LEWISTON — You may not know this, but former President George H.W. Bush had connections to Lewiston-Auburn.

In 1945 during World War II, he and his wife, Barbara Bush, lived in the Twin Cities while he was getting Navy flight training at the Auburn airport.

In 1948, George “Poppy” and Barbara Bush, then students at Yale University, participated in a promotion for Bates Manufacturing of Lewiston.

And in 1991, President Bush visited Lewiston on the first day of school, reading a storybook to Farwell Elementary School kindergartners, then going to Lewiston High School where he outlined his education initiatives.

“It’s amazing,” said Rachel Desgrosseilliers, the executive director of Museum L-A. “It shows that a lot of things happened here that we don’t know about. We have a rich history, much richer than any of us think.”

ONE-ROOM AUBURN APARTMENT

Details are sparse about the time Barbara and George Bush lived in Lewiston-Auburn. But the George Bush Presidential Library confirmed that the couple lived in Lewiston-Auburn from March 26, 1945, to sometime in May 1945.

Bush was here to prepare for additional combat duty in the Pacific, according to an archivist with the George Bush Presidential Library. This training happened after Bush was shot down and rescued in 1944 in the Pacific Ocean.

And in 1991 and 2000 when Bush was in Lewiston, he told reporters that shortly after he and Barbara married, he was stationed in Lewiston flying torpedo bombers for the Navy. The training was at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport, which has a portrait photo of George Bush in his U.S. Navy uniform.

The newlyweds lived for a short time in an Auburn apartment, Bush said.

In 2007 the Sun Journal’s Sun Spots found a posting at books.google.com that noted an excerpt from “Barbara Bush: A Memoir.”

“We were moved to a base in Maine and lived in several rooms in the Lewiston-Auburn area. George’s mother came to see us, and told my mother we lived in the red light district. Rooms were hard to find in base towns. We had a small, one-room efficiency apartment with a kitchen in the closet and a Murphy-in-the-door bed. … I’ll never forget the day George came home early (April 12, 1945) because Franklin Roosevelt had died. We were sick.”

Local historian Douglas Hodgkin wrote, “During his presidential visit in 1991, as an aside the president noted that he and Mrs. Bush resided in Lewiston very briefly in 1945 during his flight training at the Naval Auxiliary Air Facility at the Lewiston-Auburn Airport. Some people think he lived in the College or Oak street area. However, during a visit in 2000, Bush indicated they lived for a short time in an Auburn apartment. He remembered they were there when FDR died.”

PROMOTING BATES FABRIC

Before the war Bush was accepted to Yale but put off his education to serve in the Navy. After World War II he and Barbara attended Yale.

As college students, the couple participated in a “Bates College Board,” a focus group made up of “the smartest young men and women” from leading colleges across the country, according to the film narrated by actor Ed Thorgersen. The “Bates College Board” provided insight into what college students wanted from Bates Fabrics made by Maine mills, including the large one in Lewiston. The push was a national promotion to stores selling housewares.

A Bates Manufacturing magazine, published in 1948, shows off the “Bates College Board,” a 15-member focus group of college students from across the country who participated in a nationwide promotion of “fashionable” Bates Fabric bedspreads and drapes for college dorms. George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara Bush, participated. The discovery of the promotion was made by Museum L-A Executive Director Rachel Desgrosseilliers when going through a vault at Bates Mill No. 5.

Desgrosseilliers said she got a call one day in 2010 telling her she could have everything in the Bates Mill No. 5 vault.

“I went down, opened the door. Oh, my God, it was filled with stuff,” she said.

She and others started sorting. “I pulled out this box,” filled with reels of film. It was labeled “Bates College Board,” which Desgrosseilliers assumed meant Bates College.

“But it was Bates Manufacturing,” she said, emphasizing in that era Bates Fabrics was a nationwide company with its office in New York City.

Archivist Susan Beane started watching the films. “She said, ‘Rachel, come and see this!'” after recognizing Bush.

The film was sent to be preserved and copied to a CD. Desgrosseilliers sent it to the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, which sent her a letter of thanks.

In the 14-minute film, Barbara and George (Poppy) Bush appear at 7 minutes, 45 seconds into the film.

1ST SCHOOL DAY LIKE NO OTHER

Nothing could make the first day of school more exciting and hectic than a presidential visit, complete with the national press corps, local and state dignitaries, the Secret Service and sharpshooters.

Sue Martin was the principal of Farwell Elementary School when she heard, one week before school started, that President Bush was to visit her school.

She was struck by the amount of coordination the presidential visit required. Security staff scrutinized the schools and surroundings. Publicity teams focused on getting out the right message.

When the president arrived at Farwell early Sept. 3, buses surrounded the school to block vehicles. Snipers were perched on top of the buses.

Bush “got out of the car and said, ‘Sorry you had to go through so much. I hope my people didn’t put you out too much,'” Martin said. “He was extremely personable, appreciative of what people had to do.”

On the first day of school teachers were pulled from their classrooms for an hourlong roundtable with the president. Teachers appreciated his time, Martin said.

After George and Barbara Bush walked into a kindergarten class, a few little boys cried for their mothers. When it was time to shake his hand, young Tessa Albee gave Bush a hug. The president hugged her back.

When told it was little Billy Bourke’s birthday, Billy was given the president’s own pen.

Then the first couple read “The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear.”

The president and his entourage then left for Lewiston High School, where he addressed an audience of 1,700 in the gym. Surrounded by Gov. John McKernan, U.S. Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander and other dignitaries, Bush praised Lewiston schools for efforts to improve education and reduce the dropout rate. He gave his annual, national back-to-school speech outlining his education agenda to boost scores and lessons.

The initiative was “America 2000 Communities” in which states, cities and towns were to recognize schools “as the living center of the community.” Parents were encouraged to get more active in their children’s schools. The president said what happens at homes “really matters.”

After the speeches and enthusiastic applause and cheering, Bush left Lewiston in the presidential helicopter. It lifted off from Franklin Pasture at Lewiston High School where it had landed a few hours earlier.

[email protected]

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.