Often it is easy to forget about what is close to our homes that make the Texas Hill Country a very special place. As we go about our daily lives, we can overlook opportunities for recreation and education that are right on our doorsteps. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is one of those opportunities, and half of the park is located right in Blanco County.
This year is the 40th anniversary of this national park. Back in 1969, President Lyndon Johnson gave his boyhood home in Johnson City and his reconstructed birthplace on the LBJ Ranch to the people of the world, to be administered and cared for forever by the National Park Service. It was his intent to preserve part of the hill country that he knew from birth and that he loved so much for others to enjoy.
Last year, the national historical park that bears his name honored him by celebrating what would have been his 100th birthday with many new, exciting public events. The first was a dedication of Withers & Spauldings General Merchandise Building in Johnson City at the corner of Main and Nugent Streets, which took place on Presidents Day 2008. The general store building that he visited as a boy was restored to that time period with a re-creation of the store circa 1913-1920. Within this general store is a unique display that tells the story of how Lyndon Johnson gave back to his home county throughout the time he was in public office. Beginning as a young Congressman in the 1930s, he was instrumental in bringing “the light to the hill country,” ensuring that America’s largest electric co-operative was based right in his home county. One whole wall in the store’s interior features the original billboard that stood at the intersection of Blanco and Comal counties on U.S. Highway 281 until it was saved from destruction by National Park Service staff and concerned Blanco Chamber of Commerce members. This billboard states: “Welcome to Blanco County/The Heartland of a Great American/Lyndon B. Johnson.”
This general store building is open every day of the week so that people can renew their memories of times gone by in Blanco County.
Many other events that began last year are repeated this year at the national historical park as “bigger and better” experiences. On March 28, Luci Baines Johnson, President and Mrs. Johnson’s younger daughter, will lead in the third annual 10 mile LBJ Bike Ride on the LBJ Ranch. Where else can you enjoy beautiful scenery, exercise in the fresh air and sunshine, and also benefit from the reminiscences of a “First Daughter” who grew up right there on the ranch?
This special recreational experience is followed on April 18 by “Reflections of the ‘60’s at the LBJ Ranch,” where the turmoil of the 1960s come vividly to life with in-person appearances by expert speakers and authors. This is an perfect opportunity to relive a time that changed America forever with classic 1960s cars, costumes, and music, as well as educational discussions and presentations on the site where momentous political decisions were made.
On May 2, the Friends of Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park will return to the famous LBJ live oak barbecue grove to host a “1960s BBQ on the Pedernales,” just as the Johnsons did, with a delicious, historically accurate menu and entertainment similar to what their guests enjoyed 40-some years ago. It promises to be an evening to remember.
In fact, it is the 1960s every day at the Texas White House, the Johnsons’ home in Texas on the LBJ Ranch. It is now possible to tour President Johnson’s office, furnished just as it was when he worked there during his presidential years, with a knowledgeable National Park ranger or National Park Volunteer in Parks every day of the week. At the present time, touring the ranch fits any schedule because private vehicles are permitted from 9 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., seven days a week. All that is needed is a permit, available free of charge at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park and Historic Site’s Visitor Center, 14 miles west of Johnson City off U.S. Highway 290. An easy-to-read map and a CD full of interesting information are yours for the asking, and you are ready to see the LBJ Ranch at your own pace.
Local folks can also stage their own special event at the park’s Events Center in Johnson City. Available for wedding receptions, family reunions, or other occasions is a climate-controlled space that can accommodate 60 people, a kitchen, restrooms, and modern picnic tables in a beautiful pecan grove. Call (830) 868-7128, ext. 260 for an application.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park welcomes everyone to experience the life and legacy of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, especially our local friends and neighbors who can come back again and again to enjoy everything the “national park in their backyard” has to offer.