Back Story: Laura Bush on Creating a Legacy of History Preservation

Laura Bush speaks with Preservation about why she feels inspired to save places.

As First Lady of Texas and, later, the United States, Mrs. Laura Bush took her lifelong interest in American history and became a vocal advocate for historic preservation. Now a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Board of Trustees, she spoke with Preservation about why she feels inspired to save historic places.

You grew up in Midland, Texas. What was your earliest memory of being in a place that felt special?

The building that was special in Midland was the county courthouse. It was in the very center of the city. I went there as a young child with my mother, because the Midland County Public Library was in the basement. That courthouse is still there, and it stayed important to us for the rest of our lives. That’s where George went to read records, and it’s where George and I went to get our marriage license.

As First Lady of Texas, you were instrumental in establishing a number of preservation programs. What inspired you to take on historic preservation as a cause?

I’ve always been interested in history. My mother loved reading history books, especially of the Southwest. George was interested in history, too—that was what his degree was in from Yale. So it seems like reading history has been a part of my life for my whole life. And as you probably know, Texans are very proud of their history. History was something we really grew up with. And when George became governor, I had the opportunity to visit historic sites all over the state. I started going on tours every year to the Main Street cities. I remember those very fondly.

As First Lady of the United States, you helped create the federal initiative Preserve America. What did you hope to accomplish with this program?

When I came to the White House, Save America’s Treasures had already been founded by the previous First Lady, and it’s a terrific program. Preserve America was started as a partner with Save America’s Treasures for smaller communities who might not ever get a Save America’s Treasures grant. They could be designated as a Preserve America community, and they could figure out what their historic assets were and how they could use those assets to spur their economy, teach people about the history of their communities, and try to build a sense of pride.

What is your vision for the future of historic preservation in the United States?

I think it’s really important that everyone who’s interested in historic preservation work together to educate children. If we know our history, then we value the things that people have left to us. And I think if we value what’s been left to us, then we’re much more likely to protect and preserve it. But it’s important also to let people know why we should protect what we still have and figure out new uses for our old sites, as well as finding ways we can build our economy and help people, especially young people, know what those buildings represent.

Online Exclusive: [Full Interview] Former First Lady Laura Bush's Vision for Historic Preservation

For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.