Prairie Chapel Ranch

Prairie Chapel Ranch is a 1,583 acre (6.4 km²) ranch in unincorporated McLennan County, Texas, located seven miles (10 km) northwest of Crawford. The property was acquired by President George W. Bush in 1999 and was known as the Western White House during his Presidency.

Bush spends vacation time at the house where he has also entertained dignitaries from around the world.

The ranch gets its name from the Prairie Chapel School which was built nearby on land donated by mid-19th century German immigrant Heinrich Engelbrecht from Oppenwehe, Germany, who owned the land that now comprises the Bush ranch. Engelbrecht also donated land for the nearby Canaan Baptist Church (the "Prairie Chapel").


Engelbrecht and his heirs raised turkeys and hogs. The original Engelbrecht ranch house is about 4,400 feet (1,300 m) from the main house on Rainey Road and is now called the "Governor's House" and is used to accommodate overflow guests. The Bushes stayed in the house during construction of the new house.

In 1999, a year before he became President, shortly after earning a $14.3 million profit from the sale of the Texas Rangers, former Texas Governor Bush bought the land for an estimated $1.3 million from the Engelbrecht family. Assisting Bush in arrangements for the purchase was the then Texas Secretary of State Elton Bomer.

Bush removed five large hog barns on Mill Road leading into the compound in order to construct a new house, guest house, and garage.

On May 10, 2008, the ranch played host to the wedding of Jenna Bush and Henry Hager. The ceremony was relatively simple and was attended by some two hundred friends and family members.

House and grounds

David Heymann, then an associate professor of architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, designed the four-bedroom, 4,000 ft² (372 m²) honey-colored native limestone single-level home with painted white galvanized tin roof on the site. Heymann said the house was built from the less sought after portion of the local "Lueders limestone." The middle portions of the blocks of stone is a cream colored while the edges are multicolored. "We bought all this throwaway stone. It's fabulous. It's got great color and it is relatively inexpensive," Heymann said.

In addition there is an open 10 foot (3 m) wide limestone porch that encircles the house. The house was built by members of a religious community from nearby Elm Mott, Texas, and wasn't completed until after Bush's inauguration because of needed accommodations for security, meeting space, etc.

Laura Bush said they decided to keep a single level ranch design because "We wanted our older parents to feel comfortable here... We also want to grow old here ourselves."

The passive-solar house is positioned to absorb winter sunlight, warming the interior walkways and walls of the residence. Geothermal heat pumps circulate water through pipes buried 300 feet (100 m) deep in the ground. A 25,000 US gallon (151 m³) underground cistern collects rainwater gathered from roof urns; wastewater from sinks, toilets, and showers cascades into underground purifying tanks and is also funneled into the cistern. The water from the cistern is then used to irrigate the landscaping around the home.

Other structures

In addition to the house there is a guest house and a garage in separate buildings to the southwest of the main house.

The facility includes a helicopter hangar which has been used as an auditorium on the rare occasions the former president held a press conference at the ranch.

In 2002, the ranch was wired for what Bush described in a 2003 tour of the ranch as "real time, secure videoconferencing" to be used for his briefings from the CIA and other secured communications.

Overnight visitors stay in the main house, its associated guest house, the original Englebrecht farmhouse, or in a five-bedroom three-bath mobile home.

News reporters stayed in hotels in Waco. Press conferences that didn't involve the President were conducted in the gymnasium of Crawford Middle School, ten miles (16 km) away from the ranch. The barn often seen behind TV correspondents during their live reports was actually on private property behind the school.


The land includes seven canyons and three miles (5 km) of frontage along Rainey Creek and the Middle Bosque River. In August 2001 while touring the canyons with reporters Bush noted that the cedars in the canyons would be a good nesting ground for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler although the warblers have not actually been seen on the compound.

Bush added an 11 acres (4.5 ha) man-made pond that he stocked with 600 largemouth bass and 30,000 bait fish. There are also bluegill and red ear sunfish. The pond has a maximum depth of 17 feet (5.2 m). In May 2006, when asked to name the best moment in his administration, Bush jokingly said: "I would say the best moment was when I caught a 7½-pound largemouth bass on my lake."

At the urging of his daughters, Bush also built a swimming pool over the objections of Heymann who thought it would interrupt the stark views. Bush referred to it as "the whining pool" — whine long enough and you get it. It offers a respite from the hot Texas summers, and is heated by the same geothermal system as the house is during the winter.


A prized souvenir from the ranch is a gray Under Armour athletic shirt emblazoned with a Texas star encircled by the words The President's 100-Degree Club. In order to qualify a visitor must run 3 miles (4.8 km), or bike for 10, when the thermometer hits triple digits.

When he was president, Bush used the ranch for vacations, meetings, and entertaining foreign dignitaries. In the less formal setting, dress code for meetings called for an open collar and no tie. Guests were typically treated to meals of Southwestern cuisine. When not holding meetings or briefings, Bush spent his time mountain biking, jogging, fishing, bird hunting, and clearing brush.

Bush made clear his preference for spending some time away from his official residence at the White House in Washington, DC. In 2001, he said, "I think it is so important for a president to spend some time away from Washington, in the heartland of America."

Visits from foreign dignitaries

Visitors to the ranch have included:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, November 2001
  • British Prime Minister Tony Blair, April 2002
  • Saudi King Abdullah, April 2002, April 2005
  • Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, August 2002
  • Chinese President Jiāng Zémín, October 2002
  • Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, February 2003
  • Australian Prime Minister John Howard, May 2003
  • Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi Jun'ichirō, May 2003
  • Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, July 2003
  • Mexican President Vicente Fox, March 2004, March 2005
  • Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, April 2004
  • Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofía, November 2004
  • Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, March 2005
  • Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, April 2005
  • Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, August 2005
  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel, November 2007
  • Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, February 2008
Security considerations

The Federal Aviation Administration had a full-time three nautical miles (six km) no fly zone, designated "Prohibited Area 49", around the ranch during the Bush Presidency. When President Bush was in residence at the ranch, a Temporary Flight Restriction was issued, expanding the radius to 10 nautical miles (19 km), with lesser restrictions extending to 30 nautical miles (56 km), containing some exceptions for Waco Regional Airport nearby.

Bush normally flew in and out of TSTC Waco Airport (the former Connally Air Force Base that is now owned by Texas State Technical College) on Air Force One, and was shuttled on Marine One to the ranch.


Cindy Sheehan spent several months outside the ranch protesting the Iraq War. She created a peace camp called Camp Casey by pitching a tent on the side of Prairie Chapel Road (which leads to the ranch) in 2005 and was joined at one point by filmmaker Michael Moore. She announced her intention to stay for the five weeks or until she was granted a second meeting with President Bush. She also promised that, were she not granted a second meeting, she would return to Crawford each time Bush visited there in the future. Several cabinet members went out to talk to Sheehan, but she refused stating that she would only talk to the President himself. Supporters of the President set up an alternative "Camp Reality" across Prairie Chapel Road.

Future of the ranch

At the close of the Bush presidency, the Bushes purchased a home in Dallas, TX. Laura Bush confirmed that they would make that their permanent residency, while spending weekends and holidays at the ranch. The Wall Street Journal quoted an unnamed White House official: "They'll have their place in Crawford. He just loves it."


9 photos

Building Activity

  • OpenBuildings
    OpenBuildings removed a media and updated 8 media
    about 5 years ago via
  • updated a digital reference
    about 5 years ago via Annotator