The LBJ National Historical Park includes two separate sites approximately 14 miles apart: the Johnson City District and the LBJ Ranch District. There are Visitor Centers at each location. The Johnson City District, located appropriately in Johnson City, Texas, consists of LBJ’s Boyhood Home and the Johnson Settlement. The Visitor Center offers two films in separate theaters, one about Lyndon Baines Johnson and the other about Lady Bird Johnson. Both films are excellent and portray the couple honestly. After viewing each film, my dislike for LBJ strengthened and my respect for Lady Bird deepened.
LBJ’s Boyhood Home, where Johnson lived from age 5 to age 26, is a short block from the Visitor Center. The small, modest 1901 home is accessible by guided tour. My daughter, Madeleine, and I wait, resting comfortably on a porch swing, a brief ten minutes for a park ranger. The ranger begins the tour on the porch describing the early life of LBJ. An almost five-year-old Lyndon moves into this house in September 1913 with his parents and two sisters. Two more children were born here. Young Lyndon’s family life in Johnson City strongly influenced Johnson’s political career. Lyndon’s father was a state legislator and his mother was one of the few college-educated women in the area. Education was Rebekah Baines Johnson’s passion. She taught elocution and debating to her children as well as the neighborhood children. Rebekah encouraged Lyndon to form his own opinions and carefully develop his powers of persuasion. LBJ’s Boyhood Home has been restored to its appearance during the mid-1920s, when a teenage Lyndon lived in this three bedroom home in the center of town. An interesting note is that the Johnson family had a tub room, complete with running water.
The second component of the Johnson City District is the Johnson Settlement. A ten-minute walk from the Visitor Center, the Johnson Settlement is a walking history tour of the settlement of Johnson City. The first stop is the Exhibit Center which tells the story of the cowboys that settled the area. This building is air-conditioned and a welcome respite from the Texas in July temperature! Madeleine and I take our time viewing the exhibits that describe life on the Texas frontier. Continuing the walking loop we encounter the dog-trot style cabin where LBJ’s grandfather, Samuel Ealy Johnson, brought his bride in 1867. This cabin served as both the home and the headquarters for the cattle drive business that Sam and his brother Tom began as a partnership that gained early success and later failure as the railroads developed. Other buildings on the walking tour consists of the Bruckner Barn constructed in 1884, the James Polk Johnson Barn, constructed in 1875 by the nephew of LBJ’s grandfather, and a windmill, water tank and cooler house also built by James Polk Johnson. Our final stop is the Withers & Spaulding General Store; the general store from LBJ’s childhood that now serves as the Chamber of Commerce visitor center.