Celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial and walk through American History with your kids over the Presidents Day Weekend. There are 75 national monuments, historical parks, birthplaces and historic sites across the country dedicated to our former presidents and first ladies. As I load up my kids and drive across the Texas Hill Country, we learn about life in another century through the eyes of Lyndon B. Johnson.
It’s Presidents Day and that means my kids are off and we need something to do. Since I love the national parks we visit on vacation, I decide to drive to the closest national park dedicated to one of our former presidents for a day that’s fun and educational. The best part is my kids don’t even realize we’re learning some history.
President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Home in the Heart of Texas
Lyndon B. Johnson, or LBJ as he was commonly called, was the vice president under President John F. Kennedy and became the 36th president after Kennedy’s assignation in 1963. Born in 1908 of humble roots in Johnson City, Texas, he spent the majority of his life in politics.
LBJ finished high school at 15 and after graduating college, he taught school. In 1930 Johnson began his political career. For his presidential run, he campaigned on his vision of a Great Society by improving civil rights, education, transportation and protecting the environment. Many of those ideals can be traced back to his formative years in Texas.
The Boyhood Home and Johnson Settlement
The Johnson family moved into his Boyhood Home in the center of Johnson City in 1913 after spending the first five years of LBJ’s life on the property of the present day LBJ Ranch. I’m struck with the hardships of life in the Texas Hill Country 100 years ago. His house didn’t have electricity or indoor plumbing. LBJ’s mother, a schoolteacher, had a bathtub yet lacked the hot water to fill it.
A quick walk from the Visitors Center (open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), is the Johnson Settlement with a two-room log cabin that Johnson’s grandparents built in the 1860s. As my boys run around the old farmstead that includes a squeaking windmill, I notice how rustic the cabin is. I can’t call it a house; it’s two rooms with spartan furnishings and rough-hewn log walls.
Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch near Stonewall
For generations, the Johnson family worked cattle along with politics. In 1951 LBJ bought his uncle’s 250-acre ranch along the Pedernales River and eventually expanded it to 2700-acres. He raised 400 head of prize-winning Hereford cattle and the descendants still roam the ranch.
There are several stops along the self-guided driving tour of the LBJ Ranch. The first stop for kids is Junction School, Johnson’s one-room schoolhouse where he started school at 4-years-old. With a couple of kerosene lanterns and a pot-belly stove, this school gives my kids a new appreciation for the air-conditioning and fluorescent lights of their school.
The next stop is the LBJ Birthplace, a reconstructed house that resembles the original. Across the street is the family cemetery where former President Johnson and Lady Bird Johnson are buried; we walk over to pay our respects.
My kids want to trample through the Show Barn next. This is where the ranch staff would pamper LBJ’s registered Herefords to get them ready for stock shows. His prize-winning Hereford cattle fetched more money when auctioned for breeding purposes. Even at the height of his career, President Johnson would call his foreman daily to check on the operations of his ranch.
The Airplane Hanger
I’m an aviation buff so we walk over to the private airstrip at the ranch. It was built shortly after the Johnson’s bought the property in 1951.
When we arrive at the Johnson’s home, my boys climb up the stairs to peek inside of the president’s airplane that is parked outside the hangar. Inside of the old Airplane Hanger is the Visitors Center where we buy our tickets for the ranger-guided tour of the Texas White House ($3 for adults and free for those under 17).
The Texas White House
As my kids walk into the Texas White House, the Secret Service assigned the house its title, the details of another century catch their young eyes. Why aren’t the TVs flat and why did he have three? Is the first thing my 11-year-old asks when he see three sets with dials mounded side-by-side on a cart in the Johnson’s living room.
The corded telephones are another hit with my kids. There are 72-corded phones that play hide and seek throughout the house. LBJ relied on 15-phone lines to run the country. The park ranger leading our guided tour points them out as we meander through the sprawling Texas White House.
Kids at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
After the tour, my kids head back to the hangar to finish up their Junior Ranger booklets. As we walk through the displays, we learn more about the important legislation that LBJ signed like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The National Park Service hands out Civil War to Civil Rights trading cards at the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park for his role in the 1960s.
My boys are ready to check out LBJ’s car collection next. It’s located behind the hanger and has a couple of his legendary white Lincoln Continental convertibles. Another favorite with the boys is the Lagoon Blue colored Amphicar that LBJ would drive into a nearby lake.
Getting to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park
The Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has two districts—one in Johnson City and one 14-miles away near Stonewall, Texas.
The Johnson City location encompasses the LBJ Boyhood Home, the Johnson Settlement, the Visitors Center and the park headquarters. It is located in Johnson City, 50 miles west of Austin, Texas, along U.S. Highway 290 West at 100 E. Ladybird Lane. It’s free and open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch and the Texas White House are 14 miles west of Johnson City along U.S. Highway 290 West. For the self-guided driving tour, visitors must pick up a free permit at the Lyndon B. Johnson State Park at 199 State Park Road 52 in Stonewall, Texas. It’s free and the LBJ Ranch gates are open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
No public transportation is available to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The airstrip at the LBJ Ranch is not open to the public.
Other National Park Sites that feature U.S. Presidents
Kids can learn presidential history at 75-sites across the country. The most famous presidential national monument is Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Though most citizens don’t realize that the White House and President’s Park is a presidential national park site as well.
Some presidents have more parks than others. Abraham Lincoln has six sites and Theodore Roosevelt has five sites. George Washington and several other former presidents have four. For a complete list, check the National Park Service’s brochure.
Tips from a Traveling Mom:
- Both units of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park are Free.
- Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park’s Junior Ranger badge can be earned at either location.
- Photography isn’t permitted inside of the Texas White House.
- The LBJ Ranch is a working ranch, stay off fences and away from cattle.
- The cattle have the right-of-way on park roads.
- Fire ants are common and painful, stay away from dirt mounds.
- Drones are not permitted at any NPS location.