Lyndon B. Johnson was a President that enjoyed power and control and would often use both to persuade others to see things his way. LBJ was most comfortable and felt more in control of his surroundings at his home in Johnson City, Texas. Perhaps that is why he spent 25% of his presidency at the “Texas White House” where “all the world is welcome”. Visiting the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park gives an honest insight into the life, character, and personality of the 36th President of the United States.
Visiting the LBJ Ranch District portion of the National Historical Park is a bit confusing. The tour begins at the Visitor Center of the LBJ State Park and Historic Site in Stonewall, Texas, 14 miles from the Johnson City District in Johnson City, Texas. The Texas State Park operates this visitor center and it is here where we receive our free tickets to experience the self-guided driving tour of the Ranch. My daughter and I view the 30 minute film that gives a unique introduction to the Ranch. It is an old TV program of an interview with President Johnson as he escorts the interviewer on a tour of his ranch and home. After watching the film, we are ready for our own tour following in the footsteps of LBJ.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson was a man “larger than life” and his ranch along the Pedernales River in the rolling hill country of Texas was a perfect home for his personality. Johnson had a strong sense of family and deep roots planted in this parcel of land where he was born. He bought the land and lived here with his wife, Lady Bird, and their two daughters. It is here, in Texas, where he was most comfortable and would return time and time again during his presidency. He would invite cabinet members and dignitaries to his ranch where they would stay in assorted houses, such as the President’s grandparents first home, on the property. Johnson would take his guests on tours of the ranch in one of his many convertibles, top down, cowboy hat resting proudly atop his head. LBJ would conduct political business, share anecdotes, and even use scare tactics to “convince” his guest to see things his way.
President and Mrs. Johnson donated the LBJ Ranch to the National Park Service in 1972, stipulating that the ranch remain a working ranch and not a “relic to the past”. Johnson died in 1973, but Lady Bird lived here until her death in 2006. During her lifetime, tours were conducted by shuttle bus. The current self-driving auto tour passes the one-room Junction School where young Lyndon learned to read. It is in this building that President Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The tour continues past the LBJ Birthplace, rebuilt by the President in 1964 to be used as a guest house. After stopping briefly at the Johnson Family Cemetery were President Lyndon Baines Johnson was buried on January 25, 1973, Madeleine and I take the one-way road passing pasture land, barns, and the ranch foreman’s house. The leisurely drive ends at an airplane hangar and the Texas White House.
The highlight of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is the actual home of President and Lady Bird Johnson. Tours are guided and $3 tickets are purchased at the visitor center/hangar. This visitor center is operated by the National Park Service and tours are conducted by park rangers. Our park ranger guide was excellent. Relaxed, young, and fun, he told lots of stories and anecdotes about LBJ as well as pointed out particular points of interest. Johnson would always sit in the most comfortable chair in the room and there are photographs proving this fact. Televisions and telephones are everywhere. Johnson always had an eye on the news. There is a telephone mounted at the head of the dinner table where LBJ sat as well as the kitchen table, bathrooms, and LBJ’s bed. LBJ and Lady Bird had separate rooms because one morning Lady Bird woke up to discover President Johnson was conducting a meeting in their bedroom! Lady Bird’s room is large, airy, and feminine. My favorite part of the tour was entering her bathroom and viewing her wardrobe through the plexiglass “doors” of her closet.
Experiencing both parts of the LBJ National Historical Park takes a full day. Other activities include a living history farm with a one mile nature trail to explore, exhibits at all three visitor centers to study, gift shops at all three visitor centers to peruse, and of course, National Park Passport cancellations to obtain. Although my 21-year-old daughter, Madeleine, would have preferred a very long day of urban shopping, we enjoyed our day together stepping back in time and learning a little about a President of the United States who had an ego as large as Texas, a First Lady who was as gracious as she was smart, and the Texas White House they both called home.