in 1932, Dorothy Lou in 1936 and William Benton in 1937. Their home expanded as their family grew.

Burns homesteaded 480 acres of land far from Tucson, between present-day Shannon and Thornydale roads on the east and west, and between Oasis Road and Freer Drive on the north and south. He received the patent of ownership in 1937 and leased out much of the land to ranchers for grazing their cattle.

In 1952, Burns moved his shop from downtown to the southeast corner of Speedway and Richey Boulevard. Just north of his home, he built a new flower shop and greenhouse, and named it “Flowers by Hal Burns.”

In 1955, Burns had the homestead surveyed, and on the survey map he named several roads in honor of his family and heritage: Burns Boulevard (now Shannon Road) after himself, Benton Drive (now Oasis Road) after his youngest son, William Benton, Hallett Drive (now Freer Drive), after his son Francis Hallett Jr., and Sumter Drive, after his birthplace of Sumter, S.C. It appears only Sumter Drive ever become an official street.

In the mid-1960s, after razing the original homestead shack, he built a second home on the property and called it “Ye Olde Hideaway.” By 1972, its named had changed to the “Carolina Hideaway,” in honor of his home state. On this land, Burns would once again create an oasis in the desert by planting palms, cypress and citrus trees.

Burns taught floral design to his three children and Benton eventually took over the family store.

Burns died in 1982, and the remaining 18 acres of the original 480-acre homestead was left to daughter Dorothy, who renamed it “The Carolina Homestead” and still lives there.

Note: Overton Road, south of Sumter Drive, is named for homesteaders Victor W. and Rosalie Overton, whose homestead bordered the current road. Freer Drive likely takes its name from Paul H. Freer, likely a landowner in the area.

Sources: Special thanks to Betty Barr, co-chair of the Journey Stories Celebration event, scheduled for Feb. 1 at the Sonoita Fairgrounds; interview with Dorothy L. Burns-Myrick (daughter of Hal Burns); Bonnie Henry, “A desert flower: Hal Burns’ green thumb enriched adopted city,” Arizona Daily Star, Feb. 11, 1994; Betty Barr, “A John Slaughter Kid: The Story of May Watkins Burns,” Brocking J Books, 2011; Larry Copenhaver, “That was entertainment,” Tucson Citizen, April 27, 1999; Barbara Marriott, “Oro Valley,” Arcadia Publishing, 2008; Homestead Records — Bureau of Land Management; 1918 Tucson City Directory; 1923 Tucson City Directory

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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