The current occupant of the Oval Office has ties to the Lone Star State, but the term "Texas White House" is normally associated with a former president from Texas. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has an anniversary today, and there have been several major changes at the park in 2008, including the first public tours of the Texas White House.
There are numerous "presidential" units in the National Park System, but the LBJ site is unusual in its scope. The park tells the story of our 36th president from his ancestral roots to his final resting place, and provides perhaps the most complete picture of an American president to be found in a single NPS site.
Established on December 2, 1969, as a National Historic Site, the area originally focused on Johnson's birthplace and boyhood home. In 1972, President and Mrs. Johnson donated the Texas White House and surrounding portions of the LBJ Ranch to the National Park Service and the American people. The expanded area was renamed Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park on December 28, 1980, and now consists of two separate units.
The Johnson City District, located 50 miles west of Austin, offers guided tours of the LBJ Boyhood Home and self-guided tours of the Johnson Settlement. The National Park Visitor Center is also located in Johnson City.
The separate LBJ Ranch Unit is 15 miles west of Johnson City, and two key changes were made for visitors to the ranch on August 27, 2008, the centennial of President Johnson's birth. On that date, the ranch was opened to the public for self-guided driving tours, and the Texas White House was officially opened for separate conducted tours.
The first room in the house to be available for tours is the President's Office, restored to its 1963-1968 appearance. The remainder of the home is still undergoing restoration and will be opened in the future. Check the park website for important details about tours of the ranch and the Texas White House.
Unlike some presidential homes, this was more than just a weekend or vacation getaway. It was
the home of President Johnson and a center of political activity for more than 20 years. Leaders from around the world visited the Johnsons here, and during the Johnson Administration it became known as the Texas White House.
President Johnson was one of only two Presidents thus far who have created a functioning White House away from Washington. He liked to have his staff meetings under the stately live oak in the front yard of the ranch house and discuss the issues of the day, ranging from the Vietnam War and civil rights to new grasses for the ranch. Here on his home turf he had what sports fan call the "home field advantage."
The ranch also played a key role in shaping Johnson's political and personal philosophy.
Growing up in the scenic Texas Hill Country, Lyndon B. Johnson developed a deep appreciation and respect for nature and the land. This love of the natural land was something that President Johnson shared with his wife, Lady Bird Johnson. Over the years they watched the country change from an agrarian society to an industrialized nation with lasting problems that threatened the health of the environment.
As president, Lyndon B. Johnson felt that it was his responsibility to take action not only to clean up the natural environment but to protect the natural heritage of America. During his administration, President Johnson signed into law almost 300 bills dealing with environmental protection and other resource conservation issues, forming the legal basis of the modern environmental movement.
He was the first President of the United States to sign acts concerning clean air and water quality. Other key legislative accomplishments during his administration included the Wilderness Act (1964), Endangered Species Act (1966), Wetlands Preservation Bill (1967), Highway Beautification Act (1965), National Historic Preservation Act (1966), National Trails System and Wild and Scenic Rivers System (1967).
During his administration, 50 new units were added to the National Park System, and other existing units were expanded. In a message to Congress in 1966, he stated:
"To sustain an environment suitable for man, we must fight on a thousand battlegrounds. Despite all of our wealth and knowledge, we cannot create a redwood forest, a wild river, or a gleaming seashore. But we can keep these we have."
"Our national park and forest systems are America’s principle trustee in the vital task of conservation...I propose that we plan now to complete our national park system by 1972—the 100th anniversary of Yellowstone, the world’s first national park."
The former president wanted his ranch to be a demonstration site for the best conservation and ranch management practices, and his desire to leave a legacy of those accomplishments prompted the donation of a portion of the LBJ Ranch to the park. In accordance with Johnson's wishes, present-day visitors will find a working ranch, not a "sterile relic of the past." The Hereford cattle on the property, descended from Johnson's registered herd, look more like 1960s Hereford cattle, and thus can be called "history on the hoof."
Spring is both a pleasant season for a visit to this park and an appropriate one, since Lady Bird Johnson was well known for her love of wildflowers. Over 450 species of wildflowers have been recorded in the park.
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. The Visitor Center is open from 8:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You'll find driving directions and maps of the park on the park's website.