Ready or Not, Crawford May Soon Resume Normalcy

By Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 27, 2008

CRAWFORD, Tex. -- These days, even protesters rarely visit this tiny town made famous as President Bush's favorite vacation spot.

Tourist traffic has slowed to a trickle. A cluster of storefronts and the one blinking stoplight that make up downtown Crawford have been spruced up since Bush, then the governor of Texas, bought his 1,600-acre ranch nearby in 1999.

But some of the long-empty historic shops -- despite freshened exteriors -- still have no occupants, and Crawford Country Style, one of a handful of memorabilia shops to open here since Bush became president in 2000, went under about a year ago.

Wednesday marks the final day of Bush's last Crawford summer vacation, a prospect has left longtime residents marveling at the changes that have come to their dusty, 700-person town about 20 miles west of Waco -- and wondering what comes next.

Bush has indicated that he and his wife, Laura, will make Dallas their primary residence after they leave the White House. It is not yet clear whether they will keep Prairie Chapel Ranch, but chances are good, given the extensive renovations the first couple made to the compound.

Still, next August will be the first since Bush took office that Crawford won't hear the chop of a helicopter ferrying the president from the Waco airport, or that the gymnasium at the Crawford middle school won't fill with hordes of reporters. Many here believe the town will then, at long last, return to normal.

"To me, this is the heartbeat of Crawford," Marilyn Judy, a local teacher, volunteer emergency medical technician and Chamber of Commerce president, said as she gestured at more than 100 townspeople munching on burgers and hot dogs after services Sunday at the First Baptist Church. "This is the part that's not going to change."

The president's presence has been mostly good for Crawford, his 75 visits here bringing spikes in visitors eager to buy Western White House mugs and, since May, collectible plates featuring images of daughter Jenna Bush and Henry Hager, who got married at the ranch.

A dying feed store was replaced with a shiny new bank, the Security Bank of Crawford. The Yellow Rose, a kitschy stone building made up to look a bit like the Alamo, opened in the old mechanic's shop at the corner of the town's main intersection, North Lone Star Parkway and Farm Road 185.

The trophy case at the local high school includes mementos of tours by then-Russian President Vladimir Putin and former then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair, alongside reminders of the school's 2004 state high school football championship.

But Crawford's distinction as Bush's home away from Washington hasn't brought the boom some thought it might in the first heady years of his presidency. A once-discussed grocery store never materialized. Neither did a hotel.

"There was some of that circulating, but it was never very realistic," said Kenneth Judy, Marilyn's husband and the former school superintendent, now vice president at Security Bank.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2008 The Washington Post Company