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History & Information

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  • HistoryAbilene is in the northeast corner of Taylor County. It is situated 1,708 feet above sea level on generally flat terrain. The city is connected east-west by Interstate Highway 20 and north-south by U.S. highways 83, 84, and 277. Reflecting its beginning as a railroad townsite, Abilene is bisected by the Texas and Pacific tracks, which run east-west.

    Abilene owes its genesis to the Texas and Pacific and a group of ranchers and land speculators. Before the coming of the railroad, the Abilene area had been sporadically inhabited by nomadic Indians and United States military personnel and later by buffalo hunters and ranchers. By the 1870s the Indians had been driven out, and cattlemen began to graze their herds in the area. Taylor County was organized in 1878, and Buffalo Gap was designated the county seat. When the Texas and Pacific Railway began to push westward in 1880, several ranchers and businessmen—Claiborne W. Merchant, John Merchant, John N. Simpson, John T. Berry, and S. L. Chalk—met with H. C. Whithers, the Texas and Pacific track and townsite locator, and arranged to have the railroad bypass Buffalo Gap. They agreed that the route would traverse the northern part of the county and consequently their own land, and that a new town would be established between Cedar and Big Elm creeks east of Catclaw Creek. C. W. Merchant apparently suggested the name Abilene, after the Kansas cattle town.

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  • Western

    With a history of cattle, railroads and oil, the City of Abilene retains a strong western legacy with a distinctive family atmosphere. Abilene‘s pride in this is showcased each May at the Western Heritage Classic, a three-day weekend event focusing on the western lifestyle and values of the working ranch. The highlight of the weekend, the Ranch Rodeo, features 11 historic ranches. Other events include a Downtown parade, the Ranch Horse Association of America (RHAA) Working Ranch Horse National Finals, the "World’s Largest Bit & Spur Show," a chuck wagon cook-off, cowboy poetry and music, matched horse races, a western art show, children’s events and other entertainment. For more information, call 325-677-4376.

    Abilene continues its cowboy heritage by hosting numerous cutting horse and other western equestrian events held at the Taylor County Expo Center.

    The West Texas Fair and Rodeo is held for ten days each September and features food, rides, exhibits and amusements celebrating West Texas.

    The remains of Fort Phantom Hill can be seen ten miles north of Abilene. The fort burned shortly after abandonment in 1854. The stone commissary, a guardhouse, a powder magazine, and numerous chimneys and foundations remain.

  • Calendar1876 - One of the last Indian fights in Taylor County occurred, opening the West Texas prairie for safe settlement.

    1881 - T&P Railroad tracks reached milepost 407, and the new settlement was named Abilene. In February, the U.S. Post Office opened and the first official train arrived. Town lots were sold in March. (139 lots sold for $23,610.)

    1883 - Already boasting a newspaper, a number of churches and a public school, the City of Abilene incorporated. In the summer of the same year, the newspaper office and one-fourth of the town burned.

    1892 - The first session of Simmons College, now Hardin-Simmons University was held. 

    1906 - Abilene Christian University opened as Childers Classical Institute.

    1923 - McMurry University held its formal opening as McMurry College.

    1924- Hendrick Medical Center became the first permanent hospital to serve the Texas Midwest.

    1930- The Wooten Hotel, named after the grocery entrepreneur H. O. Wooten, was constructed. It was later restored in 2004. In that same year the Paramount Theatre opened its doors with a 90-ft tall marquee and 1,400 lights.

    1940 - U.S. Government established Camp Barkeley, an army training base, near Abilene. It was home to over 20,000 soldiers during WWII. It closed on April 1, 1945.

    1952 - Drive began to get land and financing for new air base.

    1956 - Abilene Air Force Base was dedicated. On Dec. 6 that same year, the base was renamed Dyess Air Force Base in honor of Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess.

    1960- Abilene's population nearly doubled in 10 years from 45,570 in 1950 to 90,638. In the same year, a second high school was added, Cooper High School.

    1961- Abilene Police Chief Warren Dodson recommend the use of canines to City Commissioners. The Chief requested and received three German Shepherds at the cost of $800 each. Saber, Bruno and Major were the Departments first Police K9 Officers.

    1966- The Abilene Zoo was created near the Abilene Regional Airport.

    1966- Abilene Police Department moved into the new City Hall building located at 555 Walnut St. It was formerly located in the basement of the old City Hall building located at 190 Cedar St.

    1967- The most important bond election in the city's history passed for the funding of the construction of the Abilene Civic Center, now the Abilene Convention Center, and the Taylor County Coliseum, as well as major improvements to Abilene Regional Airport.

    1968- Abilene Regional Medical Center was founded by a group of physicians. It was then known as the West Texas Medical Center. 

    1982- Abilene became the first city in Texas to create a downtown reinvestment zone.

    1983- Presbyterian Medical Care Mission opened as a medical and dental clinic to serve low-income individuals and families without insurance. 

    1985- Texas State Technical College and Cisco Junior College both began offering classes in Abilene.

    1989- French Robertson Prison Unit was built and housed 2,250- beds.

    1990- The City of Abilene was named an All-American City by the National Civic League. 

    1992- The Grace Museum and Paramount Theatre renovations revitalized downtown Abilene and sparked a decade of downtown restoration. Artwalk began in the same year.

    2004- Frontier Texas opened its doors highlighting the history of the area from 1780 to 1880.

  • Downtown

    The downtown area is undergoing a renaissance with the steady growth of cultural, shopping, and dining attractions centered around historic Cypress Street, stretching from the Abilene Convention Center to the restored T&P Railroad Depot and the Frontier Texas! venue, which houses a Visitor Information Center. Trolley buses provide free transportation to the downtown. Click here to take a virtual walking tour of downtown.

    The Paramount Theater on Cypress Street is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. This fully restored art deco movie theater features a ceiling with slow drifting clouds and twinkling stars on a blue sky, numerous archways, and a bell tower with twin domed turrets. The theater shows classic films on weekends and hosts art films, plays, and concerts throughout the year.

    Two blocks down the street from the Paramount, and also on the National Register of Historic Places, is the Grace Cultural Center, a beautifully restored 1909 hotel. The Grace houses a history Museum, an art Museum and an interactive children’s Museum, as well as a permanent collection. Throughout the year, The Grace hosts special exhibits, classes, seminars, weddings and other special events.

    The National Center for Children's Illustrated Literature (NCCIL) is housed in the restored Rhodes Auto Building at North 1st and Cedar Streets. The only one of its kind in the nation, the center features art exhibits from children's books. The NCCIL promotes educational programming by conducting docent-led school tours of featured exhibits.