Texas Hill Country Part III: LBJ Boyhood Home and Ranch
Lyndon Baines Johnson was the 36th president of the United States. The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park is located at two sites in and near Johnson City, TX. The Johnson City Unit is located on the edge of the town and includes his boyhood home and a visitor center. The LBJ Ranch Unit is about 14 miles west of Johnson City and includes his ranch and a reconstruction of the house where he was born. We were interested in the historical facts surrounding LBJ's ranch and presidency, so we decided to visit the LBJ National Historical Park.
In 1908, LBJ was born in a small farmhouse in Stonewall, TX, which is only a short distance west of the ranch. A reconstruction of the house where he was born is located in the western unit of the park near the ranch.
The farmhouse is another example of a dog trot house where there is a central, open breezeway. You can look into some of the rooms of the house, but it is not open for tours.
Lyndon Johnson attended Junction School, a one-room schoolhouse that was located a short distance down the road from the house where he was born. National Park Service bought the land where the school is located so it is now part of the Ranch Unit of the park.
Lyndon Johnson only attended the Junction School for a few months in 1912 because the school was closed down due to a whooping cough epidemic. Then LBJ's father, who felt he wasn't cut out for farming, moved the family to a house in Johnson City in 1913. The eastern part of the park is located in Johnson City at the site of boyhood home, which is shown below.
The house in Johnson City is fairly modest and was without electricity until the late 1920s or 1930s. It was built from prefabricated components bought out of a Sears catalog by the previous owner in 1901. There was indoor plumbing (cold water only), but just for the bathtub and the kitchen sink. Used bath water drained onto the ground under the house. There was an outhouse in the back yard. In the next photo you can see the single faucet at the kitchen sink on the far left.
The photo below shows the dining room. The black box on the side table behind the dining table is an early radio. The round, black object next to the radio is a megaphone-type speaker similar to what was used on the old Gramophones. The family had one of the first Model Ts in town, and without electricity in the house, the radio was powered by the car battery. You had to drive the car around during the day to recharge the battery so you could listen to the radio in the evening.
The visitor center at the Johnson City Unit has a lot of information on LBJ and his early life and political career. After graduating from high school, Lyndon Johnson attended Southwest Texas Teachers' College and graduated in 1930. His father served 5 terms in the Texas legislature. Young Lyndon Johnson showed a penchant for politics having been elected president of his 11th grade class, and having been involved in debates and campus politics in college. He taught public speaking and debate at a high school in his early teaching career.
After campaigning for a Texas state senator who was running for the U. S. Congress, Johnson was offered a job as legislative secretary for another U. S. congressman. Johnson married Claudia "Lady Bird" Taylor in 1934. In 1937, he successfully ran on a New Deal platform for the U. S. Congress himself.
LBJ ran for the U. S. Senate in 1941, but was defeated. He continued to serve in the House until 1949 when he finally did win a seat in the U. S. Senate. He was chosen as minority leader by the Democrat party in 1953, and he became majority leader when the Democrats took control of the Senate in 1954.
In 1951 during his time as a senator, Johnson's aunt sold him her old ranch located on the Pedernales River very near the house where he was born. The ranch house was in pretty bad shape by the time Johnson got it, but a series of renovations, repairs and an addition helped get it into shape to fulfill his dreams of becoming a rancher.
The ranch was only about 250 acres when LBJ got it, but he built it up to a 2,700 acre showplace complete with its own airstrip.
In 1960, Johnson was elected Vice President serving under John F. Kennedy. LBJ became President when Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963.
During President Johnson's administration, the LBJ Ranch served as the Texas White House. Lyndon and Lady Bird went to the ranch often where they could escape some of the pressures of Washington, D. C. But they couldn't escape the pressures of the presidency, and they even added an extra wing to the house to serve as a presidential office. The office is the low section of the house to the left of the large tree in the above photo.
LBJ was re-elected President in 1964. He known for his role in escalating American involvement in the Vietnam War. He is also known for civil rights legislation, the "War on Poverty" that created programs like Head Start and food stamps, the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the passage of environmental and conservation legislation.
Although Johnson was eligible to run for another term as President, he announced on March 31, 1968 that he would not run again.
President and Lady Bird Johnson settled into the ranch life. LBJ spent his final years writing his memoirs and overseeing the construction of his presidential library in Austin. He also liked to ride around the ranch in his white Lincoln convertible and oversee the cattle operations.
LBJ died at the ranch in 1973 at age 64 of a third heart attack. The Johnsons had donated the ranch to the National Park Service in 1970 with the provision they would have free use of the home for life. Lady Bird continued to live at the ranch until her death in 2007. Lady Bird was instrumental in many beautification projects around the nation and in Hill Country. The Wildflower Center that we visited previously was one of her pet projects.
The family cemetery is located on the ranch. Numerous members of LBJ's family are buried in the cemetery including his parents. LBJ's headstone is the large one in the center to the right, and Mrs. Johnson's is the large one to the left.
Lady Bird had converted the presidential office into a family room, but all the original furnishings, draperies, and carpeting had been placed into storage. After Lady Bird's death, the office was restored to its original appearance and opened to visitors in 2008. A few additional rooms were recently opened for ranger-guided tours. Other rooms are being restored and will be opened in the near future.
Unfortunately, photography is not permitted inside the house, so we can't show you any of the interior. We can, however, show you a cow and new calf that were in the show barn. Although greatly diminished in size, the ranch is still a working ranch today raising Hereford show cattle the same way LBJ did.
Notice that the cow is branded on her horn rather than on the hide. This is the method used at the LBJ Ranch. An identification number is branded on the other horn rather than using an ear tag. Unlike a hide brand, the animal can't feel the horn branding at all, but the drawback is it must be redone periodically as the animal's horns grow.
It was interesting to learn more about the history of our country from back in the 1960s as well as to learn what a big influence Lady Bird was both in the nation and in Texas Hill Country. We'll have more Hill Country adventures to tell you about in our next post.