FRIDAY MOUNTAIN RANCH
FRIDAY MOUNTAIN RANCH. Friday Mountain Ranch is seventeen miles southwest of Austin in Hays County. It originally encompassed 630 acres of land along Bear Creek and was the site of Johnson Institute, a school that began operation in 1852. It was purchased by Walter Prescott Webb in 1942. The dominant landmark is Friday Mountainqv, an elevation of slightly more than 1,000 feet, which stands only a few hundred yards away from the main stone building across Bear Creek.
The institute, founded by Thomas Jefferson Johnson, was first quartered in log cabins. With the aid of associates and students, Johnson built an L-shaped building out of limestone quarried on the grounds, using long-lasting timbers of cedar and cypress. Two stories high, fronting south, the thick-walled structure had more the appearance of a fortress than of a school or residence. Construction probably began about 1853. The school was closed in 1872, but the main building, consisting of ten large rooms, two small ones, and seven fireplaces, remained in good repair.
The land changed hands several times, once at public auction for taxes, before it was bought in 1908 by Louis Kemp, who in turn sold it to his son, Thomas Jefferson Kemp, in 1921. Webb purchased the property from Kemp in 1942 "to preserve the building and to restore it as nearly as possible to its original state." He became engrossed with the ranch and was determined to restore its depleted grassland and water. During the drought years of the late 1940s and early 1950s, he continued to apply commercial fertilizer to land no longer tillable and planted seed, thereby slowly restoring the soil and growing a turf of grass. He built barns, bought and sold cattle and hogs, and cut cedar so the grass and oaks could grow. Game was plentiful, but no hunting was allowed.
In November 1946 Webb met with his friend, Rodney J. Kidd, and they decided to open a boys' summer camp at the ranch the following summer. Friday Mountain Camp for Boys has continued in operation every summer since its opening in 1947. Leaving the operation of the camp to Kidd, Webb maintained his interest in the soil, the water, and the grasses. From 1949 to 1956 the Austin public schools engaged in a program, the first of its kind in Texas, to take sixth-grade boys and girls, staggered throughout the school term, for a five-day stay at the ranch. Boys occupied cabins, and girls stayed on the second floor of the main house. The program stressed nature study, self-reliance, and appreciation of the pioneer spirit. Throughout the years of Webb's ownership the great limestone building at Friday Mountain was the scene of retreats for Webb and his friends, with serious discussions mixed with good humor. Roy Bedichek, urged by Webb and J. Frank Dobie, went into seclusion at the ranch to write his classic Adventures with a Texas Naturalist (1947).
Webb arranged for Rodney Kidd to purchase theranch, knowing that his friend would continue to maintain the turf and operate the summer camp. Webb's friends continued to meet at the ranch occasionally to honor his memory, and on March 8, 1969, the sixth anniversary of Webb's death, the great stone house was again filled with friends and admirers who came from all parts of Texas to inaugurate a perpetual memorial: the Walter Prescott Webb Great Frontier Foundation. Friday Mountain Ranch had brought together Webb's ideals of historical preservation and the conservation of natural and human resources. In 1991, 105 acres remained in the possession of Julia Kidd, who continued to operate the Friday Mountain Camp. The remainder of the land had been sold.
Roy Bedicheck, Adventures with a Texas Naturalist (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1947; rev. ed., Austin: University of Texas Press, 1961). Dudley Richard Dobie, A Brief History of Hays County and San Marcos, Texas (San Marcos, 1948). Ronnie Dugger, Three Men in Texas: Bedicheck, Webb, and Dobie; Essays by Their Friends in the Texas Observer (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967; rpt. 1975). C. B. Smith, Sr., Walter Prescott Webb: From the Great Frontier to the Threshold of Space (Austin, 1969). Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Texas Collection, July 1942.