Everything is bigger in Texas, and that is very true of our trip to the Texas White House, home of our 36th president Lyndon Baines Johnson.
You don’t just tour LBJ’s house when you visit: you see a working ranch with livestock, a schoolhouse, an airplane hangar and landing strip, lots of old cars, a state park and a national park with a river running through it, all accompanied by a driving tour CD with soundbites and era-appropriate music (I still hear “Blowin’ In the Wind” every time I think about our trip). And, it may be one of the few presidential sites where you need to remember that cattle have the right of way!
The LBJ ranch is the near the town of Johnson City about 50 miles from Austin and 60 miles from San Antonio. (Just a tip, we should have eaten lunch before we went. The gift shop has some food, but bring something if you tend to get cranky from low blood sugar).
We started at the Visitor’s Center with a film about LBJ and the land (picture lots of flowers, water, cattle and scenic shots of the Texas Hill Country). There are also exhibits about LBJ and his administration. One of my favorite displays was a letter from a schoolteacher who chastised LBJ for poor grammar. I love that a citizen feels comfortable enough to write the president to correct him!
The driving tour takes you along the Pedernales River. The Johnson family settled in the area in the 1800s, and the tour emphasizes how that frontier environment influenced Johnson. (The brochure discusses how “a landscape shapes a man”). LBJ had a lifelong connection to this place where he was born, raised, lived, died and is buried.
While we came to learn about LBJ, we also learned about life on an early 20th century Texas farm. One of the first places you can stop is the Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, where you can have some pretty close interactions with some farm animals.
The Sauer-Beckmann complex shows what Texas farm life was like in 1918, when LBJ would have been about 10. Park interpreters, dressed in period costumes, share stories about life on the farm. We learned about building design, storing water, cooking and holiday traditions.
Since my mom had decided to stay back at the car, we really raced through the farm. Also, they had some chickens running around, and birds sometimes make me a little nervous, thanks to an encounter with an ostrich when I was a kid. (I shudder just thinking about its hairy neck!). Plus, we were on a Nerd Trip and had some presidential learning to do!
Next post: What you’ll see on the way to the Texas White House.