Abilene 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.