Like I said in the first part of this feature series, my first impressions of Fredericksburg, Texas, located in the Texas Hill Country, were that it was very charming, historic, quaint and, as I would come to learn, it had a lot to offer.
It’s no wonder that this town, settled by German immigrants in 1846, is such a big draw for folks who drive here a little over an hour from San Antonio and one and a half hours from Austin for day and weekend trips. Not to mention the large contingents of travelers from all over the state of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Colorado, Arkansas, other parts of the Midwest, Florida, New York, California and abroad from Germany, Canada and further afield.
In addition to the over 150 specialty shops, cafés, restaurants, wine bars, breweries and the like that take center stage along Main Street, there are a wealth of places to explore that give some historical context to the state, our nation and the world.
A real hometown hero
It would be really difficult to choose a favorite aspect of Fredericksburg because there are so many equally distinctive and memorable people, places and things to do here. Nevertheless, waaaay at the top of my list is definitely the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park.
Encompassing 700-plus acres and situated near the Pedernales River, which meanders throughout this area of the Texas Hill Country about 20 minutes from the center of town in Stonewall, Texas, the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park is one of the most fascinating national parks in America. The property is dotted with a wide array of historic structures, each offering a distinctive aspect of the Texas countryside and the life, passions and legacy of our 36th president.
Structures on the property include the Junction School, the first one-room schoolhouse where Johnson attended school for a short period as a very young boy; the Johnson Family Cemetery, where the president, his wife and several family members are laid to rest; the main portion of the property, the ranch, which in its heyday encompassed 2,700 acres and 400 Hereford cattle and still possesses a working barn where Hereford cattle are still raised; the hanger where Johnson’s private presidential plane still sits; the visitor center with numerous exhibits, artifacts and vehicles belonging to the first family; and the Johnsons’ home, known as “The Texas White House,” where Johnson spent a great deal of time during his presidency and entertained numerous heads of state, but mostly it was where he could escape from the politics and rigors of Washington and reconnect with the Texan spirit that he so loved.
Each room of the house offers its own impressive story of the family’s life here, from his days as a senator through the White House years, during retirement and until his death in 1973.
The next time I visit the area, I plan to start my LBJ experience about 15 miles further down the road in Johnson City at his boyhood home, where he lived from age 5 through high school.
We will never forget
Another major draw to Fredericksburg, particularly for older baby boomers, is the National Museum of the Pacific War. The museum is part of the six and a half-acre National Museum of the Pacific War complex and features an amazing, state-of-the-art, 33,000-square-foot museum that came to fruition as part of the legacy of another Fredericksburg native son, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander-in-chief of Allied Forces, Pacific Ocean Area.
Here, you will find an astounding 900 artifacts and 40 media installations in very poignant galleries, including photographs, audio-visual elements, interactive exhibits and other items in 97 climate-controlled cases. It is both visually and tactically stunning, but I will warn you that a visit here is not for the faint of heart, as it wonderfully yet painstakingly details the horrific physical, social, psychological, emotional, financial and, most importantly, human tolls of the Pacific-Asiatic Theater of Operations during World War II. Today, it is the only institution in the nation dedicated exclusively to this time in history.
The average visitor is here three to four hours, though there is so much to see and digest that your ticket is good for 48 hours, allowing you to explore the museum in blocks of time at your leisure—a benefit of which many take advantage.
The tone is set from the beginning in a five-minute, introductory film broadcast in a voluminous, dark, standing-only room on an expansive floor-to-ceiling horizontal screen that stretches behind the full length of a 78-foot, restored, two-man midget submarine, offering only the sounds of military aircraft and explosions, and peppered with only brief pauses detailing the less-than-30 minute timeline of events that took place before the first bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor.
From there, it is a truly emotional journey through the various aspects of each of these world conflicts that leaves much more than a lasting impression. In fact, museum staff say that many veterans who have come here were so moved that it is often the first time that they have ever spoken of their unthinkable personal experiences during these various conflicts. So although it is in some ways an emotionally gut-wrenching experience for some, there is a lot of healing taking place when these places are coupled with personal faces, historic figures, extraordinary tales of survival and so much more.
Get ready for some good eats, drinks and outdoor adventures a plenty as we continue our exploration of Fredericksburg.
Lysa Allman-Baldwin writes for numerous online and print publications, including as the cultural travel writer for www.Examiner.com and as a senior travel writer for SoulOfAmerica.com, an Afrocentric travel website. Lysa can be reached at email@example.com.
Fredericksburg Convention & Visitor Bureau: 888-997-3600, 830-997-6523, www.VisitFredericksburgTX.com
National Museum of the Pacific War: www.pacificwarmuseum.org
Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park: 830-868-7128, www.nps.gov/lyjo/index.htm
Texas Hill Country: www.hill-country-visitor.com, www.texashillcountry.com