A magical place in time: Local man creates tiny town around elm tree

by By Mike Campbell Special Contributor

Outside the tiny town of Rusk, there exists an even tinier burg – a magical place where tiny people, animals and mythical creatures exist -- that boasts a blacksmith shop, bakery and hostel, a fairy garden, a diamond mine and a dragon, all wrapped around a huge elm tree.

It is the master creation of a local artist (who claims he is no artist), Jerry Burford, 68, a retired FRA railroad inspector for the state of Texas. Burford has a long and storied career as a surveyor, railroad conductor, refinisher of antique furniture, rebuilder of older model vehicles and machinist, among other things.

Burford says he had no artistic ability – but admits that friends and family assure him he is an artist. Most of the village is custom-made, with Burford meticulously cutting all the lumber and structures for the village from old cedar fencing.

There are handmade tools, a still for making moonshine, hand-built signs and stairs – there are even rumors afoot that ghosts might make an appearance from time to time.

And at night, the scene comes alive with multi-colored lighted and many of the buildings have inside lighting.

Some of the businesses that have helped make this one of the fastest growing towns are Peacock B&B, Guiliana’s Clothing, Healer’s Place, Flying Broom Store, Stables, Mona’s Bakery and Hotel, Shenanigans Night Club, Mike’s Hot Tub and Steam Room, an armory/treasury, a confession booth, outdoor dining patios, a head shop, a carpenter’s shop and a few residences for the local tiny people.

Most of the figurines are purchased, but all the wood and electrical work in the village was done by Burford.

The project was brought on by family illness. His brother had been diagnosed with cancer and had taken a turn for the worse. He was hospitalized in Temple, and the hardship of trying to be with his brother as much as possible and still take care of his horse ranch was proving quite the challenge.

“I started doing this to ease some of the pain I was going through,” Burford said. “I had to have something to occupy my thoughts, and I kind of lost myself in doing this project.”

Fortunately, his brother is doing much better, but that hasn’t stopped the village from growing.

It behaves and grows just as any village would, as if it were an actual town. And the work is not finished yet. As new ideas come to Burford, a new section of the village emerges. It has reached such a height, wrapped around that old elm tree, that he now uses ladders to work on the upper sections.

Writer’s note: I don’t know if Burford will open his artwork village to the public, but if you ever get a chance to see it, take a lot of pictures because it truly is a work of art.

Mike Campbell is a former Lufkin news writer and city desk editor.