FOR MORE THAN 100 years, as a gravel road or as streamlined pavement, the Stevens Pass Highway has beckoned as a cross-Cascades catalyst to intimate scenic bliss.

As we motor through a succession of tiny towns on the west side of the mountains, a rich palette of trees, bridges and railroad tracks along the Skykomish River feels so fresh, green and close, it’s as if we can reach out and touch the wide, deep swaths of crisp, wooded splendor.

The former timber and mining burg of Index, roughly 60 miles northeast of Seattle, once welcomed such pass-through traffic along its few unpretentious blocks via a 10-mile winding road from Gold Bar.

But the early 1930s brought modernization. The state constructed a shorter stretch of the highway that bypassed Index, leaving the hamlet one mile northeast of the new artery. It was, The Seattle Times stated on Sept. 13, 1931, part of “the steady movement to minimize the blockade of the Cascade range against the vast hinterland that feeds Seattle and Tacoma with produce for export and manufacturing.”

Accessible via a turnoff road and ringed by four “Washington Alps” from 5,464 to 6,244 feet in height, Index has persevered through the decades as a mini-paradise. Remoteness has both bolstered the town’s charm and embodied its challenge.


Enter the Bush House Inn. Built in 1898 (some say earlier), the three-floor structure once competed with four other hotels for hungry lodgers. Now it’s the only hotel in the riverside town of 150.

It presides on Index Avenue, nestled against a sheer, 1,270-foot climbing wall and a stone’s throw from Great Northern rail tracks whose freight trains and Amtrak cars regularly roll through town.

The inn suffered from disrepair and closure early this century. But after a decade of energy and financing marshaled by a pair of couples — Blair and Kathy Corson, proprietors of an Index recreational firm, and Dan Kerlee and Carol Wollenberg of Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood — the extensively restored and remodeled 10-room hotel reopened last fall.

This effort merited a salute at last month’s gala of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation, which in 2009 placed the inn on its list of Most Endangered Places.

The building holds promise as not only a travelers’ getaway but also a center for weddings; events; and, with a new, expansive stage, concerts and dramatic productions. To echo its original incarnation, the owners are even searching for an on-site restaurateur.

Invisible from the highway, however, the Bush House Inn begs a “Field of Dreams”-like riddle: If you rebuild it, will they come?