Telling Crestview's story: 105-year-old Lorenza Bush House to become history museum

Tony Judnich
Northwest Florida Daily News

CRESTVIEW — Following a major renovation that’s set to begin Dec. 1, the city’s historic Lorenza Bush House could be ready to open in late spring or early summer as a Crestview history museum.

The house “is going to have lots of surprises for us” that will be unveiled during the renovation, city Cultural Services Specialist Brian Hughes said Wednesday. “We won’t find them until (workers) open up the walls.”

Besides gathering information from long-time area residents, Hughes has been working with his fellow Crestview Historic Preservation Board members to find historic photos and other items that will help tell the Hub City’s story at the museum.

The white, two-story, 3,661-square-foot Bush House stands under a green metal roof at 198 Wilson St. It was built in 1925-26 for Bush, who at the time was the tracks supervisor for the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad Co.

“You could see the depot from his house,” Hughes said.

The Bush House in Crestview will be renovated and turned into a Crestview history museum.

Related:Historic home makes its mark

Crestview was incorporated in 1916 and became the seat of Okaloosa County a year later. The city and the seats of several other Panhandle counties grew up along the L&N line.

The Bush House has served in a variety of capacities over the years. For example, a portion of it once contained an office for the then-operator of the county bus system.

For the past several decades, another part of the building has been used as an office for Elder Services of Okaloosa County, Hughes said.

He said city officials have several places in town under consideration for the new Crestview office of Elder Services, which is based in Fort Walton Beach.

“It’s not known yet where they’ll go,” Hughes said. “Mayor (JB) Whitten is leading the search for their new location.”

Who was Lorenza Bush? 

Lorenza Bush was born in 1874 in Fort Deposit, Alabama. According to the caption for a historic photo of the Bush House, Bush began working for the L&N in Alabama in 1894, was transferred to Pensacola at the turn of the century and moved to Crestview in 1910 to serve as supervisor of tracks.

Bush was elected to the Crestview City Council in 1935. He retired after 45 years with L&N and lived in his home on Wilson Street until his death at age 74 in 1948. He is buried in Greenville, Alabama.

Bush’s wife, Laura, remained in the house on Wilson Street until 1956, when her health required special care, according to the photo caption. She died in 1959.

The caption also shares that, “Their son moved away in his youth” and that their daughter, Opal Bush Clarke Dunn, resided in Crestview until she moved to Fort Walton Beach a few years before her death in 1982.

The Bush House has nine rooms, including a parlor and dining room, as well as two fireplaces and a large front porch with a porch swing.

“It’s built like a tank,” Hughes said while noting that the building’s floors and exterior are made of hardy heart pine. “But it’s been through a lot over the years.”

Brian Hughes with the city of Crestview talks about the renovation planned for the city-owned Lorenza Bush house.

You may like:Crestview establishes Cultural Services Division, to be led by Brian Hughes

Planned Bush House renovations

Hughes said the future museum will be set up on the building’s first floor, and his office, an office for the Historic Preservation Board and historical archives will be on the second floor.

Visitors to the museum will be able to view an assortment of historic photos of Crestview, including the downtown area and Crestview High School. Exhibits will include one on “Mr. Hasty’s train,” which was a small train that local children used to ride on at local festivals.

The train currently is stored at the Baker Block Museum in Baker. After the museum opens, Hughes would like to revive the train and provide rides for kids during festivals and other events.

Hughes said he also would like the museum to highlight the 1949 Academy Award-winning war movie, “Twelve O’Clock High.” It starred Gregory Peck and much of it was filmed at Duke Field just south of Crestview.

“We want to tell Crestview’s story. It’s 105 years old now,” Hughes said.

The city will pay $329,800 to Triple R Construction, of Navarre, to renovate the Bush House.

Crestview officials are using $250,000 in state funding to pay the bulk of the renovation cost, with the remainder paid for with city Community Redevelopment Agency money. The city secured the $250,000 state allocation thanks to the efforts of state Rep. Patt Maney, R-Shalimar, and state Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City.

An old photo shows the Lorenza Bush house in Crestview, which will be renovated and turned into a historical center that showcases the early days of Crestview.

Crestview officials spent more than a year trying to obtain bids from contractors for the Bush House renovation project but ran into various difficulties because of the pandemic, City Manager Tim Bolduc said.

The city CRA Board ultimately selected Triple R Construction to perform the renovation.

This company, which is owned by Rick Rausch, completed an award-winning renovation of the historic, 5,500-square-foot Gulfview Hotel building in Fort Walton Beach in early 2019. At the time, Bolduc served as Fort Walton Beach’s public works director.

“I had worked with Rick because of his work on the Gulfview,” Bolduc said.

More like this:Historical walking trail to be added to downtown FWB

Before being renovated, the donated old hotel building finished its wheeled quarter-mile journey from 12 Miracle Strip Parkway S.E. to its new home at 115 Miracle Strip Parkway S.E. in downtown Fort Walton Beach in April 2018.

After being renovated, the now-115-year-old building began housing a visitor’s center, historical exhibit, gift shop and commercial office spaces.

The Gulfview Hotel relocation and rehabilitation project was the recipient of the 2019 Florida Redevelopment Association’s Outstanding Rehabilitation Renovation or Reuse Project Award and President’s Award.

The renovation of the Bush House mostly will consist of interior upgrades, Hughes said.

Part of the interior of the Bush House in Crestview.

Among other tasks, the building’s gas heating system will be replaced with a modern electric heating system, ductwork will be replaced, old sheetrock will be removed, ceiling leaks will be repaired, crown molding will be added, fluorescent lights will be replaced with historically accurate lighting fixtures, sagging support beams will be repaired and the kitchen will be upgraded.

In addition, a large Catawba tree on the north side of the building will be removed to prevent the base of one of its trunks from further damaging the structure. The building’s exterior will be pressure-washed and repainted, and a balcony will be added outside of Hughes’ second-floor office, matching the balcony that was in place when Lorenza Bush lived in the house.

“I think we’ll have a first-class museum in here,” Hughes said while giving visitors a tour of the building Wednesday. “It’s going to be a great asset to the city.”