Impeckable Aviaries' Unofficial Guide to Johnson City and the LBJ Hill Country

Post Card photo courtesy of Bill Arbon

"Three things, and three things only sustain life on this planet. They are a thin layer of soil, a cover of atmosphere and a little rainfall. This is all that the good Lord has given us, except one thing. He has given us a choice of what we'll do with it. We can waste it, we can pollute it, we can neglect it. Or we can conserve it, we can protect it... We can pass it along to our children, more promising and abundant than we found it."--President Johnson comments about preserving the Hill Country of Texas recorded after his retirement for bus tour of LBJ National Historic Park, Ranch Unit.

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This is a tour guide to sights, sounds, scenes, and other sensations of Johnson City and environs centered around the boyhood home of the the 36th President of the United States of America, Lyndon Baines Johnson. Area attractions include the LBJ National Historical Park, LBJ State Park, Pedernales Falls State Park, Blanco State Park, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and other notable preserves and parks. No site will be ignored, no activity undescribed in this unoffical guide. But please bear with us as we add information important for your educational and personal visiting pleasure. You can see my photo highlights of our area at the Google Earth Photo program Panoramio at this web address: PHOTOS. Many of my photos have been chosen for inclusion in the Google Earth globe software program. You can get download it Google Earth.. Here's looking at us, kids.

Boyhood Home of Lyndon Johnson

Although Johnson City, Texas, was not the birthplace of Lyndon Johnson -- he was born outside of town -- this was the town where he went to school, worked, and learned the crafty art of politics in which he excelled. Born on the banks of the Pedernales River in 1908 to his mother and father, Sam Ealy Johnson, Jr. and Rebekah Baines, near Stonewall, a small rural community a short distance from Johnson City -- now part of the LBJ Ranch District of the National Historical Park. Lyndon's family moved to Johnson City and into the house where he was to spend the formative years of his life. This house would later become the national landmark the Lyndon Johnson Boyhood Home,
one part of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park in Johnson City.

Lyndon was educated at an early age into the vagaries of political life by his father who, being the state legislator for 12 years, took Lyndon with him on his many treks through his congressional district. When Lyndon was just a small boy shining shoes in front of the old downtown barber shop, he was, according to his cousin, Ava Cox, already remonstrating political action and declared early on his desire to be president.

Meanwhile Lyndon was the peach in his mother's eye. A school teacher by profession, Rebeka loved her little boy and encouraged him to dream of playing an important role in the newly emergent economic powerhouse that the state of Texas was to become. She instilled in him the value of personal education and the reasonableness of the idea that education should be made available to anyone who desired learning. Partly to please his mother, but also to please himself, Lyndon followed in her footsteps and matriculated from Southwest Texas State Teacher's College in nearby San Marcus. He took up the teaching profession and taught public school to poor students for a year in Cotulla, Texas during the late 20's and early 30's. Lyndon's appreciation for education led to his great committment to the idea that education should be available to all. As President he enacted numerous pieces of legislation that enhanced and advanced the field of higher education. Beginning with the Reagan administration in the early 1980's the Federal government began to turn away from the commitment to education initiated by Lyndon Johnson. Many of us alive today have received degrees of higher learning because of the care for and devotion to public education by the 36th President of the United States.

What to See in Johnson City

As we have seen, Johnson City is the Headquarters of the LBJ National Historical Park. The Vistitor Center is located two blocks off U.S. Highway 290 West, the highway that takes you to the LBJ National Historical Park LBJ Ranch Division, Stonewall, and Fredericksburg, a tourist destination for thousands of visitors each year. Still, we are talking about Johnson City sites, here.

Located on the west side of the National Historical Park complex is the Johnson Settlement
the original piece of land bought by Sam Ealy Johnson, Lyndon's grandfather as part of his land holdings which, according to Robert Caro in The Years of Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, made the Johnsons' one of the largest land holders in all of Blanco, Gillespie, Hays, Comal, and Kendall counties. In the early 1870's Johnson's fortune was built on cattle - Longhorn cattle, a breed especially suitable for the harsh granzing conditions often encountered by ranchers in Texas. Johnson was one of the important cattle drive businessmen in the area. Each year he would assemble a large group of cattle from neighboring ranchers and drive the cattle north to the railheads in Kansas along what became the Chisholm Trail. The Chisholm Trail had its origins in Mexico and traced its way northward to Kansas. One could easily imagine the droves of cattle herding right through the heart of the Texas Hill Country near Johnosn City on their way to Abeline Kansas. Although the Johnson family lost possession of the spread by the crash of 1873, Lyndon later bought the place to add to his dream of his Johnson family story. This piece of land comprising of about 70 acres has several historical structures maintained by the National Park Service as testimony and tribute to the frontier life of the Nintenth Century. A small museum showcases the life and times of the Hill country citizens during the time of the Texas trail drives. Photographs at the musem clearly detail the harshness of the toil involved for the pioneers living on the central Texas frontier. As livestock was an integral aspect of this post civil war life, the park maintains a small herd of Texas longhorns which calve each Spring.

longhorn calveslonghorn cows A walk along the settlement's Nature Trail and roads highlights the look and feel of the Hill Country in less complicated and populous times. The Johnson Settlement provides the traveler and visitor a haven from the congestion of similar parks and facilities elsewhere and allows a leisure exploration and insightful glimpse at the area's recent wild--as in wilderness, not gunslinging--past. Of particular note are the birds and plants that grow and thrive throughout the settlement, some which are found nowhere else or are endangered becasue of loss of habitat due to harmful past agricultural practices and contemporary urban srawl. In good years the Spring and Fall migrations of birds through the area is impressive and hundreds of species of birds are represented in the area. Central Texas is a flyway for substantial numbers of raptors, ducks, geese, cranes, and -- incredibly -- large flocks of White pelicans are seen each Spring.

In the Fall the migration of Monarch butterflies ocurrs. The colorful insects wing their way through the area to their Mexican wintering grounds. During years of normal rainfall (28") wildflowers and other flowering plants that dazzle the eye and senses bloom colorfully year round . Of course, the depicted photo on the left is not that of a Monarch butterfly. But the ones on the lavender flowers are!

drought conditions versus wet

Most of these pictures taken at Johnson Settlement, LBJ National Historical Park September 19-21, 1999 by Bill Arbon. The picture with the yellow golden grass is a view of the Dogtrot house to the southeast, early afternoon, late summer. The effects of extended drought can easily be seen, contrasting with the soft green of early spring reflecting the adequate rainfall received over winter of 1999. The homestead can be seen in detail at PHOTOS. The well that was dug by hand and rocked in shows how close the water table here is to the surface of the land. This was the primary factor in this settlement in the 1850's. The well has never run dry even in this year's extended extreme drought. There is a spring fed pond nearby that undoubtedly supplied the settling families water while they constructed their well.

This photo shows the adjacent barn built (ca 1880) by the Bruckner family after the Johnson family temporarily left the area. It was used by the tenants to support their ranch and farm livelihood. Besides serving as an agricultural center, this building also served as a bastion in which persons could barracade themselves in case of maurading indians, although they had ceased living or moving through the surrounding country. The huge limestone edifice was several feet thick and had gun ports incorporated into its design. The imposing strength of the structure is readily apparent in the following view of north side, photographer facing south.

Presently, the National Park Service is executing a thirty year old plan to restore part of the Settlement to a perceived natural prairie setting. A story is being prepared by the staff that claims the restoration will return the affected area to being about what it was when settlers move in here in the 1860's (we have already seen settlers here in the 1850s, and so the recreated scene of the 1860's has already passed into history. There are numerous problems with the recreation besides historical: ecologically speaking, the area has already adapted to the depredations and alterations of generations of settlers and their ancestors. Therefore the grasses and plants you see in my photos on Panoramio PHOTOS may not be the original species, but have shown the ability to survive and thrive when left alone. Additionally, other plant and animal species such as deer, rock squirrel and turkeys have adapted to the new conditions. Finally, the area under restoration is not nor has ever been a pure natural prairie because much of it is actually wetland - as we have seen from the shallow water level in the Johnson Settlement cabin. While the land was owned several times by the Johnson family, Ava Cox, among other of Lyndon's relatives planted pecan trees (native and grafted) next to and in the wetland that cuts through the property. These trees are nearly 100 years old, but the NPS staff decided to cut them down because they are not part of a savannah ecology they claim was here at the time of settlement. About seven or so of these trees were cut down (as well as willow trees surrounding the spring fed pond) under the flimsiest rational. I will be adding photos showing this project as time goes by.

Finally, in order to eliminate 'non-native' grasses and other 'undesirables' the NPS is using herbicide on a broad area of the land. With several watercourses flowing through the Settlement, I find this a flawed idea. Rains can easily carry the chemicals off into the adjoining Town Creek which could seriously impact the heath of our streams and rives as well as contaminate our source of drinking water. Even more important is the fact that all the chemicals used carry warning labels not to expose children, pets, livestock, or endangered species to them. They also say not to allow livestock to graze treated plants. What do you suppose happens to wildlife that utilizes the grasses and is exposed to the treated grasses and plants? Many of the animal species living on the site are very important to the ecology of the Settlement - be it prairie or wetland. For example, two species of ground squirrel inhabit the park; thirteen lined ground squirrels and rock squirrels. Both of these squirrels prey very heavily on insects and contribute greatly to the control of insect pests. You can see more about these animals on the Mammals of Texas Online work at: The Mammals of Texas Online Edition, Link to Thirteen lined Ground Squirrel, and Rock Squrrel to see the species information cited here. Also, see my photos of the deer and other animals that have used the protected area at the Panoramio site, again at PHOTOS . It should be of paramount importance that these animals are protected in any effort to restore the land. I plan to keep an eye on developments of this project and will update what I learn here.

In addition to the LBJ Boyhood home, sites of significant historical interest include the Pedernales Electric Cooperative Headquarters, a major component of the rural electrification project undertaken during the 30's and 40's that brought remote rural areas into the Twentith Century and beyond. The P.E.C., as its known around here, employs many local family members and is the engine of Johnson City's economy.

Faced with limestone in an effort designed to reflect the rustic vastness of the Texas realm, the architechture of the main P.E.C. Headquarters office building is 1960's western modern set upon an older1930's modern Art Decco building . Unfortunately the older design reflecting the streamlined design of the 1930's is subsumed by the newer. Nevertheless, still an attractive building it remains true to the spirit of the area as one of three government edifices that make up the federal district of town, the P.E.C. headqaurters on the east, the Boyhood Home and Visitor Center on the south and west, and the modern Post Office on the north side of the complex.

The P.E.C. is owner operated and is governed by a board of directors elected from local, memeber residents and was, of course, a creation of Lyndon Johnson during the 1930's when he was a New Deal Democrat.

Downtown Johnson City -- Busy downtown of boyhood town.
A walking tour of significant sites related to LBJ

Johnson City has never been a place where it was easy to make easy money or even make a living. Easily destabalized by national or state economic tides, Johnson City remains at the mercy of outside influences it has little control over. And having no economic enterprise uniquely its own to fall back upon-save those created through the energy of Lyndon Johnson-Johnson City remains vulnerable to the vagaries of today's high tech economy. In the past, agriculture played a key role in the long history of the town. Most of the old original buildings(fewer as time goes by) have seen a variety of enterprises trying to make a financial go of it. These days, only a handful of establishments survive for more than a couple of years, and only a few buildings are still functioning in their original capacity. Darker clouds loom. Some of the larger businesses in town such as the Johnson City Bank have undertaken plans to 'modernize' down town. Drastic alterations and customizations scar these newer interpretations which ultimately work against the historical preservation of the downtown Lyndon Johnson once knew. Still, other buildings such as Blanco County Supply, facing the Courthouse on the town square, remain well worth visting. Sadly, it no longer functions as our homegrown hardware store. A look at the other old buildings clearly illustrates the extremely difficult economic conditions endured by this frontier town time and time again-and easliy show their vulnerabitlity to the whims of today's strip mall tastes. I will soon include as many before and after pictures of these remodelings as time and space will allow. Some of the downtown buildings and their current occupants are:

the eulogy for the President.

What to Do in Johnson City.

Lyndon Johnson Birthday Activities

Lyndon Johnson's birthday is August 27th and each year on the week-end closest to the date, the National Park Service hosts a birthday party. Several of us private citizens tried to expand this observance and give it a true community dimension. While we have yet to succeed, we encourage you to visit the park at this time to celebrate the birthday of the 36th President of the United States. The last two years have seen the city of Johnson City back away from official ceremonies hononring the late President. And, as there are no other public festivities outside the gravesite ceremony at the LBJ Ranch, I especially recommend this Johnson family ceremony which is always officiated by some important dignitary of the LBJ era or family member. It is truly an impressive event.

To see what a great time we had in 1999, click here The LBJ Birthday appreciation

For more information, go to the next page Page 2

ęCopywrite, 2002, Bill Arbon
Co Author: JLB
Last Updated: 10/02/09