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Texas has a worldwide reputation for everything big—that applies not only to its size, but also to the larger-than-life folks of renown who have either come from the Lone Star State, or made their mark on history here. Arguably one of the best-known was Lyndon Baines Johnson (or LBJ, as he's more commonly known), who served as the 36th president of the United States from 1963 to 1969. LBJ was born and raised right in the heart of the Texas Hill Country, and he and his lovely wife Lady Bird called the area home before, during, and after their tenure in the White House. Both of them were products of their Texas upbringing, and both left their influential imprints on local, national, and world history.
In this article, we'll explore how the Texas roots of LBJ and Lady Bird shaped their lives and those in their expansive political and social circles. We'll then highlight the historical and natural sites in the Hill Country that have since been dedicated to honor and commemorate these two fascinating Texans.
A QUICK HISTORY OF LBJ AND LADY BIRD
Lyndon Johnson was born on August 27, 1908, near the little Hill Country town of Stonewall. (LBJ was the second president born in Texas; Dwight D. Eisenhower was born in Denison, but his family moved to Kansas when he was two years old. Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush claimed Texas as their home, but were born in Massachusetts and Connecticut, respectively.) Shortly thereafter, his family moved to nearby Johnson City—and no, that name and his weren't a coincidence; it was founded in 1879 by James Polk Johnson, LBJ's uncle. After graduating from Johnson City High School in 1924, Johnson continued his education at Texas State University (then known as Southwest Texas Teachers College) in San Marcos, earning a BS in history in 1930.
Politics soon beckoned, and LBJ got his start as a legislative secretary in the US House of Representatives in 1931. He built political connections over the next several years, and in a special election in 1937 earned his own seat in the House. His remained there until 1949, with a notable side assignment. Called into active duty in the Naval Reserve after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, early the next year he was summoned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to observe conditions in the southwest Pacific. He earned a Silver Star after taking heavy fire during an air strike in New Guinea that summer.
Johnson returned to the House of Representatives in July 1942. He gained a Senate seat in 1948, and served there until being selected by John F. Kennedy as his running mate in the 1960 presidential election. When the Democratic Party took control of the Senate in 1954, LBJ was the majority leader until he and JFK were inaugurated in 1961. Although Johnson was definitely politically ambitious, the highest office in the land was thrust upon him in the worst possible way when Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. Just like that, the 55-year-old Hill Country boy and his wife were president and first lady.
Let's backtrack for a bit and meet the lady the world came to know as Lady Bird. Born on December 22, 1912 in the east Texas town of Karnack, Claudia Alta Taylor wouldn't be introduced to the Hill Country until she was in college. However, she did earn her lifelong nickname almost immediately; when she was still a baby, her nursemaid declared her “pretty as a ladybird.” Through her teen and early adult years, there are indications she disliked the nickname, but everyone in her family used it, and it stuck fast. As a result, she eventually embraced it with enthusiasm. Her name is even listed as “Bird” on her marriage license!
Lady Bird lived in east Texas until she graduated from high school in 1928. She briefly attended the University of Alabama, but quickly grew homesick and returned to Texas, earning a general BA degree at St. Mary's Episcopal College for Women in Dallas in 1930. She had considered returning to the University of Alabama at this time, but a friend attending the University of Texas at Austin invited her for a visit—and she was hooked. She fell in love with the rolling fields of wild bluebonnets in the area, and she moved there. Her passion for urban beautification, both in Texas and in Washington, DC, would become one of the most memorable aspects of Lady Bird's legacy—and it all started with those fields of wildflowers. She attended UT, earning both a BA in history in 1933, and a journalism degree the following year.
It was also in 1934 when the Lady Bird met her fella. LBJ was stricken with her, and in his characteristically persuasive manner, proposed to her on their very first date. His persistence paid off, and ten weeks later on November 17, 1934, Lady Bird became Mrs. Johnson. Over the years, the two would have two daughters, and the entire family's initials were all LBJ: Lyndon Baines, Lady Bird, Lynda Bird, and Luci Baines.
Throughout his entire political career, LBJ was described as “ambitious,” “persuasive,” “extremely effective,” and even as a bit of a bully. Important policy issues were as likely to be discussed in a men's room or on a golf course as they were in the Oval Office; as an example, LBJ often drove his “Amphicar” into the Pedernales River near his ranch to gauge the response of his passengers—or to persuade them on a certain point (no, really; he did that). As a result, those who fell under the laser-like focus of his attention would often approach Lady Bird to act as a moderator or buffer of sorts. This met with varying degrees of success, but LBJ respected his wife's input, and would often recruit her charm to sell his political agenda.
We'll leave it to the historians to assess LBJ's presidency. He certainly inherited his share of challenges: the country was reeling after JFK's assassination; the Vietnam conflict was coming to a boil; the Cold War with the Soviet Union was at its unnerving peak; and civil unrest was flaring throughout the nation. And that's just a partial list. Unquestionably, he approached those challenges with both savvy and passion, and at all times he had his devoted Lady Bird at his side. Our focus here, however, is their strong and lasting connections to the Texas Hill Country.
The LBJ Ranch near Johnson City served not only as the family home from the 1940s forward, but also played the role of the “Texas White House.” Beefed-up security and technology was installed there, so the president could operate just as efficiently and effectively as he did in Washington. More importantly, it was his escape, and when he left office in 1969 he happily retired to his Hill Country inner sanctum. LBJ passed away from a heart attack at the ranch on January 22, 1973; he was only 64 years old.
Lady Bird never remarried, and she outlived her husband by over 34 years. The LBJ Ranch remained her winter home for the rest of her life, even as tours of the surrounding area took place around her. (The private residence itself wasn't opened for public tours until 2008, nearly a year after her death.) After suffering a series of strokes and related health issues, Lady Bird Johnson passed away at the ranch on July 11, 2007. At the age of 94, she was the country's third-longest-lived first lady, after Bess Truman (who was 97) and Nancy Reagan (who was also 94, but lived 40 days longer than Lady Bird).
The Johnsons brought a uniquely Texan atmosphere to the White House; this was in stark contrast to the New England Camelot of the Kennedys. Where JFK was erudite and urbane, LBJ was folksy and straightforward. Both Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird had their charms, but Lady Bird's was of more of a down-home and country manner. The chronicle of their lives presented here is by necessity brief, but there are volumes to discover about them in the Hill Country sites that honor their legacy.
THE LYNDON B. JOHNSON NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK
A note to our readers: The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park and the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site are two separate entities, the first run by the National Park Service and the second maintained by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. As such, we're listing the two parks separately. However, at the LBJ Ranch, the national and state entities overlap, both in space and responsibilities. Even though the LBJ Ranch is officially part of the national park, its driving permits and guided Texas White House tours are facilitated by the state park through their headquarters at the hangar visitor center at the ranch. When we mention the “Johnson City visitor center,” we're referring to the one at the national park, and the “hangar visitor center” refers to the state park's facility at the ranch. Both visitor centers include book and gift shops.
We have included the historical information about the LBJ Ranch, Texas White House, and their surrounding attractions here in the national park listing, since the emphasis at that park is solely on LBJ's life. The state park includes other items of interest not necessarily directly linked to him, which will be our focus in their listing after the one for the national park. The takeaway here is: if you want to tour the LBJ Ranch or Texas White House—even though it's on the grounds of the national park—you'll need to contact the state park for the appropriate permits and tour information.
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is a large federal complex run by the US National Park Service. It offers a unique look at the life of our 36th president, tracing a full circle from his birth to his final resting place. To take in the entire experience, we recommend to our guests to plan ahead, and set aside the better part of an entire day to visit every site the park has to offer. Please note the hours and locations listed here reflect the park's standard hours of operation; some schedule and area visitation changes may occur under various conditions. Check current conditions on the park's website (linked above), or call ahead before your planned visit.
For starters, you can check out the original settlement of Johnson City laid out by LBJ's grandfather and great-uncle back in the 1860s, which would ultimately become the town bearing the family's name. Several of the original structures, including (LBJ's grandparents) Sam and Eliza Johnson's log cabin, windmill, and out buildings, still stand here. A more modern exhibit center tells the history of the region, and that of the president's ancestors, and volunteers in period dress often add their own unique touch of historical authenticity. You can take a self-guided tour through the settlement from the park's Johnson City visitor center; a round-trip trail from there leads through the settlement. Keep in mind this is a walking tour of just under a mile in length.
Moving forward to the youthful years of the future president, there's LBJ's boyhood home in Johnson City, where he lived from the age of five until his high school graduation in 1924. The home has been faithfully restored and appointed with vintage furnishings from the mid-1920s, and is also decorated with mementos from Johnson's childhood. You're welcome to stroll the grounds in a self-guided tour; guided ranger tours are also available on the hour from 10 AM to 4 PM daily, with the exception of the 12 PM lunch hour. Guests interested in a guided tour can gather at the park's Johnson City visitor center 15 minutes before the top of the hour.
The Junction School near Stonewall served the educational needs of the region for almost 40 years before it closed in 1947. Four-year-old Lyndon Johnson would often run up to the schoolhouse to play with the older children there. This became such a distraction to his mother that she ultimately convinced the teacher to enroll him early, since he was spending so much time there, anyway. He attended Junction School for several months in 1912, until it closed early due to a whooping cough epidemic. By the time the next school year started in the fall of 1913, his family had moved to Johnson City. Though the future president only briefly attended school here, it was added to the LBJ National Historical Park in 1972, not only for its connection to his history, but as a great example of the role it, and other schoolhouses like it, played in rural American education overall. Directions to the school, and further information, are available at the park's Johnson City visitor center.
The LBJ Ranch is the heart and soul of the park, and it's where he was born, lived, and was ultimately buried. Nicknamed the “Texas White House,” the ranch served as the nerve center of the western world when the president wasn't in Washington or traveling abroad. As a result, state-of-the-art technology and security systems were installed here—there is even a press and communications building that was built to accommodate the media. Ultimately, though, it was the family's home, even after LBJ's death in 1973; Lady Bird spent her winters here until her passing 34 years later. Since it was still her private residence, those areas of the ranch weren't open to public viewing until after her death; it wasn't until 2011 that the entire first floor of the residence was opened to visitors.
The hangar, which was originally built to house LBJ's private plane and other vehicles, and also as a large open space for press conferences and other gatherings, has been refurbished as the ranch's visitor center. This center is maintained by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and is the jumping-off point for both driving tours of the ranch and guided walk-through tours of the Texas White House.
Guests can tour the exterior of the ranch itself between 9 AM and 4 PM in their vehicles; pick up a map and a park driving permit at the hangar visitor center (these permits are offered free of charge). Informational CDs that offer details of the areas of the ranch are also available for purchase, for a more immersive driving tour. Guided inside tours of the Texas White House are also available from 11 AM to 4 PM for $3.00; tickets for these tours are issued at the hangar visitor center. Due to space restrictions, these half hour-long tours are limited to a maximum of 12 people; these can fill quickly and ahead of time, especially during the spring, holidays, and weekends.
Another specific spot of interest on the ranch is the Klein Building, named after the ranch's maintenance supervisor, Lawrence Klein. His workshop has been remodeled to house several of LBJ's favorite vehicles. He loved his cars, and counted among the collection here are some of his treasured Lincoln Continental convertibles. Also on hand here is his infamous “Amphicar,” the car/boat LBJ loved to use to raise the heart rates of select visitors by faking panic as he drove it into the nearby Pedernales River. Chuckling with glee all the while, no doubt.
Finally, the Johnson family cemetery is on the grounds, and it's home to both LBJ and Lady Bird's final resting places. The plots are tastefully shaded with a grove of live oak trees, and they also provide rest for members of three generations of the Johnson family. It's a popular attraction on the ranch, where visitors stop by to somberly pay their respects. The cemetery can be viewed during driving tours of the ranch, but guests are asked not to enter the grounds on foot out of respect to the family. If you happen to be visiting on August 27, which was LBJ's birthday, a wreath-laying ceremony takes place at approximately 10 AM on that day to commemorate his birth.
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is enormous; all told, it encompasses over 1,500 acres. If you're planning a visit there, we strongly recommend perusing the park's website; they also offer a helpful and informative virtual tour. When in question, call ahead; the folks at both the national and state visitor centers will be more than happy to help you plan your visit.
This park offers a rare experience; it's not just anywhere you can explore the entire life of an important historic figure in such detail all in one location. No matter your political leanings, visiting the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park offers a rare glimpse into the life of a fascinating man, from cradle to grave.
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park (Johnson City visitor center) is located at 1048 Park Road 49, Stonewall, Texas 78671. The park's phone number is (830) 868-7128. They are open seven days a week year round, but are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. The national park (Johnson City) visitor center is open 9 AM to 5 PM. Guided tours of the LBJ boyhood home are held on the hour between 10 AM and 4 PM, with the exception of the 12 PM hour; these tours meet at the Johnson City visitor center 15 minutes before the hour. Self-guided tours of the Johnson Settlement are from 9 AM until sunset. There is no admission fee for the park.
For information on tours of the LBJ Ranch and Texas White House, please refer to those details at the end of the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site Listing below.
LYNDON B. JOHNSON STATE PARK AND HISTORIC SITE
The Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site is perched right across the Pedernales River from the national park, and visiting the two together is a must for a well-rounded look not only at LBJ's life, but the Hill Country living that influenced him, as well. While there are plenty of tours and historical reenactments here for your entertainment and education, there's also plenty for you to do off on your own—guests are invited to create their own adventures here!
If you're reading this article in order, you've already learned about the LBJ Ranch and Texas White House, which our 36th president called home nearly his entire adult life. Tours of the ranch and residence are available through the hangar visitor center here, which include driving permits and tickets to the guided indoor tours. We've listed all the details you'll need for those tours at the end of this listing.
However, your visit here shouldn't begin and end with the LBJ Ranch! There's plenty more to see and do here; for example, you should check out the Sauer-Beckmann Farm. Johann Sauer and his family settled here in 1869, and over time developed the beautiful working farm, selling it to Herrmann Beckmann in 1900. The Beckmann family flourished here until daughter Edna sold it to Texas Parks and Wildlife in 1966. Tours of the historic farm are self-guided, but rangers in period costume will be more than happy to discuss the daily chores, hardships, and entertainments that all played part in the lives of farming families of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These fun and informative tours are held year round.
Another peek into the late 19th century is available to guests right next to the hangar visitor center. The Behrens cabin, built by German immigrant H.C. Behrens in 1870, is right next door to the visitor center, and features authentic furnishings from that era. Just a short walk down a scenic trail is the Danz family log cabin, which was erected in the area around 1860. It's families like these who lived and worked right alongside the Johnsons, and their traditions and values no doubt influenced the future president growing up in their midst.
The park is also decked out with plenty of facilities for guests to enjoy. During the warmer summer months, you can take a cool dip in the pool here, and there are courts and a field for tennis and baseball you can enjoy any time of the year! There are plenty of picnic areas on the grounds for those fresh-air cookouts, as well. For larger gatherings, the park also has a group hall, auditorium, and amphitheater that can be rented to accommodate groups for special events. The visitor center also has exhibits, artifacts, and short films about LBJ and the folks who shaped the land here, as well as books and souvenirs.
The setting on the banks of the Pedernales River is a paradise for nature lovers, too! Sportsmen can cast a line into the river and test their skills—or just use it as an excellent excuse to relax. There are 1.2 miles of easily-walked trails winding through the park, which will give you great views of the Texas longhorns and bison who are mellowly grazing nearby. Several species of birds and wildlife love to visit the banks of the Pedernales, and the Texas wildflowers Lady Bird Johnson fell in love with grow abundantly here, too. For more information on the local flora and fauna, there are also ranger-guided events scheduled throughout the year that discuss the history and natural beauty of the park.
Treat yourself to the fascinating history that shaped the Texas Hill Country—and the United States overall—at the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site. It's an amazing place where you can watch that history come to life before your eyes, and indulge in some rest and recreation in the bargain!
The Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site (hangar visitor center) is located at 199 Park Road 52, Stonewall, Texas 78671. The park's phone number is (830) 644-2252. They are open seven days a week year round from sunrise until dark. The state park (hangar) visitor center is open 8 AM to 4 PM. There is no admission fee for the park.
Driving permits for self-guided driving tours of the LBJ Ranch are available free of charge at the hangar visitor center; these are given out between 9 AM and 4 PM. The entrance gate at the ranch opens at 9 AM and closes at 4 PM. Tickets for guided tours of the Texas White House (residence) are $3.00 per person, and are offered between 11 AM and 4 PM. Due to space restrictions, these indoor tours are limited to a maximum of 12 people; the interior tours last approximately one half-hour. It is strongly suggested you call ahead for tickets and times for the residence tours, since they tend to fill quickly at peak times.
The Sauer-Beckmann Farm is located at 401 State Park Road 52, Stonewall, Texas 78671. The farm's phone number is (830) 644-2252. They are open seven days a week year round, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day, and the last Tuesday of each month. From October to May, the farm is open from 10 AM to 3 PM; from June to September, their hours are 9 AM to 3 PM. There is no admission fee for the farm.
WILLIAMS CREEK (ALBERT) SCHOOL
This country schoolhouse was built near Williams Creek in Gillespie County in 1897. In its first years, lessons were taught solely in German, to accommodate the German immigrants who had settled in the area. English-language lessons were later added, and the school served the region until 1950, when the Stonewall Consolidated School District took over the responsibility of educating the area's students. The “Albert” in the school's name comes from the name of the small settlement near where it was built. A young Lyndon B. Johnson was enrolled as a student here during the 1920 and 1921 school years.
The upkeep of the Williams Creek School, and tours of the building, is undertaken by the Friends of Gillespie County Country Schools, which is dedicated to the history and preservation of these institutions of education in the general Fredericksburg area. When you visit their website, you'll find information regarding touring the Williams Creek School, as well as over a dozen other similar country schools in the region. The organization's general contact number is (830) 685-3321.
LADY BIRD JOHNSON MUNICIPAL PARK
The crystal waters of Live Oak Creek bubble through the grounds of this 330-acre park, dedicated to the legacy of Lady Bird Johnson and her love of the natural beauty and wildflowers of central Texas. The park is operated and maintained by the city of Fredericksburg, and is located just three miles south of downtown. If you're visiting the LBJ national and state parks in Stonewall/Johnson City, the Lady Bird Municipal Park is just 15 miles west of that complex.
Dedicated to rest, relaxation, and the appreciation of nature, the park features numerous nature trails, where visitors can take a leisurely stroll and soak in the sights and sounds of the local wildlife—not to mention the beautiful wildflowers that captured the heart and passion of the former first lady. If there's an angler in your group, they can test their skills and cast a line into Live Oak Creek during one of those nature hikes. Pavilions with BBQ pits are available for rental here, for hearty outdoor picnic outings for larger groups, too. Beyond those accommodations, there are also facilities for baseball/softball, basketball, tennis, even pickleball! There's also a swimming pool to jump into for a cool and refreshing dip during the summer months.
The Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park is located at 432 Lady Bird Drive, Fredericksburg, Texas 78624. Information and facility rental requests can be made to the city of Fredericksburg Parks and Recreation Department at (830) 997-4202. The park is open seven days a week year round, and there is no admission fee.
OTHER SITES OF INTEREST
If you're open to a day trip northeast to Austin, there are a few more LBJ and Lady Bird-focused places to visit there, too. After all, it's where they met, and she attended the University of Texas there.
THE LBJ PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY
The official LBJ Presidential Library, overseen by the National Archives and and Records Administration, is located on the University of Texas at Austin campus. Its exhaustive resources provide a deep focus into all aspects of LBJ's personal and professional life and presidency, with detail-rich exhibits, over 45 million pages of written documentation, 650,000 photos, 5,000 hours of audio recordings, and other print and audio-visual sources. Their website, by the way, offers remote access to many of these resources.
The LBJ Presidential Library is located at 2313 Red River Street, Austin, Texas 78705, on the southern edge of the UT-Austin campus. Their phone number is (512) 721-0200. The library and museum are open 9 AM to 5 PM seven days a week, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day. The research room is open Monday through Friday 9 AM to 5 PM, with the exception of all federal holidays. Admission is $10.00 for adults over 18, $7.00 for seniors over 62, $5.00 for former military with valid ID, $3.00 for youth 13 to 18, and $3.00 for college students with valid ID. There is no admission charge for children 12 and under and members of the active military. LBJ specifically asked that the library be open to all, so there are several days throughout the year where no admission is charged to anyone: MLK Day; Presidents Day, Explore UT events; Memorial Day; the 4th of July; August 27 (which was LBJ's birthday); Veterans Day; and Austin Museum Day, which is usually in late September.
LADY BIRD JOHNSON WILDFLOWER CENTER
70 acres of land, and over one mile of nature trails, comprise the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in far southwest Austin. Of course, there are plentiful gardens of local wildflowers—including those beautiful Texas bluebonnets—but the center also features a butterfly garden, guided tours, special classes, and programs for those as passionate about the local flora as our former first lady was.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is located at 4801 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, Texas 78739. Their phone number is (512) 232-0100. The center is open 9 AM to 5 PM seven days a week, with the exception of Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day. Mondays and Tuesdays during the peak spring season, the center remains open until 8 PM. Admission for adults 18 and over is $12.00; for youth ages 5 to 17, $6.00; for seniors 65 and over, $10.00; for military (with ID), $10.00. Children four years of age and under are admitted for free.
LADY BIRD LAKE
If you're visiting Austin, take a moment to check out the pretty panoramic views around Lady Bird Lake. Previously known as Town Lake, it was renamed in her honor after her death in 2007. She had been influential in beautifying the area with trees, shrubs, and wildflowers, including the donation of her own money toward that end. The various activities you can enjoy in and around Lady Bird Lake are detailed in this article by the Austnot.
Whether you're in the region to study and celebrate influential natives like LBJ and Lady Bird, or you're just looking for a place to retreat and relax for a weekend or so, Backroads Reservations would be honored to help you find that perfect Hill Country getaway! From romantic hideaways to large family gatherings to corporate retreats, we've got the perfect guest houses and country cabins to make your vacation perfect. The Hill Country's our home, and we've had thousands of satisfied customers visit us since 2001. Let us help you find the holiday rental with all the comforts and amenities for that perfect getaway!