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Abilene, Texas

Liberty Hotel ($98)

Cleburne, Texas

February 8, 2024

Abilene (/ˈæbɪliːn/ AB-i-leen) is a city in Taylor and Jones County, Texas, United States. Its population was 125,182 at the 2020 census. It is the principal city of the Abilene metropolitan statistical area, which had a population of 165,252 as of 2020. Abilene is home to three Christian universities: Abilene Christian University, McMurry University, and Hardin–Simmons University. It is the county seat of Taylor County. Dyess Air Force Base is located on the west side of the city.

Abilene is located on Interstate 20. I-20 forms a rounded bypass loop along the northern side of the city, between exits 279 on its western edge and 292 on the east. The city is located 150 miles (240 km) west of Fort Worth. Multiple freeways form a loop surrounding the city's core: I-20 on the north, US 83/84/277 on the west, and Loop 322 to the east. The former Texas and Pacific Railway, now part of the Union Pacific mainline, divides the city into well-established north and south zones. The historic downtown area is on the north side of the railroad, while the growing South Of Downtown Abilene "SODA" district is located on the south side of the tracks.

The economy in Abilene was originally based on the livestock and agricultural sectors, but is now based strongly on government, education, healthcare, and manufacturing. The petroleum industry is prevalent in the surrounding area, also. The city has established incentives to bring new businesses to the area, including job training grants, relocation grants, and more.

Established by cattlemen as a stock shipping point on the Texas and Pacific Railway in 1881, the city was named after Abilene, Kansas, the original endpoint for the Chisholm Trail. The T&P had bypassed the town of Buffalo Gap, the county seat at the time. Eventually, a landowner north of Buffalo Gap, Clabe Merchant, known as the father of Abilene, chose the name for the new town. According to a Dallas newspaper, about 800 people had already begun camping at the townsite before the lots were sold. The town was laid out by Colonel J. Stoddard Johnson, and the auction of lots began early on March 15, 1881. By the end of the first day, 139 lots were sold for a total of $23,810, and another 178 lots were sold the next day for $27,550.

Abilene was incorporated soon after being founded in 1881,[1] and residents began to set their sights on bringing the county seat to Abilene. In a three-to-one vote, they won the county election to do so. In 1888, the Progressive Committee was formed to attract businesses to the area, and in 1890 renamed itself as the Board of Trade. By 1900, 3,411 people lived in Abilene. In that decade, the Board of Trade changed its name to the 25,000 Club, in the hope of reaching a population of 25,000 by the next census. By 1910, though, the population had increased only to 9,204. Another group was formed, the Young Men's Booster Club, which became the Abilene Chamber of Commerce in 1914.

The cornerstone was laid in 1891 for Simmons College, the first of three universities in Abilene. It later developed as Hardin–Simmons University. Childers Classical Institute was founded in 1906, and developed as Abilene Christian University, the largest of the three. In 1923, McMurry College was founded; it later expanded its offerings as McMurry University.

In the late 20th century, Abilene succeeded in gaining branches of Texas State Technical College and Cisco College. Headquarters of the latter institution are located in the city.

In 1940, Abilene raised the money to purchase land to attract establishment of a U.S. Army base, southwest of town. It was named Camp Barkeley. When fully operational, it was twice the size of Abilene, with 60,000 men. When the base closed after World War II, many worried that Abilene could become a ghost town, but as the national economy boomed, many veterans returned to start businesses in Abilene.

In the early-1950s, to advocate for an Air Force base, residents raised US$893,261 (equivalent to about $10,070,945 in 2022) to purchase 3,400 acres (14 km2) of land. The Southern block of Congressmen gained approval for such a base here. For decades, Dyess Air Force Base has been the city's largest employer, with 6076 employees in 2007.

From 1950 to 1960, Abilene's population nearly doubled, from 45,570 to 90,638. In 1960, a second high school was added to the city's school system, Cooper High School.

In 1966, the Abilene Zoo was established near Abilene Regional Airport. The following year, one of the most important bond elections in the city's history passed for the funding of the construction of the Abilene Civic Center and the Taylor County Coliseum, as well as major improvements to Abilene Regional Airport. In 1969, the Woodson elementary and high school for black students closed as the city integrated its school system, more than 10 years after the US Supreme Court's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional.

In 1982, Abilene became the first city in Texas to create a downtown reinvestment zone. Texas State Technical College opened an Abilene branch three years later. The 2,250-bed French Robertson Prison Unit was built in 1989. A half-cent sales tax earmarked for economic development was created after the decline in the petroleum business in the 1980s. A branch of Cisco College was located in the city in 1990.

Several major projects of restoration and new construction: The Grace Museum and Paramount Theatre, and development of Artwalk in 1992, sparked a decade of downtown revitalization. In 2004, Frontier Texas!, a multimedia museum highlighting the history of the area from 1780 to 1880, was constructed. That year an $8 million, 38-acre (150,000 m2) Cisco Junior College campus was built at Loop 322 and Industrial Boulevard.

Simultaneously, subdivisions and businesses started locating along the freeway, on the same side as the CC campus. This area attracted Abilene growth on the Loop.

Abilene has become the commercial, retail, medical, and transportation hub of a 19-county area more commonly known as "The Big Country", but also known as the "Texas Midwest". It is part of the Central Great Plains ecoregion. By the end of 2005, commercial and residential development had reached record levels in and around the city.


Designed and built in 1930 by architect David Castle, the landmark Paramount Theatre in Abilene, Texas has a rich and significant history. A beautiful example of the nostalgic “atmospheric” movie theatre, it was built in an era when movie-going was meant to be a grand experience that transported you to another time and place. The theatre’s main auditorium space was designed to re-create a Spanish / Moorish courtyard at night, complete with projected clouds passing over a neon-lit night sky fitted with twinkling stars.

The Paramount, restored in 1987 and renovated to accommodate live theatre, is now the home to a myriad of events, including film, ballet, opera, and concerts. For over 89 years it has stood the test of time as an entertainment showcase of West Texas.


OPENED: May 19, 1930

ARCHITECT: David S. Castle & Co., Abilene, Texas

DESIGN: Spanish / Moorish with Pueblo Deco influences

CAPACITY: 1,187 (originally 1,500)

RESTORATION AND RENOVATION: Killis Almond, De-Lara Almond Architects, San Antonio, Texas; Restoration Associates, San Antonio, Texas; Parson & Company, Abilene, Texas

GRAND RE-OPENING: May 21, 1987

MEMBERSHIPS: League of Historic American Theatres

HONORS: National Register of Historic Places, Texas Award for Historic Preservation

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