Asahel Bush II (1824-1913) became editor and publisher of The Oregon Statesman newspaper in 1851, and later served as state printer. In 1860, he and his wife Eugenia Zieber Bush (1833-1863) purchased 100 acres of land from Reverend David Leslie (1787-1869). The gently rolling farmland on the southern edge of Salem contained a simple frame house, several orchards and pastures of native grass and wildflowers.
Eugenia Bush died from tuberculosis in 1863 and left the 39-year-old widower with four young children: Estelle (1856-1942), Asahel III (1858-1953), Sally (1860-1946) and Eugenia (1862-1932). That same year Bush sold The Oregon Statesman and in 1869 established the Ladd and Bush Bank, in downtown Salem, with William Ladd of Portland. In 1877, Bush had the original Leslie house moved across Mission Street and construction began on a two-story, Italianate style farmhouse which was completed in 1878. His daughter Sally, then 18 and away at school, helped her father select wallpaper and furnishings for the house. In addition to the farmhouse, there was a barn and later, a conservatory and ice house.
Having completed her education, Sally returned to Bush House and lived with her father until his death in 1913. To honor their father, the Bush Family donated 57 acres east of the house to the City of Salem for a municipal park in 1917. The park would be named Bush’s Pasture Park and ownership would transfer to the city upon the death of Sally and A.N. Bush. In 1944, A. N. Bush arranged for the city to purchase the remaining 43 acres for $175,000. With the failure of a bond measure to fund the purchase, A.N. sold 10 acres to Willamette University for McCullough Stadium and the city was able to acquire the remaining 33 acres for Bush’s Pasture Park. Sally lived in the house until her passing in 1946 and in 1948, A.N. moved back into the family home when his house by the Oregon State Capitol was acquired for capitol mall construction.
With A.N.’s passing in 1953, full ownership of the house was transferred to the City of Salem. The contents of the house, purchased by the Salem Art Association (SAA) in 1948, were reinstalled and the Bush House Museum opened for tours and art exhibitions in October 1953. Salem landscape architects Elizabeth Lord & Edith Schryver of the Lord and Schryver Conservancy designed the gardens at the Historic Deepwood Estate and enhanced the museum with historically appropriate plantings. Lord also oversaw the installation of the Tartar Rose Garden, southwest of the museum in the early 1960s.
The old barn was remodeled into an art gallery and teaching facility by the SAA, following an interior fire in the mid-1960s. The galleries and administrative offices in Bush House Museum were relocated to the Bush Barn Art Center and the second floor bedrooms were refurnished with period pieces. In 1979, the Friends of Bush Gardens (FOBG) was established as the Bush Conservatory Gardeners to care for the plant collection in the 1882 Conservatory, east of Bush House Museum. Over the years, FOBG has worked in Bush’s Pasture Park to enhance the Tartar Rose Collection, install a Victorian-style gazebo and rehabilitate the Lord & Schryver elements in the park. Most recently, FOBG spearheaded efforts to restore the 1882 Conservatory which is the second oldest extant conservatory on the west coast.
Today, as part of the Gaiety Hill/Bush’s Pasture Park Historic District, the Bush House Museum, Bush Barn Art Center and Bush’s Pasture Park welcome thousands of Salem residents and visitors each year. In addition to the Salem Art Fair & Festival, the former Bush Family Farm is also home to Willamette University’s McCullough and Roy S. “Spec” Keene Stadiums as well as the Salem Soap Box Derby Track. Surrounding these facilities are 90 acres of trees, open meadows, children’s play areas and various multi-use trails.