Except Lady Bird
County changed quite a bit in its first century, but most of the
time the pace was gradual, even predictable. Then on November 22,
1963, an assassin killed President Kennedy in Dallas,
and Lyndon Johnson from Stonewall,
Texas became President of the United States. From that moment
the tempo of change in Gillespie
County picked up considerably.
was a sleepy Hill
Country village of between 4 and 5 thousand people. Traffic
was light. Parking was no problem at all.
Main Street businesses catered to locals, not tourists. People who
regularly parked on Main, between Washington Street and Adams, parked
on the north side in the mornings and on the south side after lunch.
That way their cars were always in the shade.
Speaking of cars, a motorist could drive from Elk Street to Cherry
Street and back again without seeing a Mercedes or a Lexus. Not
even a Volvo.
Citizens never locked their cars - or their houses for that matter.
Some houses had no locks and some of those that did had no keys.
There were few apartments in Fredericksburg
and hardly a B & B to be found anywhere. A teacher new in town or
a young couple had a hard time finding a place to rent.
still had a European flavor. People spoke Town Creek German in casual
They never worried about the proper wine to pair with schwartenmagen
or leberwurst. Beer went with everything.
The only grapes in the Gillespie
County grew wild on a barbed wire fence.
| LBJ Ranch Guardhouse
October 2017 photo courtesy Michael
| When a car
or truck came down the road in Stonewall,
people noticed. Even the road along the Pedernales, opposite the LBJ
Ranch, had little traffic. About a dozen vehicles a day used it -
6 pickups going to town in the morning and those same 6 trucks coming
back in the afternoon.
A big night in Stonewall
was a meeting of the Jackrabbit Hunting Club.
But after November 22, 1963, things changed in a hurry. A local rancher
was now the leader of the free world.
parking spots on Main Street were suddenly harder to find.
Out in Stonewall,
traffic on Ranch Road 1 was sometimes bumper to bumper.
| Ranch Road 1
October 2017 photo courtesy Michael
| People still
noticed when cars came down the road, only now the people taking notice
were strangers in dark suits and sunglasses.
LBJ's move into the White House touched off a building boom in Gillespie
County. In Fredericksburg,
a developer announced plans to build a 100-unit tourist court modeled
after a Bavarian village. St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, where LBJ
and Lady Bird sometimes worshipped, raised $15,000 for its building
program. The city issued a permit to build an 8-unit apartment complex
- expandable to 32 units depending on the outcome of the 1964 presidential
Kermit Hahne built a 10-unit motel on Highway 290, but when LBJ and
his entourage were in town, even that wasn't nearly enough. Lady Bird
sometimes called Simon Burg and other Stonewall neighbors to house
an overflow of guests from around the world.
| Most people
in Gillespie County
embraced the changes or at least took them in stride. The Fredericksburg
Chamber of Commerce printed stationary that read "County Seat of the
Summer White House." The Stonewall Chamber of Commerce established
a Tourist Information Center inside Harold Woods Sinclair Service
Station. In the 1964 presidential election, Gillespie
County voted Democratic for the first (and last) time since 1932.
Even in the midst of dramatic change, some things remained constant.
Lady Bird Johnson was now First Lady of the United States, but she
remained the frugal country woman she always was.
She still shopped at the grocery store in Fredericksburg
- only now shadowed by a secret serviceman at each end of the aisle.
Once Allen Dulles, the director of the CIA, spent the night at the
LBJ Ranch. When he came down for breakfast in the morning he apologized
to Lady Bird for accidently ripping a sheet.
"Don't mention it," Lady Bird replied. "I thought I could get by
with it one more time."
© Michael Barr
November 1, 2017 Column