Abilene is a city and seat of Taylor County (and partly in Jones County) in west-central Texas.
It is looped by Highways 20 (Interstate 20 or I-20), 80, and 36 to the east-west, and Highways 83, 84, and 277 to the north-south.
Due to its location, Abilene is surrounded by the following cities and towns:
- 150 miles (241 km) west of Fort Worth
- 40 miles (64 km) east of Sweetwater
- 148 (238 km) east of Midland through Big Spring on I-20
- 24 miles (38 km) south of Anson
- 55 miles (88 km) north of Ballinger through Highway 83
- 52 miles (83 km) north-west of Coleman on Highway 84
- 89 miles (143 km) north-east of San Angelo on Highway 277
A railroad slices through Abilene down the center into north and south. The city’s historic downtown is located on the north side of the railroad.
A short history about Abilene
Abilene was established in 1881 by cattlemen as a stock shipping point on the Texas and Pacific Railway, which had just opened a new railhead for this purpose. It was incorporated soon after being founded in the same year.
Abilene was named after Abilene, Kansas. Abilene is also a biblical name that means “grassy plain” in Hebrew, which is apt because the area used to be a vast prairie then.
By the turn of the century, Abilene’s population was 3,411.
The city’s economy, like many other cities and towns at the time, heavily relied on agriculture and livestock. But Abilene has since expanded to include other industries. Petroleum and natural gas are produced in a multicounty region, in which Abilene is the center.
In 1940, the city raised money to purchase land to build a US Army base, which turned out to be Camp Berkeley. It opened in 1941 and served as a US Army training facility. It became twice as big as Abilene, with 60,000 men. When Camp Berkeley closed after World War II, many worried that Abilene could turn into a ghost town. But as the country’s post-war economy bounced back, many former war veterans returned to Abilene to start their businesses there.
Dyess Air Force Base, which lies southwest of Abilene, opened in 1942 as Tye Army Air Field. It was later re-named Dyess Air Force Base after the late World War II officer, Lt. Col. William Edwin Dyess. He had fought in the Battle of Bataan and survived in the subsequent Bataan Death March. However, Dyess was killed in an air training accident in Burbank, California, in 1943, as he was preparing to return to combat. Dyess Air Force Base has been the city’s largest employer, with over 8,400 people.
In the 1990s through the new millennium, several major restorations and new construction projects took place. These included the renovations on the Grace Museum and the Paramount Theater, both built during the 1930s. The ArtWalk was developed in 1992. These projects sparked a decade of downtown revitalization. Around the same time, residential development and other businesses began building along the freeway, further boosting Abilene’s commercial and economic growth.
According to a 2019 census estimate, Abilene’s population was 123,420.
What to see and do in Abilene
Abilene is known as the “The Key City” and “The Friendly Frontier.”
The city is encircled by a loop of several major highways. So if you happen to make a road trip to Texas and pass one of the highways mentioned above, you might want to make a stop in Abilene and see what this city has to offer.
Visiting Abilene won’t be complete without taking a walk at its historic downtown. Step into Abilene’s past, starting from its origins at the Texas and Pacific Railway to its rise as the heart of soul of the thriving West Texas community. You can find charmingly quaint buildings that now house several shops, restaurants, museums, galleries, theaters, and other businesses.
But the downtown’s most prominent landmark is the Texas and Pacific railroad station that was built in 1910. The last passenger train left the depot in 1967 with only 39 passengers aboard. Its exteriors were restored in 1994 to its 1920s appearance.
Abilene has a good number of fine museums as well as arts and culture venues. Frontier Texas! is a 14,000-square-foot multimedia museum that opened in 2004. It highlights the history of Texas’ Old West era (from 1780 to 1880). For war history buffs, check out the 12th Armored Division, a three-story museum that displays artifacts, photographs, weapons, uniforms, and even war vehicles. These displays remind visitors of the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women comprising the 12th Armored Division in World War II. The museum also features a Holocaust memorial display.
The recently restored Grace Museum and the Paramount Theater were both built in the 1930s. The Grace Museum is home to five art galleries featuring rotating art exhibitions and artwork from its permanent collection. The Paramount Theater (pictured) has a distinct Mission and Spanish Revival architecture from the outside in. Its interiors, in particular, are absolutely stunning. Aside from screening films, this movie house also produces live theater and musical performances featuring amateur actors and musicians.
The National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature devotes to the artistic achievements of children’s book authors and illustrators through displays and exhibits of their original artwork.
Fancy some live music? Catch the Abilene Philharmonic in its concerts at the Abilene Convention Center. The ensemble has been playing both classical and contemporary pop music performances for almost 60 years.
Abilene also has other fun things to offer. They include nature and outdoor attractions, restaurants and cafés, family-friendly entertainment venues, hotels and lodgings (including pet-friendly options), a trampoline park, and even a place where you can practice your ax-throwing skills.
Abilene even offers a “round-up pass” that allows visitors to see the best of the city’s attractions at special discounts. You can purchase the pass at any of the city’s participating venues.
Abilene retains its small-town charm yet surprises visitors with its modern amenities, conveniences, and attractions. The next time you hit the open roads to explore, choose Abilene for a day trip or overnight excursion.