Hometown History . . .

As I was trying to decide what topic to blog about today, it suddenly hit me that I had access to some fabulous history right in my own backyard. In fact, it is the history of Abilene, Texas (the town I now call home) that inspired me to set my first several books in the 1880’s. For, you see, that was when Abilene was born.

Up until the 1870’s, the only people rambling through this area of West Texas were nomadic Indians, soldiers, and buffalo hunters. But by the 70’s, the Indians had been driven out, and the land was opened to settlers–or more specifically, cattle ranchers wanting to graze their herds on the plentiful prairie grasses. By 1878, Taylor County had been organized, and they named Buffalo Gap (yep, named for the buffalo that had been plentiful in the area until the buffalo hunters ravaged them) as the county seat.

Restored T&P Warehouse, Downtwon Abilene

So where does Abilene come in? It rode in on the T&P Railroad.

In 1880, the Texas & Pacific Railway began expanding west. When the local cattle ranchers learned the railroad would be coming through, they got together with area businessmen and worked to ensure that the T&P bypassed Buffalo Gap in order to run across the northern part of the county, and incidentally, through their land. They would then establish a new town between Cedar and Big Elm Creeks, east of Catclaw Creek. Since the railroad needed the water they could supply for their steam locomotives, the plan worked. One of the ranchers suggested the new town be named Abilene, after the cattle boomtown of Abilene, Kansas.

 

 

 

 

 

The Texas & Pacific arrived in Abilene in January 1881. And the railroad didn’t just lay track, they laid promises. Touting Abilene as the “Future Great City of West Texas,” railroad officials platted the townsite and started selling lots on March 15, 1881. Their marketing worked. Hundreds of people arrived even before the lots went on sale and began establishing businesses and a church. As the plaque above shows, they had a church erected one month after the railroad arrived. This plaque is located about halfway between the warehouse and the depot, so it is easy to see that the T&P was the heart of the new city.

A short two years later, Abilene had grown so significantly that it became the county seat, stealing the distinction from Buffalo Gap.

Today, the T&P tracks are still at the heart of Abilene, running through the center of town. Streets that run parallel to the tracks are designated with either a north or south distiction so people know which side of the tracks to go to. For example, there is a North 1st Street and a South 1st Street sandwiching the tracks. This systems continues with street numbers ranging well into the 20’s or higher depending on what  side of the track you are on. The rails are still used for freight transport, but the depot now houses the Chamber of Commerce instead of railroad passengers.

So how about you? What cool history can you share about your hometown?

Restored T&P Depot

m4s0n501

Written by Karen Witemeyer

Winner of the ACFW Carol Award, the HOLT Medallion, and two-time RITA finalist, CBA bestselling author, Karen Witemeyer, writes historical romance for Bethany House believing the world needs more happily ever afters ... and hunky cowboy heroes. She's an avid cross-stitcher, shower singer, and bakes a mean apple cobbler. She makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children.

Visit Karen Witemeyer's website


20 Comments on “Hometown History . . .”

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  1. Kathleen O'Donnell says:

    Here are some facts about the town I call home now:
    The Canada Company established Guelph in 1827 to serve as the company’s headquarters during the development of the Huron Tract, although town later came into its own as a prosperous railway and industrial centre. Guelph was founded on St. George’s Day, April 23, 1827, the feast day of the patron saint of England. The town was named to honour Britain’s royal family, the Hanoverians, who were descended from the Guelfs, the ancestral family of George IV, the reigning British monarch; thus the nickname The Royal City. The directors of the Canada Company had actually wanted the city to be named Goderich, but reluctantly accepted the fait accompli.

    Guelph was the home of North America’s first cable TV system. Ted Metcalfe created McLean Hunter Television and their first broadcast was Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in 1953.

  2. Karen Witemeyer says:

    Great history, Kathleen! I love the ties to royalty. And how fitting that the first broadcast was of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. The Royal City is an apt descriptor. Love it! :-)

  3. Anne Carrole says:

    Montgomery Township was incorporated in 1798 and settled largely by Dutch farmers. Prior to that it had been inhabited by the Lenni Lenape tribe for over 20,000 years. The first church was built in 1750. George Washington had his headquarters at Rockingham (which is open to the public), then part of the township, where he waited for news that the Treaty of Paris had been signed while the Continental Congress met in nearby Princeton. Lots of history in our area.

    I enjoyed reading about Abilene. It’s amazing how important the railroad was to the survival or demise of towns–lots of story fodder there! Best, Anne

  4. Karen Witemeyer says:

    Great to see you here, Anne! I’ve always been envious of the extra 100+ years of history folks on the east coast have access to. I love looking at those old churches and courthouses that have stood the test of time.

    Thank you so much for sharing some of Montgomery’s history. How awesome to be able to claim George Washington’s headquarters!

    You are so right about the railroad. Not only did it create towns, but it also broke many when it chose to bypass a particular place. Nearby Buffalo Gap is such a tiny place now, but thankfully it didn’t disappear completely when the T&P chose Abilene. They are fiercely proud of their heritage and even have a terrific historical villiage that I’ve visited several times.

  5. Tanya Hanson says:

    What a wonderful post, Karen, and those city and place names are something we’d use in our novels! How terrific to live so close to such awesome history. My town (California coast, some say Central California, others say the north-est tip of Southern California…I like to say Central because we are SO different from SoCal) was settled in the 1850’s by German and Irish immigrant farmers and ranchers. I had a lot of their descendants in class when I taught at the Catholic high school!

  6. Karen Witemeyer says:

    Hi, Tanya. I grew up on California’s Central Coast, so I know exactly what you are talking about. How fun to have access to those European cultures a century and a half later! I bet you have some great stories to tell! :-)

  7. Karen Kay says:

    Great post, Karen. Unfortunately for me, it seems as if I keep running into the “ghosts” of Indians slain here on the California coast as part of its historical background — graves and mass graves fill So. CA as Father Sara (don’t know the correct spelling of his name) inflicted a form of the inquistion here in So. CA and elsewhere on the Indian populations — it’s one of the reasons I don’t write about the California Indians — to me their history is so upsetting that I find it hard to get past. At least on the Plains the Indians had a fighting chance. Here that was not so — they were disarmed early on — and after they were disarmed a form of genocide took place that rocks this area to this day — at least I can feel it and sometimes am troubled by those impressions that are left behind due to that genocide.

    But your post was great.

  8. Mary J says:

    Well, Karen, funny you should ask…
    My town was established late–1860. We are still a town, which means we are not incorporated. We are part of the County of Inyo in California. There is one incorporated city in our county.
    Since I am a ‘senior’, we have gotten together with other long term inhabitants and decided to write a history of this town. A book has already been written about the area and the town and how it got here and why. We are making a personal history about what we remember about the people and the business’. Where they were located and who lived where. I wanted to do a genealogy of the whole town, but we decided it would end up being too embarrassing to a lot of people who were still alive. As in: in this town and valley, you don’t talk about anybody because they will be related to whoever you are talking about! My own family included. So this will be a great project for us and for anyone else who lives in a small town. We only have 2000 people, and the town is only 4 blocks long, so it won’t take too long.

  9. Caitlin says:

    When I was out walking my dog, I discovered on the street in back of mine a historical home. The House witnessed the Revolution, sheltering it’s quaker loyalist owners and officers of the british army.

    I would have never imagined a historical site being so close to my home in NJ.

  10. Karen Witemeyer says:

    You are so right, Kay. There are bloody, horrific tragedies that define history as well as stories of courage and progress. And in our country, the Native Americans suffered greatly.

    Just learning about the buffalo hunters that had such a huge imapact in my local history made me rather ill. So much carnage all for a quick buck. I hope we can learn from our past to create a more peace-filled future.

  11. Karen Witemeyer says:

    Hi, Mary J. How WONDERFUL that you are taking on a local history project. That is fabulous! I have found so many helpful tidbits when researching my stories from county or town histories written by people just like you. It is such a blessing to preserve that history. I wish you all the best on that project!

  12. Karen Witemeyer says:

    Hi, Caitlin. How cool to find history almost literally in your backyard! :-) Just think how long that house has been standing to have witnessed the Revolution. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it?

    Just in my brief research of Abilene, I found a historical marker downtown that marked the location of a shootout that took place in 1884. I never knew that happened. I might have to write a post on that one of these days as well.

  13. Caitlin says:

    I wish I could find more information on the White Homestead … it would be cool to use in a story. My part of Jersey has a lot of historical history going back to the Indians.

    Most people don’t realize that town/street names came from the Indians in our area.

  14. Mary J says:

    After reading Kay’s writing, I am recalling my husband’s story. His Grandmother was moved, by foot, from the Owens Valley to Fort Tejon, in 1860, by soldiers. She escaped by hiding under sagebrush while the soldiers searched for her. She came back to the valley and stayed hidden. She is the reason his family is here today, because of her braveness way back then. That is a story in itself. (someday I might write it. but it’s too sad).

  15. Karen Witemeyer says:

    Your family has such a rich history, Mary J. I love that story. One woman’s courage to survive. Thank you so much for sharing.

  16. Charlene Sands says:

    This is really cool stuff, Karen. I love the history behind how Abilene got it’s name.
    I’ve done a lot of research in Texas as many of my books are set there and I’ve visited often. Now, I’m writing in Nevada… just had to get out of the flatlands for awhile! :)

  17. Karen Witemeyer says:

    Hey, Charlene! Those sierra nevadas provide some gorgeous scenery. We use to go skiing up in Tahoe when I was growing up. Love those mountains! :-)

  18. Patricia B. says:

    The area we now live in if full of history. Jonesborough, TN is the oldest town in the state. The Davy Crockett Birthplace Park is about 10 miles away. Greeneville, TN is the site of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site and is only about 15 miles away. Andrew Jackson practiced law in Jonesborough. The first abolitionist press was located in the town. 15 miles north, is the site of Sycamore Shoals State Park. There is a reconstructed fort and they hold a play every summer reenacting the battles fought there. It is also the starting point for the Overmountain Men reenactment every year. The settlers gathered at this fort and marched to join the Revolutionary War. They are best known for their participation in the Battle of King’s Mountain which was a pivotal point of the war.
    To our east if Erwin wich was the home of Blue Ridge Pottery. The old train station (1925) is being used for the county library. Erwin’s main claim to fame is the hanging of Mary the elephant on Sept. 13, 1916. It is not something they like to claim.
    We are 65 miles from Asheville, NC which is home to the Biltmore Estate. It is a wonderful place to visit. More recent history is the Birthplace of Country Music in Bristol, VA/TN, 35 miles away, and Bristol Motor Speedway for NASCAR fans.

    Of course there is much more as in any area, I don’t know as much about the area I grew up in, but sadly they didn’t stress the history of the area like they do now.

  19. Karen Witemeyer says:

    What deliciously rich history, Patricia! Andrew Jackson, Davy Crockett – you can’t drop bigger names than those. :-) Love it!

  20. Tanya Hanson says:

    Hi Karen, sorry to check back so late. We’re on vacation LOL. Home tomorrow…anyway, for a heart-rending story about the California Indians (I too grieve for our local Chumash) I highly recommend Scott O’Dell’s YA book, Zia. It’s a life-changer.

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