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Rent a Room in History! The Rebirth of the Bush House Inn

Step back in time, to Western Washington’s smallest town: Index.

Founded by miners in the early 19th century at the foot of a 1,000-foot high granite cliff, Index has something new to boast about. Actually, it’s a new day for something old: The Bush House Inn.

The 123-year-old historic structure, shut since 2002, is open once again for guests. Wicker chairs on the wrap-around porch wait for your well-earned rest after a day of hiking in the Cascade Mountains, rafting the Skykomish River, skiing at Steven’s Pass, or climbing the legendary Index Wall that looms large over the inn.

The inn was established five years after the town was platted by local miners and the Great Northern Railroad transcontinental mainline was completed through town, providing a direct connection between Seattle and Minneapolis that is still active today. Inn owners were Ellie and Clarence Bush, though history shows that Clarence likely worked solely as a miner, pulling copper out of the mountain, and Ellie was the owner and proprietor of the inn.

“The Bush House was well known for Ellie’s rose garden,” local historian David Cameron said.

Ellie’s Inn was a two-story building, holding just a handful of rooms for rent, though it wasn’t long before it was expanded. Multiple ownership changes from the 1950s through the ‘80s also ushered in various additions and changes to the building, including tripling its size, and the addition of the picturesque, covered porch.

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Opened for business this past July, the historic inn was renovated by Blair and Kathy Corson, Dan Kerlee and Carol Wollenberg. The team remodeled the event space with a more open floor plan to host events, weddings and musical performances, and brought to modern standard 10 hotel rooms, several of which now have their own bath. The third floor attic space was renovated into a bridal suite that connects to the event hall. On the main floor, the building’s original hand-hewn cedar planks are now shelves at the front desk and in the restaurant. Fir flooring that had to be removed was repurposed into dining tables.

The restaurant, say the Corsons, is the next step for the inn; the owners are seeking a seasoned restauranteur and bar owner to contract with. Locals still recall special meals in the Inn’s restaurant, and talk about the famous berry cobbler that came out of its kitchen.

“We’d really like to find a restauranteur who is excited to reopen this iconic destination location, and have fun not only serving meals for Stevens Pass travelers and locals, but catering for the many events held in the area,” Kathy Corson explained.

The inn was established five years after the town was platted by local miners and the Great Northern Railroad transcontinental mainline was completed through town, providing a direct connection between Seattle and Minneapolis that is still active today.

Cameron said the inn has always been central to community life in Index. The town is home to 178 residents and is tucked neatly up against the North Fork of the Skykomish River and into the Cascade mountain range by Index Mountain and Gunn Peak, named for the town founder.

“At one point we had five hotels that, over time, disappeared. The Bush House Inn was one of the key centers of activity for Index up until the day it closed,” Cameron said.

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The Corsons, years before, renovated the 1902 Index Tavern, transforming it into a coffee shop and Outdoor Adventure Center. Like the inn, for more than a century, the tavern was a gathering place and a source of employment to the Index community.

“Many locals have stories about getting their first jobs in the inn, or celebrating birthdays and anniversaries,” Kathy Corson says. “Now that we’re back in operation, new memories can be made, and this building can continue to serve the greater Index community.”

It’s a welcome revival in a town that lost several historic buildings. The Inn was sold to them by Loyal McMillan, granddaughter of the founder of Nordstrom’s department stores, John Nordstrom, a Swedish immigrant who made his department store seed money as a gold miner.

“Loyal had other offers on the building, but she really wanted it to go to someone committed to restoring it,” Blair Corson said. An earthquake caused shifting in part of the building in 1999, resulting in a portion of it being condemned. Not long afterward, the inn’s doors closed and weather and vandals took their toll.

“It was in really bad shape,” Kathy Corson said. The couple described the decade-long renovation process as intense. The rear event space which had been condemned had to be removed and then rebuilt. The partners lifted the building eight feet in the air where it sat for several weeks while a new foundation was established. They also installed a fire suppression system, in-floor radiant heating, new roof and siding, and an ADA lift.

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The Inn, which was already on the Washington State Heritage Register and in endangered status, has been restored back to its pioneer-era charm, and placed on the National Register of Historic places and the Snohomish County Register of Historic Places.

“We’re very excited to have the Bush House be an active part of the community again,” Kathy Corson said. “It’s truly amazing the changes this building has gone through in its lifetime. To have it all updated and functional, yet still able to reflect its history, is really the big win here.”


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Ellen Hiatt
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