Johnson City is known as the crossroads of the Texas Hill Country. It was the hometown of President Lyndon Johnson and was founded by his uncle, James Polk Johnson.
James Polk Johnson died at the age of 40 in 1885, and by then, he had built the first gristmill, the Pearl Hotel and had began construction on the building to house a general merchandise store. This building housed the town’s first jail in its basement, as well as the first church congregation upstairs. It also served as the first Johnson City courthouse.
Here are a few fun facts about Johnson City you might not have known.
1. Texas White House
Photo: Flickr/Michael Coghlan
The childhood home of President Lyndon Johnson was built out of native limestone in 1894 on the grounds that would later become LBJ Ranch. He visited the home frequently when other family members lived there and eventually purchased it. It became known as the Texas White House during the Johnson Administration, and he was the first President to create a functioning White House outside of Washington.
The Johnsons frequently hosted world leaders and Washington staff for BBQs by the river and staff meetings under the live oak in the front yard. The Johnsons built a hangar and airstrip behind the house so the President could easily fly to and from Washington.
They donated the Texas White House to the National Park Service in 1972, and Mrs. Johnson continued to live at LBJ ranch part time after the President’s death. She passed away in 2007, and the Texas White House was officially opened to the public in August 2008. Many of the rooms were restored to their appearance during President Johnson’s time in office.
2. Christmas Lights Spectacular
Photo: Flickr/Roger Mommaerts
The Annual Christmas Lights Spectacular kicks off the holiday season on the Friday night after Thanksgiving, and the lights are aglow every night until New Year’s Day. It is one of the biggest, best light shows on the Texas Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Trail.
The Blanco County Courthouse bathes the whole town in the glow of over 100,000 twinkling lights. Not to be outshined, the Pedernales Electric Coop headquarters has a lighted forest of over 1 million lights!
Spectators can take carriage rides or go on hayrides throughout the season, and every weekend, the Johnson City Garden Club has Christmas ornaments and holiday crafts for sale in the Courthouse. The Courthouse is open on weekend nights from 6-9 pm.
The Lighted Hooves and Wheels Parade takes place on the Saturday night following Thanksgiving. Other events include a fireworks display, an annual 5k run, singing and dancing, and of course, the story of Christmas.
3. Hill Country Science Mill
If you’re looking for a fun, educational family destination, look no further than the Hill Country Science Mill. It offers an interactive learning environment for people of all ages, featuring technology-based exhibits, games, and programs. It’s mission is to expand students’ understanding and appreciation of science, technology, engineering, and math in our everyday lives.
The Science Mill opened in February 2015 and is housed in a Johnson City community landmark. It was built in 1880 as a steam grist mill and cotton gin used to distribute grain to the surrounding rural community. It was then converted to a flour mill in 1901 and a feed mill with electrical power in the 1930s. The Science Mill reflects the innovation and technology built into its history.
4. We Got Yer Goat Cook-Off
The Blanco County Fairgrounds in Johnson City is home to the annual We Got Yer Goat Cook-Off in September. Now in its 6th year, the event includes the cook off, a washer pitching tournament, arts and crafts, food vendors and various activities for kids.
Each team participating in the cook off gets one half of a goat to BBQ, and it is judged on taste, looks, aroma and texture. Teams can also enter a submission to the “mystery meat” category. It might sound a bit precarious, but it’s really just a category for any type meat the team wants to prepare.
In addition to food and fun, the cook off provides a way for residents to give back to the community, with 100 percent of the proceeds benefitting the Johnson City Community Education Foundation.
5. Exotic Resort Zoo
Photo: stock photo, no citation necessary
The Texas Hill Country is home to several exotic species preserves. The Exotic Resort Zoo is located on 137 wooded acres and houses over 500 animals of 80 different species. More than half of these animals were or still are on the endangered species list. The preserve provides a safe, natural habitat, which enables the animals to breed and raise their young.
The knowledgeable zoo staff leads daily safari tours, providing a hands-on experience for visitors. Everyone has a chance to feed the animals along the tour and play with the baby deer, elk and other animals in the petting zoos.
Visitors can purchase day passes to the zoo or stay overnight in one of the resort’s five cabins.
6. The Sculpture Ranch
The Sculpture Ranch & Galleries is located in the Texas Hill Country, six miles west of Johnson City, about an hour’s drive from Austin and from San Antonio.
Originally established in Central Florida in 1978 as Benini’s studio, this fine arts project has evolved into a facility that includes a 14,000 sq.ft. Studios Building with a fine arts library, exhibit galleries featuring 40 years of Benini’s paintings, and guest Italian artists, as well as the Sculpture Ranch on the surrounding 140 acres.
The term Sculpture Ranch was chosen to reflect the strong environment of the Texas Hill Country. The area was settled by Germans in 1847 with the help of a treaty with the Comanches in the region. The Texas Hill Country is a preferred destination of Texans and out-of-state tourists, known for charming villages, wildflowers, longhorns and mountain vistas. Proximity to Austin and San Antonio allows easy accessibility to two international airports and major highways.