Friday, March 10, 2023

Haven in the City: Bush's Pasture Park

In 1860, Asahel and Eugenia Bush purchased 100 acres of oak groves, orchards, and meadows just south of the city of Salem. The couple and their four children lived in the simple house that had come with the property. Sadly, Eugenia died in 1863, but the family stayed on. Asahel, a successful newspaperman, went into banking and planned a Victorian house with a view of the property and town. The house and barn were completed in 1878, with a conservatory added in 1882. The landscaping was designed by Elizabeth Lord and Edith Schryver, the first woman-owned landscape design firm in the northwest. The family donated 57 acres to the city in 1917 to be used as a public park. Willamette University purchased 10 more acres in the 1940s to build McCullough Stadium, and the city was able to purchase the remaining acreage to enlarge the park. Asahel III, the Bush's last living child, passed away in 1953, and the Bush's house has operated as a museum since that year; the barn was converted into an art gallery in the 1960s.

And that very simple story is all there is. One family, one house preserved much as they left it, a conservatory believed to be the oldest in the Pacific Northwest, and oak groves still crowning the hilltops. Camas lilies, once gathered for food by the local Kalapuya people, still bloom beneath the oak trees and in the meadows. Wildflowers are allowed to set seed and multiply. Native maples and shrubs flourish alongside Pringle Creek.

But time marches on, and so has Salem. The Bush's home on the south edge of town is now in the middle of everything, edged by Mission Street/Highway 22 and the city's hospital to the north. Neighborhoods have expanded to the west and south. The Bush's patch of oaks and meadows is now much more than acreage; it has become a destination for the residents of Salem, as well as for visitors to Oregon's capitol. 

Over the years, the popular park has been embellished: a gazebo now stands in the large rose garden, which has continued to expand over the years with species both new and old (look for "Miss Sally's Roses," named for daughter Sally Bush, to find roses original to the farm). 130 rhododendron varieties bloom every spring in the shady rhododendron garden. An amphitheater hosts various events. Three playgrounds, including an All-accessible playground, appeal to the younger crowd. How about a soap box derby? The only official track this side of the Mississippi is here. Four lit tennis courts, the WU stadium, and a baseball field attract sports enthusiasts. Walkers and joggers will find about 2 miles of trails through the park, or meet up with friends for a picnic and game of frisbee in one of the open fields. If rain threatens, tour the house, or if it really sets in, visit the Art Center in the old barn, with a variety of exhibits and an excellent gift shop.

But much has stayed the same on the 90.5 acres that remain of the original 100. Time has paused inside the grand old house encircled by lush landscape beds. The venerable conservatory shelters exotic species that would have been treasured during Victorian times. The gardens fill themselves with flowers every spring, and the grand old oaks rattle with dry, brown leaves in the fall. The camas lilies bloom and fade among the grasses. as they have for time immemorial. 

Deepwood Estate

Bush's Pasture is worth visiting any season of the year. Look for it on the south side of Mission Street in Salem, or on the east side of High Street. Click here for an excellent map of the entire park. Of course, the house, conservatory, and art barn are very popular destinations, so that parking lot is generally a busy place; if mobility is not a concern, consider parking at another lot and taking in more of the park on your way to the house. While you are there, take a side trip to the neighboring property, Deepwood Estate; a relative newcomer to the area, Deepwood dates to 1894 and is known for its lavish gardens and capacious conservatory. During the summer, Pringle Creek gets low enough to cross and you can see both estates in one visit.

So one family's haven on the edge of a fledgling town has morphed into a city retreat for countless visitors. Stop by to see snow on the oaks, or swaths of camas lilies, or lush beds of antique roses. Picnic in the fields, or catch a game. With their vision for the town's growth and development, we think Asahel and Eugenia would be pleased.

Bush House
Art Barn

Rose garden in the fall...

...and in the winter

Rhododendron garden (out of bloom)

Soap box derby track

Don't laugh. It has happened.

Late-evening ball game