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"Hindsights" by Michael Barr

Looking back at
Everything Changed
Except Lady Bird

Michael Barr
Gillespie 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.
TX - LBJ Ranch House LBJ Statue
LBJ Statue
October 2017 photo courtesy Michael Barr

Before that day, Fredericksburg 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.

Fredericksburg still had a European flavor. People spoke Town Creek German in casual conversation.

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.

TX - LBJ Ranch Gate
LBJ Ranch Gate
October 2017 photo courtesy Michael Barr
TX - LBJ Ranch Guardhouse
LBJ Ranch Guardhouse
October 2017 photo courtesy Michael Barr
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.

In Fredericksburg, parking spots on Main Street were suddenly harder to find.

Out in Stonewall, traffic on Ranch Road 1 was sometimes bumper to bumper.
TX - Ranch Road 1 Road Sign
Ranch Road 1 Road Sign
October 2017 photo courtesy Michael Barr
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 election.

In Stonewall, 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.
TX - Stonewall Motel
Stonewall Motel
October 2017 photo courtesy Michael Barr
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.
TX - LBJ Ranch
LBJ Ranch

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

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