Lake LBJ and the Rebirth of Kingsland, Chapter 15: Kingsland in the 1950s

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Tony Maples Photography


Kingsland’s re-birth was not immediately evident when the impoundment of water behind the new Granite Shoals Dam began in May of 1951. It was more than a year later that Senator
Lyndon Baines Johnson gave the keynote address at the dam’s dedication on June 15, 1952. That occasion attracted a large crowd from around the state, including some from Kingsland, but even with its sparkling, constant-level lake, Kingsland remained a tiny village, cut off from the outside world by the very hills that made its location so beautiful. Passenger service had long been discontinued on the railroad through town, and the narrow, winding dirt roads leading east and west were punctuated by several gates on the way to Burnet, Marble Falls or Llano, making travel complicated and slow.

There were some reasons for optimism; a few enthusiastic fishermen from around the state were discovering Kingsland, a few local landowners were planning fishing camps or lakeside subdivisions, and a few astute land speculators were buying local ranches. County Commissioner Euel Moore was building a new road along the lake’s Llano River arm, replacing an earlier road which had been submerged by the new lake. But even residents of nearby towns didn’t pay much attention; there wasn’t much happening here in 1952.

Construction on Ranch to Market Road 93 (now Hwy 71) began in 1953, and the road was “already completed from Llano to Big Sandy Creek” by the spring of 1954. The next phase was a 7.5-mile stretch from Hwy 281 “northwest toward Llano.” In April of 1955, 551 people attended a BBQ in Llano to celebrate the opening of FM 93 “from Austin to Llano,” a milestone which guaranteed better access to the southern side of Granite Shoals Lake. Still, an area map published for the San Antonio Tourist Trail did not even mention Kingsland.

There were more stirrings of activity around the Kingsland area in 1956. The mostly-completed RM 93 was designated a state highway (SH 71) from Hwy 281 to Llano. A county bond issue which included a provision for a new road from Marble Falls to Kingsland passed in May by a margin of 992 to 263. And Texas Lake Properties, Inc. took out a full-page ad in the Marble Falls Messenger in June, advertising lots in its new “Granite Shoals Lake Shores” subdivision (“One mile west of Kingsland – Just follow the arrows to Kingsland”). Foresighted buyers could “own your own summer resort” for $395 (just $10 per month). In November, there was an article announcing an “exam to be given for 4th-class postmaster at Kingsland,” with an annual salary of $1,886 (apparently Grace Lindsey had announced her resignation after 26 years on the job).

The big news came in November, when the highway department announced plans to build a Farm-to-Market road from SH 29 “near Buchanan Dam” through Kingsland to Hwy 281 in Marble Falls. By early January (1957), engineers were busy mapping the route for the Burnet County section, and in a January 24 article, the chosen route was described. The route would go “west from the intersection of the Smithwick road. A little over one block will put the road out of (Marble Falls) city limits and into the Lacy pasture.” The planned road would go “north of the old school” and cross the railroad track to Granite Mountain “about 100 yards from the present crossing.” It would then follow the power line to Kingsland.

Lake LBJ and the Rebirth of Kingsland, Chapter 15: Kingsland in the 1950s

Photo: LCRA Archives, RT219947. This engineer’s drawing of the future lake shows a nearly empty landscape apart from the railroad and narrow, unpaved dirt roads on the south (left) and north sides of the illustration.

The Lakewood Forest 1 subdivision on the south side of the lake’s Llano River arm was platted in 1957 by J.F. Ross.

In September of 1957, the Messenger announced “Fencing started on Kingsland Road.” The article reported that a fencing crew had started work a few days earlier and was currently working “along the Shifflett pasture.” It also noted that “much work was done in getting the fence over Shinbone Hill.” It explained that bidding had been delayed because plans had been changed to make the road go over “the top of mountain this side of Kingsland instead of around the point between the hill and the lake.” It concluded by saying, “the road should be completed by the summer of 1958.”

On November 7, another article was headlined “Kingsland Road up for sealed bids.” It reported that the highway department would accept bids for “18.143 miles of grading, structured base and surfacing from 15 miles east of Llano on SH 29 through Kingsland to US Hwy 281 in Marble Falls.” The bids would be opened on November 12. The paper opined that this was “good news for the people of this area who have waited long and patiently for this road. If the bids are accepted by the highway department, it may be that actual work could get underway around the first of the year.”

The highway department did not accept any of the bids, so a new bid for the 11.6-mile Burnet County section of the road was sought in January of 1958. The low bid of $282, 961.44 was submitted by a partnership of three contractors: “M.E. Ruby, D.B. Denny Jr. and H&H Construction Co., San Marcos.” Resident Engineer J.P. Chaney, of Burnet, was put in charge of the project, which was expected to take 160 days. The next week’s paper announced that M.E. Ruby & Associates had moved in “two bulldozers and other equipment” to begin work. The contract for the Llano County section of the road (by then designated as FM 1431) was awarded to D.H. Buchanan Co., of Temple.

Meanwhile (in February), nearby Longhorn Cavern was closed for “the complete overhaul and replacement of the Cavern’s intricate and unusual underground lighting system. And (in March) plans were finalized for a 9-hole golf course on the east bank of Inks Lake, to be called “Highland Lakes Golf Course,” located at the north end of Inks Lake State Park. A short news item mentioned that “Don and Ann” of “Don’s Café” had a “nice place” in Kingsland and were keeping busy even “with the spring and summer months yet to come.” In July, the Haywood Christian Camp was dedicated across the Llano River Arm of Granite Shoals Lake from Kingsland. Just two weeks later, Stein Lumber Company (of Fredericksburg) announced the opening of a “modern, complete lumber yard at Kingsland.” Customers were invited to call the business (telephone number 3451) or the home of newly-hired manager Billy McGee (3281), who promised that “your building needs – large or small – will receive his utmost attention.”


Photo: This recent photo of the Wirtz Dam (originally named “Granite Shoals Dam,” but re-named after the death of LBJ mentor Alvin J. Wirtz) with one floodgate open shows a little of the development around Lake LBJ, the “Jewel of the Highland Lakes.” Today the lake is surrounded by upscale resort and retirement communities.

On August 14, 1958, the Marble Falls Messenger announced the completion of a “splendid road,” and marveled at the prospect of “just a few minutes from Marble Falls to Kingsland.” The article mentioned that “on the mountain this side of Kingsland, the highway department provided a drive-out where tourists may stop and get a real view of the entire section,” and opined that “many camera bugs will be taking full advantage of the scenic view.” Stein Lumber held its Grand Opening at the end of August, and the one-lane Colorado River bridge received a new plank “floor” in September.

A San Antonio developer named David Miller founded a subdivision called Sunrise Beach on the south side of the lake in 1958.

The Shady Acres subdivision in Burnet County opened that fall, and Marvin Simms (an A&M graduate who had served for years as a county extension agent in Dimmitt) moved to Kingsland and opened a real estate office (“adjoining the post office,” according to a Burnet Bulletin article). In 1959, Odie Ainsworth (already a resident of Kingsland) opened his own real estate office, in a building he shared with Duncan Electric. Those two men were very active in promoting Kingsland through the next several years. Ainsworth was a partner in the new “Kingsland Estates” subdivision (which included an airstrip), at the end of Euel Moore Drive on the Llano River arm of the lake, and one of the first buyers was none other than Texas Senator Lyndon B. Johnson. Shirley Williams built another airstrip that year in his subdivision on the Colorado River arm of the lake. The new Kingsland was open for business, and the boom was about to begin.