The LEAP Ambassadors welcomed the new year by setting a first in LEAP history: a trip to the southwest. Along the way will be vigorous hikes, tasty Mexican food, and hundreds of miles on the road as we make our way to the Grand Canyon. On our first day, however, we decided to take a break from driving by visiting Kerrville’s Museum of Western Art as well as the home of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.
LBJ Boyhood Home
Our day begun with a 6:30 AM departure from Huntsville. The plan was to make it to El Paso by that night but break up driving with a little sight seeing. We were, as expected, a bit sleepy, However, fatigue was replaced with excitement as we contemplated the adventures that were to come. First on this itinerary of fun was the boyhood home of President Johnson in Johnson City, Texas.
As many know, President Lyndon Johnson had a modest childhood. The home where he lived had only three rooms and no electricity.
While growing up, President Johnson was introduced to politics by his father, State Representative Sam Johnson. Representative Johnson frequently held constituent meetings on his front porch. During the tour we learned how young President Johnson would sneak out of his room, crawl through the foundation of the home, and eavesdrop on his father’s conversations.
We learned how the statesmanship of his father and the teachings of his mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson, taught him the skills that he would later employ to serve the United States as president. One example of Rebekah Johnson’s lessons to her children hung in the living room. It was a portrait that at first glance looks like a skull.
However, if you take a closer look you will see how, in fact, it is the image of a woman looking into a vanity mirror. This taught the Johnson children to always be careful when judging people, for the surface image may not always reflect the true motives of a person.
LBJ’s Boyhood Home also had a nice Visitor’s Center, where you could learn much about Johnson’s life in and out of the White House.
We learned many things, and made additional connections to things we had already learned. For example, we’ll be going to Canyonlands National Park on this trip and, as it turns out, LBJ was the President who designated this area as a National Park!
We also got to see a Model T Ford, which LBJ’s family used to travel when he was a child. This was nice, because two years ago Ryan and Brian traveled to Detroit with author Jeff Guinn, where they got to research Thomas Edison and his Model T (and even ride in one!).
After this education on Johnson’s life, we were set to learn more about his presidency!
The Texas White House
Eager to learn more about LBJ, we drove 14 miles to the “Texas White House,” President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch near Stonewall, Texas. LBJ spent more than 460 days on the ranch during his presidency. Our tour guide pointed out that that was roughly 25% of his presidency!
For us, the tour began in the Visitor’s Center, which in addition to gifts, offer exhibits as well. The hit exhibit was the rotary phone section, which my fellow ambassadors met with great interest!
We also had the chance to pose as Presidents!
For President Johnson, the visits to the ranch were not filled with leisure. Each visit he would bring various members of his staff or invite foreign dignitaries to meet with him. He even held cabinet meetings on his lawn. Nicknamed the cabinet tree, this back yard setting mirrored that of his father’s front porch meetings when President Johnson was a boy.
We began the tour learning about the layout of the ranch and how it was adapted to meet the needs of the President. For example, a building was moved from one location on the ranch to another so it could meet the needs of the Secret Service’s operation center. After a few additions and remodels to the home, the Texas White House itself grew to more than 8,400 square feet and included a nice swimming pool!
This was a sharp contrast with the small home from his childhood.
LBJ loved his ranch, but he also loved his job as President. The home was fitted to make sure all his needs were met. LBJ was known for talking on the phone. So much so, every room in his home had at least one phone in it. His need to stay communicated was so great that even his dining table had a phone attached right next him!
Our tour of the home took us through the kitchen, living room, sitting room, LBJ’s bedroom, and Mrs. Johnson’s bedroom. After learning about LBJ’s policies and accomplishments as President at his boyhood home, it was fun to learn about his personality and wit. Our tour guide was also great about expressing Mrs. Johnson’s personality as well. We unfortunately were not allowed to take photographs in the Texas White House, but we encourage all to visit and see many fun artifacts from Johnson’s presidency. Some LEAPster’s favorite parts of the Johnson’s home were drawings from LBJ’s grandchildren hung in his room and Mrs. Johnson’s yellow sitting room!
We finished our tour by visiting Air Force One.
Unfortunately, the real Air Force One was too heavy for LBJ’s runway so he would fly into Austin or San Antonio before taking his smaller jet out to the ranch.
We posed for a quick photo before heading off to lunch!
Lunch at Fredericksburg
Not far from the Historical Park where the Texas White House is located, is the attractive town of Fredericksburg. What makes it so attractive is its German-built community where food and culture resemble that of the first settlers’ homeland. Appropriately, we chose to stop by the town and eat at the Old German Bakery and Restaurant. With sauerkraut and schnitzels in abundance, we all dined in the delicious plates offered by the restaurant.
Arguably, the most german plate ordered was the schnitzel burger that was served to Christina. As we soothed our hunger, we decided it was time to hit the road again.
Kerrville Museum of Western Art
For our last stop on our way to El Paso we decided to visit the Museum of Western Art in Kerrville, Texas. The museum’s mission is to educate visitors about western art and culture. The museum opened in 1983 and was originally known as the Cowboy Artist of America Museum, before changing it to the “Museum of Western Art.”
When we arrived we were greeted by a tour guide named Bill. Bill showed us the four galleries currently on display. While we searched for our favorites we explored the Artist of the Month exhibit. January’s artist is Travis Keese who is known for his wild life paintings and a 125 x 23 Mural in Port Arthur. We also looked through the December Artist of the Month, Edith and John Maksey (husband and wife) exhibit, which included paintings inspired by Texas, Mexico, and the south west.
While we looked through the main gallery of the museum, we noticed an artist that we had seen much of during the earlier part of the day. Non-surprisingly, the Texas White House of President Johnson was filled with western decorations and art. Melvin Warren was one the artists whose works hung in the walls of the home and one who was also featured in the museum.
Although we couldn’t take any photos inside, we were able to take a photo with the bronze sculptures outside. Our favorite sculpture was Fred Fellows’s An Honest Day’s Work” bronze sculpture. We arranged ourselves in front of the sculpture an posed for a photo.
Having completed the activities for the first day, we hopped onto our SUV and prepared for the journey to El Paso. Many adventures are yet to come as we continue through our trip. Stay tuned for more as we make our way west into western art and culture.