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.
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?