We were standing at the far end of an asphalt parking lot on the LBJ Ranch when Johnson City, Texas tied a record for the hottest day since 1890. In the distance, we could see the JetStar aircraft Lyndon Baines Johnson used during his tenure as President of the United States. Tickets for the tour of the Texas White House were sold inside the hangar. It seemed an impossible distance in 107-degree heat.
We hadn’t planned to visit the ranch. This trip to Johnson City was about tasting Hill Country wines, craft beers, and having dinner at Bryan’s on 290, a restaurant that was getting some great reviews. A Saturday night art walk, great food, and good wine are all we need to stay busy on a small town visit. A quick stop at the town’s visitor center made it obvious that no trip to Johnson City could exclude the most famous Johnson of them all – our 36th President of the United States.
The world may remember him as the politician who escalated the Vietnam War, but his hometown residents applaud his many accomplishments. They loved him here. It may be because Lyndon Baines Johnson had all of the qualities that make a Texas hero great. He was a tall, lanky cowboy born in the Hill Country in 1908 when the west was still wild. He had a bigger than life personality. He wore boots, a western hat, and he drank his liquor on the rocks. His ranch encompassed thousands of acres and hundreds of cattle. He was known to be a tough guy with a kind heart and he loved practical jokes.
When we toured the town’s museum, it was obvious this president was responsible for sweeping social change. He promoted and signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The act is recognized as the most important civil rights legislation since Reconstruction. He declared war on poverty, expanding Social Security and making the food stamp program a permanent fixture. Medicare, Medicaid and Fair Housing were Johnson-era programs as well as subsidies for Title I schools (and more).
His role in the development of the space program began long before his presidency. In 1957, as Senate Majority Leader, he orchestrated the “The Space Race” after Russia frightened all of America with the launch of Sputnik. Above, President Johnson is pictured with the original seven astronauts. They are signing their names in concrete at the Texas White House. (There was an impressive collection of autographs there.)
Since Johnson’s boyhood home was just a block from the museum, we headed that way to take one more LBJ-related tour.
His childhood home was modest. The house was built to take advantage of the breezes.
His mother’s favorite flower was the poinsettia. It was always Christmastime in the Johnson’s foyer.
The smokehouse stood behind the home. This family had no option but to grow and preserve their own food.
Johnson had two younger sisters. Their room was intact, with mostly original furnishing.
The tour guide broke the news about the day’s anticipated record-breaking heat. We assumed that just meant more wine drinking in air-conditioned tasting rooms (and a little less art-walking). We had definite plans to be indoors when this all-time record was tested, but the guide encouraged us to experience the Texas White House. He made the tour sound so compelling, we decided to go in spite of the weather, which is how we found ourselves walking across sticky asphalt on one of the hottest days in one-hundred-and-twenty-seven years.
Unfortunately, photos aren’t allowed inside the ranch house, so no images of the 1960 era televisions or the three hundred phones tethered to the walls throughout the place. LBJ and Lady Bird’s clothing still hang in the closets and their kitchen is a time capsule, with original appliances and a water heater standing in the corner. Each room, except those designed for Lady Bird, had three televisions so ABC, CBS, and NBC could be watched simultaneously. (The only stations in those days!) The guide explained that Johnson loved TV and he loved talking on the phone. He never slept more than 4 hours a night and he hated silence. If nothing was going on around him, he had music playing.
The house sits among old oaks facing the Pedernales River.
We viewed the Secret Service command center where walkie-talkies, rotary dial phones, and shortwave radios provided the high tech security of the day.
(Yes, that really is the command center that guarded a U.S. President!)
We passed the front lawn and stood beside the pool where world leaders and U.S. politicians gathered to enjoy barbeque and LBJ’s entertaining stories.
We couldn’t help but think who might have stood where we were standing.
President Johnson spent one quarter of his presidential days running the United States from this beautiful ranch in rural Texas. He elected not to seek a second term of office. He wanted to go home. He died on the ranch four years later at age 64 and is buried on the land he loved. If you are in the area, don’t miss the Texas White House. It’s west of Johnson City in Stonewall, Texas.
It was well worth the $3.00 admission and some sweltering heat.
Are you wondering if we managed to taste the wine and the beer and enjoy the art?
Well, after our hot time at the ranch, we opted to focus on the beer and wine. Scroll to see more of what we did in Johnson City.
We stayed at the Chantilly Lace Inn on the outskirts of town. Our suite was quiet and comfortable. Breakfast was amazing: a first course of crepes followed by Eggs Benedict. The eggs came from their chickens. The owners make goat’s milk soap and it’s wonderful. (Yes, they have goats too!) We loved this place! You can buy their soap online and sign up for one of the soap-making classes by clicking their link above. We bought the bluebonnet scented bars. It seemed like the perfect souvenir of a Hill Country visit.
Our favorite meal was dinner at Bryan’s on 290. (click on their name to read more) What great food! They deserve their amazing reviews. If you read the back wall, you’ll see there is a 5 course Tuesday night special. Next time, you best believe we will arrive on a Tuesday (maybe on a winter day) and take advantage.
On your way to the ranch, be sure to stop in Hye, Texas and look around the post office. It’s half government office and half wine-tasting room. An interesting place.
While in Hye, follow the signs to Garrison Brothers Distillery, makers of the first Texas bourbon. For $20 you can take the tour and taste lots of bourbon. It’s a great place to hang out too. The peach tea is free. Mini bottles of their famous spirits are $3.95. We didn’t try mixing the two, but they told us it’s great. Click on the link here to make a reservation to take the tour.
For craft beer and a great burger, stop by the East Main Grill. We did! It’s housed in an old lumber yard right on Hwy. 290 in Johnson City.
And be sure to stop by the Visitors Center in Johnson City to start your journey. It’s on the highway. They will direct you to all things LBJ and to some pretty amazing food and wine. We are adding Johnson City to our list of great small towns. As for the art walk, we will catch it next time. It’s held the last Saturday of each month.
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