The Site of the
Johnson Ranch on Town Creek, the present day Johnson City, was
at a very old crossroads.
A north-south route
from Blanco to the Colorado River was known and traveled as
early as Spanish times. Miranda in 1579 passed this way,
crossing the Pedernales in the vicinity of Johnson City on his
way to inspect the supposed silver deposits near Llano.
McCarty Spring, just
four miles to the northwest of town, was a favored way-station
for travelers between Austin and Fredericksburg. Andrew
Jackson Johnson, an older brother to Tom and Sam Johnson,
located his home near this spring in 1858 or 1859. Topography
and the conditions of early-day travel by horse or horse and
wagon had long established this section of the Pedernales
Valley as a natural stopping place and cross-roads. However,
none of the early sites grew into a lasting settlement other
than as Ranch stations.
In the 1870's, Lyndon
B. Johnson's grandfather, Sam Early Johnson, Sr., gave up his
cattle-driving business (driving cattle up the Chisholm Trail
had become unprofitable). He and his brother, Tom Johnson,
sold out their interests to a nephew, James Polk Johnson.
The nearest post
office, mill, and general store were located 14 miles south in
Blanco/Pittsburg. There were still renegade Indians roaming
the area, so travel over any distance was viewed with great
apprehension. For that reason, settlers in the north end of
Blanco County began to plan for a city in the northern area.
In 1879, a barbecue
was held at the springs on Town Creek located on the Johnson
Ranch. At this meeting, three sites for a town were offered,
and the one accepted by vote of the settlers was a 320-acre
plot of land on the Pedernales River offered by James Polk
Johnson. After the decision, his many friends took him up on
their shoulders and cheered him for his victory and for the
decision by the residents to name the new town after him.
James Polk Johnson
made the transition from rancher to businessman very
successfully. It was his organizational ability that converted
a natural way-station into a settled community and a county
seat. He began creating this town by constructing the first
cotton gin/grist mill and the first hotel. He gave his land
for a courthouse square and he sold retail and residential
lots around it. He named the hotel The Pearl, after his
daughter. In the midst of this brief building boom, he died
prematurely at the age of 40 in 1885, never seeing his last
project - a native limestone building diagonally across from
The Pearl completed.