One of Maine's most popular tourist attractions is Walker's Point, the summer home of former President George Bush (but you already knew that, didn't you?).  Even when I passed through the neighborhood late last March, I was astonished  by the constant stream of traffic coming and going from the scenic turnout looking out to the Bush estate.  Once a popular spot for fishermen, the rocky mini-peninsula was purchased by a group of land developers in the late 19th century who called their development Point Vesuvius.  From them George Herbert Walker, Bush I's namesake and grandfather, purchased the property, and in 1904 hired the Boston architectural firm of Chapman & Frazer to build a substantial summer cottage near the end of the point.   The new house was christened 'Rock Ledge' (betcha thought it was always called Walker's Point).

While not a masterpiece of the shingle style, the large (135 feet from end to end) house contoured agreeably to the site and took full advantage of the 360 degree views.

These photos of the house when it was one year old are from an article by Barr Ferree in the short lived 'American Homes & Gardens' magazine, July 1905 issue, and show the house as it originally appeared, before alterations to the service wing, and changes in the windows.

The floor plan reveals precious few bathrooms for the family and servants for a relatively large house, even in that less plumbing-centric era.

The interior appears, um, to have been a bit dumpy, but comfortable, even by the standard of the day...

...and not much appears to have changed.

Uncredited photo, Parade Magazine

The superb porch has long since been enclosed, and the stone columns covered with trellis.  I seem to remember reading somewhere once that this is Barbara Bush's favorite room, and has several times been damaged by hurricanes.   Even in this badly scanned illustration (when will Google Books develop quality control in their rush to digitize?  When???), the pleasure of the old open porch, with its swing, striped awnings and shining floor, practically at the edge of the sea, is obvious.

Chapman & Frazer designed a second house on the property a few years later for Walker's son, which has long since been demolished.

For the complete text of the article in 'American Homes & Gardens', click HERE.


Anonymous said...


The Devoted Classicist said...

Thanks, I had wondered what the original looked like. Snippets in the background of the Bushes on their boat, etc., revealed little beyond the most banal. But the original house, especially on the water side, was not so bad.

Today, isn't it interesting, despite money and education, how seldom interest in politics and architecture/decoration, and The Arts in general, do not coexist? (Mayor Bloomberg is a rare example).

As always, a most interesting post.

Mark D. Ruffner said...

I was in Kennebunkport long before the Bush name was familiar to me, but I still have the firm impression of old money there. It's interesting to see the evolution of the house. I've also read with fascination the link from Anonymous, which reveals how George W. could be so seemingly different from George H. W.

To read your posting and the accompanying link is a real history lesson. Thanks!

The Ancient said...

It's interesting to read how Bush 41 managed to take the house away from his Walker cousins, who were its logical inheritors, at a below market price. (Those cousins would probably have torn the place down and subdivided the land.)

I also seem to remember that when Bush 41 left office in 1992, the house represented the lion's share of his assets.

Anonymous said...

More pictures:











Anonymous said...

Hoping that "changes in the windows" at Rock Ledge didn't include messing with that pair of raised eyebrows on front roof elevation, sooo dear. Like Mark, I slurped up both DED's post [and wishing for more!]; and anon's Walker v Bush history, delicious wicked fun.


Anonymous said...

More pictures:




Kellsboro Jack said...

Just curious but was there any substantive changes to the property following the 1991 storms as well as the recent hurricane?


Anonymous said...

Hello folks. Just a few observations.


George Bush Sr. pursued policies to downgrade American Wetlands preservation. I remember wondering at the time, after the storm washed through his living room taking furniture, treasures and memorabilia out to sea, ‘Did his living room now qualify as a part-year wetland?’


The lure of seeing the presidential house spiked tourism in Kennebunk Port. This pushed new arrivals and longtime locals to renovate local historic buildings. Tragically they depended on local builders, many of whom would never have qualified as restoration specialists. A walking tour is frightening.

In my opinion, those builders untrained in preservation techniques may have smelled money, because they convinced unknowledgeable owners to strip away hand split 18th and early 19th century siding, and substitute poorly detailed modern plastic windows for the early wooden originals. You can see the difference a block away. In many cases, two-hundred-year-old architectural fittings were broken up and thrown in dumpsters. Some were burned in trash barrels. A few were salvaged for the restoration of one of the Shaker buildings in the Alfred Shaker village.

This alteration of most exteriors to use modern lumberyard replacements destroyed any sense of real age. In several cases, entire historic wings were gutted or removed completely. Delicately detailed Federal style moldings and trim were replaced with bolder, thicker trim of no particular style. Whole blocks of homes were forever mutilated to make it possible to encase historic buildings in Tyvec and supposedly maintenance-free siding. This was done in the loony pursuit of an airtight house when this was known to be very unhealthy.

Money and foolishness have seriously damaged this national treasure. Look at historic photographs of Dock Square, then look at it today. The drugstore is typical: A late Victorian Italianate commercial building was stripped of its original details and resurfaced as an 18th century something-or-other. The town is a preservation disaster. I have watched owner after owner ignore common sense, pleas to educate themselves and preservation literature to rebuild their treasures into bad suburban copies of themselves, and spend far more money to do this than true restoration would have cost.

What a tragedy.
Greg Hubbard

The Down East Dilettante said...

Greg Hubbard,

Thanks so much for these cogent--and timely---comments. I share your dismay, as a regular reading of this blog will indicate. The early vernacular architecture of Maine, not just in Kennebunkport, is disappearing daily, and the forces of the big box store, and misbegotten retrofitting seem unstoppable. What was venerated just a generation ago, and studied by serious students of architecture for a century, now is thrown under the bus, or rather, into the dumpster. Much as I love blaming the Bushes (the second one more than the first) for much that is wrong in the country, I fear that other forces have led to this widespread destruction.

You might be interested to know that last year I nominated early Maine Vernacular Buildings to Maine Citizens for Historic Preservation's 2010 Most Endangered list. I built a careful argument in my nominating essay for the importance of these buildings, and how total the destruction had become, far beyond the former menace of replacement windows and vinyl siding to the wholesale loss of all details, and the subsequent loss of what had for two hundred years been the defining buildings of many Maine Villages. I thought I'd built my case well, as you do yours above, so imagine my surprise when I got a letter from a Maine Preservation summer intern saying that they had decided to put my nomination under 'inappropriate winterization'. This didn't bode well, and when the list appeared, it was watered down to an issue of windows only, missing entirely the point, and the greater threat---and what is at this juncture nothing short of wholesale destruction. If the very organization charged with creating public awareness completely misses the point, what hope is there?