Abilene is located off Interstate 20, between exits 279 on its western edge and 292 on the east. It is 150 miles (240 km) west of Fort Worth. The city is looped by I-20 to the north, US 83/84 on the west, and Loop 322 to the east. A railroad divides the city down the center into north and south. The historic downtown area is on the north side of the railroad.
The 20-story Enterprise Tower is the tallest building in west-central Texas and one of the five highest in the western two-thirds of the state.
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, 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.
In the late 20th century, Abilene succeeded in gaining branches of Texas State Technical College and Cisco Junior 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 $8,798,621 in 2019) 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 Junior 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 CJC 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.
2017 - Jodey Arrington becomes U.S. representative for Texas's 19th congressional district.
2019 revamping the downtown area of North Abilene. As of October 2019 a couple of buildings were torn down and Hilton developed a new Double Tree hotel.
Abilene is located in northeastern Taylor County. The city limits extend north into Jones County. Interstate 20 leads east 149 miles (240 km) to Fort Worth and west 148 miles (238 km) to Midland. Three U.S. highways pass through the city. US 83 runs west of the city center, leading north 24 miles (39 km) to Anson and south 55 miles (89 km) to Ballinger. US 84 runs with US 83 through the southwest part of the city but leads southeast 52 miles (84 km) to Coleman and west with I-20 40 miles (64 km) to Sweetwater. US 277 follows US 83 around the northwest side of the city and north to Anson, but heads southwest from Abilene 89 miles (143 km) to San Angelo.
According to the United States Census Bureau, Abilene has a total area of 112.2 sq mi (290.6 km2), of which 106.8 sq mi (276.6 km2) are land and 5.4 sq mi (14.0 km2) are covered by water (4.82%). The water area is mainly from three reservoirs in the city: Lytle Lake southeast of downtown on the western edge of Abilene Regional Airport, Kirby Lake on the southeast corner of the US 83/84 and Loop 322 interchange, and Lake Fort Phantom Hill in Jones County in northern Abilene. Clear Creek runs through the city just east of downtown, flowing north to Elm Creek and ultimately part of the Brazos River watershed.
The fastest-growing sections of the city are in the southwest, along Southwest Drive, the Winters Freeway, and the Buffalo Gap Road corridor; the southeast, along Loop 322, Oldham Lane, Industrial Drive, and Maple Street; and in the northeast near the intersection of SH 351 and I-20. Many developments have begun in these three areas within the last few years with a citywide focus on the reinvigoration of downtown Abilene.
Source: National Weather Service, San Angelo Hong Kong Observatory (sun only, 1961-1990)
As of the census of 2000, 115,930 people, 41,570 households, and 28,101 families resided in the city. The population density was 1,102.7 people per square mile (425.8/km2). The 45,618 housing units averaged 433.9 per square mile (167.5/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 78.07% White, 8.81% African American, 0.55% Native American, 1.33% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 8.73% from other races, and 2.44% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 19.45% of the population.
Of the 41,570 households, 34.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.0% were married couples living together, 11.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.4% were not families. About 26.6% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.53 and the average family size was 3.07.
In the city, the population was distributed as 25.6% under the age of 18, 15.3% from 18 to 24, 28.9% from 25 to 44, 18.2% from 45 to 64, and 12.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 31 years. For every 100 females, there were 102.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 101.1 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $33,007, and for a family was $40,028. Males had a median income of $28,078 versus $20,918 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,577. About 10.9% of families and 15.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.6% of those under age 18 and 9.2% of those age 65 or over.
As of the 2010 census, Abilene had a population of 117,063. The racial and ethnic makeup of the population was 62.4% non-Hispanic White, 9.6% Black or African American, 0.7% Native American, 1.7% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 0.1% non-Hispanic reporting some other race, 3.3% of two or more races, and 24.5% Hispanic or Latino.
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.
The top 15 employers in Abilene, as of December 2019, are:
Parts of this article (those related to this section) need to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information.(September 2012)
AISD has begun taking steps towards creating magnet schools for the district. The district is considering locating a specialized math and science classroom at McMurry University, taught by both a university professor and AISD teacher, on the campus. A plan for the future calls for the creation of a magnet school system specializing in four areas: math, science, technology, and fine arts. The four areas will be divided among each of the four middle schools in the district. Regular curricula will still be taught, but extra emphasis and equipment would be given based on the specific field of the school, such as extra labs for a science school, and an instrument lab for a fine arts school. Also, Bond Proposition 2 for the 2008 AISD bond election proposed a new Professional and Technology magnet school to be located at Lincoln Middle School, one of the oldest schools in the city, after a major renovation project.
Abilene ranked by Business Outlook magazine as the 17th city in the nation for their public education system in 2006, the highest-ranked city in Texas.
Abilene is home to six colleges, three of which are religiously affiliated. Hardin-Simmons University is the oldest, founded in 1891. Abilene Christian University is the largest with 2012 undergraduate enrollment at 4,371.
Marshal Tom Hill House in Buffalo Gap Historic Village south of Abilene echoes a moving human interest story. When Hill died in an accidental shooting at 32 years of age in 1886, his wife, Mollie, and daughter, Belle, were left to provide for themselves in difficult times over six decades.
The Dodd-Harkrider House at 2026 North Third Street is a two-story Four-Square dwelling; it provides a glimpse into the Americana of 1915.
Wooten Hotel (1930) at 302 Cypress Street downtown, built by grocery entrepreneur H. O. Wooten, at 16 stories tall, is designed after the Drake Hotel in Chicago. It was restored in 2004 as apartments for the upwardly mobile.
First Baptist Church (1954) at 1442 North Second Street has a spire 140 feet from the ground. Pastor Dr. Jesse Northcutt oversaw the planning of this building of 325 tons of steel.
The Church of the Heavenly Rest, Episcopal, at 602 Meander Street, reflects surprising Gothic architecture on the West Texas Plains. Its plaque reads: "No man entering a house ignores him who dwells in it. This is the house of God and He is here."
The Moreland-Shaheen House, 1120 Elmwood Drive, is a 1946 Art Moderne dwelling, shaded by six fruit trees, and is also referred to as the "Sugar House" because Henry Moreland operated the Abilene Dr Pepper and 7-Up bottling companies.
The 20-story Enterprise Tower at 500 Chestnut Street, the highest structure in Abilene, rises to 283 feet above the Plains.
The Taylor County Courthouse at 300 Oak Street, with its international architectural style of concrete and pink granite, resembles few other courthouses.
Paramount Theatre at 352 Cypress Street opened in 1930 and restored in 1986 had an original marquee 90 feet tall, with 1,400 lights.
Abilene Courts at 633 South Eleventh Street, a defunct motel built in 1930 alongside the Bankhead Highway (the precursor to U.S. Highway 80 and Interstate 20) reflects the Abilene of yesteryear.
Lincoln Junior High School, 1699 South First Street. In 2012, the Abilene Independent School District deeded the property to the City of Abilene. This property, known as Lincoln Junior High was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, August 28, 2012. Built in 1923, the architecture is Gothic Revival and includes two large gargoyles at the entrance and has Gothic and art deco motifs. It opened as Abilene High School in 1924, then became Lincoln Junior High in 1955, then Lincoln Middle School in 1985, and closed in 2007. As of 2019, the city currently plans on renovating the school into the new main branch of the Abilene Public Library.
The largest hospital facility in the area is the Hendrick Medical Center, opened in 1934, and now consists of a 504-bed hospital facility, and employs 2,600 staff. It is one of seven healthcare institutions affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
The Abilene Regional Medical Center was built by a group of physicians in 1968 as the West Texas Medical Center. It has a 231-bed hospital, with 200 physicians and 800 staff.
The Presbyterian Medical Care Mission was founded in 1983 as a medical and dental clinic. Its services are focused to low-income individuals and families without insurance.
The Abilene park system includes 29 parks, occupying a total of 1,247.56 acres (5.0487 km2). In addition, three athletic complexes located throughout the city are under the jurisdiction of the parks department.
The new Abilene Zoo entrance sign
The Abilene Zoo is a popular attraction in Abilene, boasting several hundred animals of various species. It hosts educational and summer programs, as well as special events throughout the year.
The West Texas Fair and Rodeo, held annually for 10 days in mid-September, features exhibits and amusements reflecting early days of Abilene, plus modern attractions of West Texas.
The Western Heritage Classic in early May features ranch rodeo, campfire cook-off, sheepdog trials, farrier competition, cowboy poets, a Western art show, and many other activities.
On every second Thursday evening of the month, Artwalk is held in downtown Abilene. During Artwalk, all the local museums are free, local musicians and performers busk, and several crafters and artists set up booths and sell their wares.
Several special-interest conventions, festivals, and shows are scattered throughout the year, including the Abilene Gem and Mineral Show, the West Texas Book and Music Festival, the Abilene Gun and Knife Show, and the Friends of the Abilene Public Library book sale.
Also of note is the annual Abilene High vs. Cooper High football game, the Crosstown Showdown, usually held near Halloween. Two of these games, in 2001 and 2002, were for the district championship and were called the "Showdown at Shotwell" as games were played at Shotwell Stadium.
Federal Building (Courthouse and Post Office) in Abilene
Abilene City Hall
Looking down the row of shops on Abilene's historic Cypress Street
Vera Hall Minter Park at North 2nd and Cypress Street
Downtown Paramount Theatre (established 1930)
12th Armored Division Memorial Museum
Abilene's tallest building, The Enterprise
First Central Presbyterian Church in Abilene
Sign outside the Dixie Pig diner, a longtime establishment in Abilene
The Abilene Reporter-News is the primary daily newspaper of the city of Abilene and the surrounding Big Country area.