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Abilene, Texas- Historic City of the Old West
   by Howard Giske

Abilene, Texas is an historic city of the Old West, which has become the transportation, medical, commercial and university hub of Taylor County in the geographic center of the state of Texas. The city's current population is 116,000. The average price of Austin homes is $70,000. Abilene remains a transportation center, with a regional airport, and the intersection of major highways: East-West Interstate Highway 20, US Highway 80, and State Highway 36, and north-south US highways 83, 84, and 277.

Abilene was the creation of the Union Pacific railroad, which had begun its journey west as part of Abraham Lincoln's 1862 mandated transcontinental railroad. The presumed route of the railroad in 1881, when Abilene was founded, was through Buffalo Gap, the county's then seat, and the natural pass in the Callahan Divide. However, after disputes by land speculators, the route instead went through the Northern part of the county, close to the abandoned Army Fort Phantom Hill. Thus, Abilene was born. The railroad advertised the planned town as "The Future Great Town of West Texas" in notices for the auction of land lots on March 15, 1881. During the auction, 317 lots were sold, bringing the landowners and the railroad a total of $51,310.

Its growth has been steady ever since. Situated on flat land and dry, Abilene receives approximately 23.59 inches of rain a year. To guarantee a city water supply, the city excavated 4 lakes from 1897 to 1937: Lytle Lake in 1897, Lake Abilene in 1919, Lake Kirby in 1927, and Lake Fort Phantom Hill in 1937. Today, these lakes are the centers of recreation and include the 26 parks in the city. The famous Abilene Zoo, which hosts 110,000 visitors per year, is contiguous to a lake.

In 1891, the first church-related university was founded. This was Simmons College, associated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and now called Hardin-Simmons University. Two other church related universities followed in later years. These churches and universities remain critical influences in the culture of Abilene. The university population is now 10,000. By 1986, there were 100 churches in the city.

Funds were raised by Abilene's citizens -- $893,261, to purchase the 3,400 acres that became the Dyess Air Force Base, built between 1952 and 1956. Dyess is now the largest employer in Abilene. By 2000, Dyess employed over 4,000 military and civilians. It is the home of the B-1 Bomber.

Cultural activities are strong in the city, from park activities, to festivals related to Abilene's Western History, including the Western Heritage Classic in May with ranch rodeo, horse races, and cowboy poetry; and the West Texas Rodeo and Fair contest in September. In addition to the city's lakes, and parks, Abilene Park is 15 miles south of the city and has over 4,000 pecan trees. The park, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, features a stone water tower and swimming pool complex, and was once a campground for Comanche Indians. Abilene has extensive sports activities, and for the past few years has hosted championship jump rope teams. There is a philharmonic orchestra, children and adult classical choruses, ballet, and theatre.

About the Author

Howard Giske writes about Austin homes and nationwide real estate at

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