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City of Crestview works to preserve its history

The Lorenza Bush House
Hunter Morrison
WUWF Public Media
The Lorenza Bush House

In September, Crestview’s historic Lorenza Bush House, built in 1925-26 for the tracks supervisor of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, was renovated to become the city’s official history museum. It comes as one of many steps the city has taken to preserve and educate the community about its rich history.

The two-story house, located on Wilson Street, has served numerous functions since its existence. It is now the focal point for Crestview’s historic preservation, with rotating exhibitions that highlight the Hub City’s culture and history.

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“We’re constantly having people walk in the door, and if they’re not donating something, they’re sharing stories with us that we can share with our visitors,” said Brian Hughes, cultural services specialist for the City of Crestview. “There is definitely renewed interest in the city and in its history. For a city that’s a little over a hundred years old, it has a surprisingly rich and colorful background.”

Before the Crestview History Museum, the Baker Block Museum, located in nearby Baker, served as the go-to place to learn about Crestview and north Okaloosa county’s history. The museum features exhibits on the local timber industry, Native American culture, military presence, and others. It also has a research and genealogy library.

“I’ve spent many hours there,” Hughes said. “It’s one of those places where you go in looking for information about one thing, and then you find something else, and you end up having a great old time just going through old records.”

Included in the library are yearbooks, photographs, and newspapers dating back to the 1800s. It also has prohibition-era arrest records related to the illegal moonshine industry prevalent in the area.

“Rum-runners would actually hire local families to operate their stills for them,” Hughes said. “The product would run up the Yellow River or Shoal River on flatboats and be distributed farther north. Sometimes these stills made the difference between dinner and no dinner for some of these families out in the woods.”

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In addition to the Baker Block Museum, the Crestview Public Library, which doubles as a cultural center, contains materials that aim to educate citizens about the city’s history. Many of the materials at the Crestview History Museum came from the public library.

Numerous buildings, including the Bush House, are also important to Crestview’s history. The Alatex Building, which once served as a sewing factory on Woodruff Avenue, was slated to be demolished and turned into a parking lot over a decade ago. It has since been saved and restored, and now serves as a satellite branch for Florida A&M University’s pharmacy school.

“[Demolishing it] would have been a horrible thing,” Hughes said. “There are lots of great stories about how this building came about in the 1930s during the Depression.”

The city is also working to renovate Crestview’s original post office building on Main Street. A prime example of classic American architecture, the building will house offices for the Main Street Crestview Association and the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency.

Hughes added that he would one day like to see the city build a replica of Crestview’s original train depot. Although no plans or pitches have been made, he believes that a replica would help to further preserve and educate people about the early days of the Hub City.

“We could really expand the collection of train materials and talk about the railroad in more detail,” Hughes said. “We actually have space on city-owned property, but right now it’s just a pipe dream.”

Since the Crestview History Museum’s opening in September, several hundred people have visited to learn more about the city’s history. Hughes also said that he hopes to one day publish a book that details the history of the Bush House.

“A lot of these [historical subjects] touch on people’s hearts and emotions,” Hughes said. “As more people come through who remember the house or other stories, we’ll learn more things we can share with visitors, especially the younger ones.”

The Crestview History Museum at the Lorenza Bush House is located at 198 Wilson St. in downtown Crestview. It is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the second Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Hunter joined WUWF in 2021 as a student reporter.