Sitting near the base of the Upper Town Wall in Index, the 1899 Bush House is looking more and more like the hotel it once was thanks to co-owners Blair and Kathy Corson, who are doing the restoration. The Bush House is also being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Sitting near the base of the Upper Town Wall in Index, the 1899 Bush House is looking more and more like the hotel it once was thanks to co-owners Blair and Kathy Corson, who are doing the restoration. The Bush House is also being nominated to the National Register of Historic Places. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Couple faithfully renovating historic 1899 Bush House in Index

The Bush House stands, at age 118 a proud survivor, below the majestic granite of the Upper Town Wall in Index. Its paint is fresh, its structure solid and its future promising.

At a meeting Tuesday in Eastern Washington, the old hotel was among several sites considered for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

“This is a step. It’s a unique opportunity,” said Kathy Corson, 36, who with her husband, Blair Corson, has toiled since 2012 to restore the landmark to its lost glory.

Long a hotel and restaurant, the early-day Bush House played a big role in what she called “an iconic boomtown.” In a place sustained by logging, mining and the railroad, the hotel built in 1899 by Clarence and Ella Bush “kept Index alive,” she said. There were once five hotels in town, yet the railroad called its destination the Bush House stop.

The Bush House was in disrepair when it closed in 2002. With their top-to-bottom renovation, plus the addition of large rooms for weddings and other events on the building’s back side, the Corsons plan to run a hotel with six guest rooms. They intend to lease the dining space, and are looking for a restaurateur.

Because the event venue isn’t original, that section would not be included in the National Register listing.

The Index couple bought the Bush House in 2011 from Loyal Nordstrom McMillan, granddaughter of Seattle-based clothing store founder John Nordstrom. She had owned it since 1992. The Corsons’ ownership partners are Dan Kerlee and Carol Wollenberg.

Blair Corson, 37, is an Index town councilman whose family owns Outdoor Adventure Center, a rafting and guide business. The very life of Index, a town of about 200 people a half-hour west of Stevens Pass, figures into the goal of re-establishing the hotel.

“We need more jobs in town,” Blair Corson said. “I’m doing my best.”

Part of that effort is their decision to seek a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Inclusion on the register would bring higher visibility for the town, which is about a mile north of U.S. 2. It also would mean qualification for federal preservation grants and eligibility for a tax credit.

“We’d get a sign on the highway,” Kathy Corson said.

On Tuesday, the Washington State Governor’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation met in the city of Coulee Dam to consider nominations to the National Register of Historic Places or the Washington Heritage Register. Along with the Bush House, the Woodinville School building, Lincoln School in Port Townsend, and Yelm’s water tower are among other sites seeking a listing.

Allyson Brooks, historic preservation officer with the state Department of Archaeology &Historic Preservation, attended Tuesday’s meeting.

“What happens next, we make any final edits to the nomination, I sign it, and it goes to the National Park Service,” Brooks said Friday. “They make the final decision.”

The Bush House listing will be decided by staff in the National Register of Historic Places office in Washington, D.C., Brooks said. The process could take 45 days to several months. Brooks said it’s rare for a National Register nomination from a state review board to be rejected. “This is a pretty good nomination,” she added.

And it’s a pretty massive renovation project. The old hotel had been sinking. Corson, whose father had a construction business, said he was helped by family to jack up the structure and put it on a new foundation. “The building weighed 128 tons,” he said.

The aim is to bring the hotel back as much as possible to its original condition, but important parts are new. “We started in January 2012 with a new roof,” Corson said.

Built in two phases, in 1899 and 1901, the Bush House is like many commercial buildings of its day. It has a western false-front facade, a covered wrap-around porch and gable dormers. It’s a work in progress, but Corson sees completion within months.

Any visitor walking past an antique registration desk, down a narrow hall, or up an original staircase can sense the hotel’s heyday. Under those stairs, behind old wallpaper, Corson found a signature of the hotel’s founder: “CN Bush.”

David Dilgard, a local historian who recently retired from the Everett Public Library, told The Herald in 1993 that one of the legends associated with the Bush House “is all the lumber for the building came from a gigantic, single fir tree.”

Several presidents might have visited or stayed there, perhaps William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt or even Dwight Eisenhower. Corson can’t confirm that. Someone else has the hotel’s original registration book — and he’d like to get it.

The Bush House should be on the National Register. “It’s the oldest hotel in our county, and one of the oldest in the state,” Corson said.

So far, he has worked five years on the project. “It was do it or watch it fall down,” Corson said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

More about Bush House history, renovation efforts, and a landscape contest at the Index landmark: www.bushhouseinn.com/

More about the meeting of the Washington State Governor’s Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, where nomination of the Bush House to the National Register of Historic Places was considered: www.dahp.wa.gov/washington-state-advisory-council-on-historic-preservation

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