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Abilene Architecture: Historic Preservation of a West Texas Town

Texas is known far and wide for its deep roots in southern history. Here, on the grassy plains, the historic buildings of Abilene tell a story of persistence, faith, and community.

The History of Abilene

Abilene, also known as “The Key City”, was established by cattlemen in 1881 as a stock shipping point on the Texas and Pacific Railway.

Its unique history combines opportunity with innovation to form the first city of its kind in the West Texas region.

Beginning in 1874, ranchers used The Western Cattle Trail to drive hundreds of thousands of cattle through West Texas. Although vastly uninhabited, this land served a great economic purpose for cattle ranchers who sought to move their cattle up to northern markets.

In 1881, the Pacific Railway expanded its network to reach what would soon be known as “The Great City of West Texas”. This caught the eye of numerous ranchers and land spectators across the nation as it touted the possibility of a growing economic climate.

Two months later, more than three hundred plots of land were sold, and Abilene was incorporated. Named after the famous cattle shipping station in Kansas, Abilene positioned itself as a valuable distribution center, offering commercial, industrial, and educational opportunities as a result. 

This railroad town quickly transformed into a flourishing community with multiple churches, newspapers, and a public school. Soon after, The Texas Pacific Railway moved its headquarters to Abilene, resulting in the community’s win for the county seat in a landslide election against Buffalo Gap in 1883.

After this victory, Abilene flourished. Over the next decades, Abilineans to set their sights on attracting new businesses to the area. In 1940, the community raised money to purchase land for Camp Barkeley, a U.S. Army Base, amid World War II. Abilene’s economy flourished as a result, with more than 1.5 million soldiers passing through the camp.

After the base closed its doors, Abilene’s economy began to suffer. Upon Congress’s approval, residents raised more than $800,000 to fund the construction of Dyess Air Force Base in the 1950s.

In addition to Dyess Air Force Base, the Nike and Atlas missile installations in the early 1960s led Abeline’s economy to thrive once again. The 1970s Oil Crisis drove more business to the city as well until oil prices began to decline.

In the 1990s, Abilene transformed its downtown area into a lively historic district

Today, many restored railroad, hotel, and service station buildings preserve the town’s rich and vibrant history. Twenty-two of Abilene’s historic buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2010, the Texas Commission for the Arts named Abilene as one of the five most important cities with historic downtown arts districts.

Dyess Air Force Base remains prominent in Abilene’s economy as well, with over 8,000 employees to date.

Here are some of the best old and new examples of Abilene Architecture:

Here are some of our other favorites

Paramount Theatre

Designed and built by David Castle, an iconic Texas architect, alongside H.O. Wooden, the Paramount Theatre made its grand debut in the 1930s. It was a roaring success for Abilene residents and World War II soldiers stationed nearby at Camp Barkeley. 

On February 12, 1931, Paramount Pictures selected this theatre, along with two others in the chain, to exhibit the classic horror film Dracula two days before its scheduled premiere. 

Adjacent to the Wooden Hotel, the Paramount Theatre features a timeless Spanish-Moorish and Pueblo Deco design. Adorned with neon-lit stars and thin, rolling clouds, the Paramount Theatre’s domed ceiling was designed to mirror a Spanish-Moorish courtyard at night.

Although the building was restored to its current state in 1987, visitors today receive a luxury movie-going experience, just as residents in the 1930s did. 

The Paramount Theatre showcases live productions, classic films, and concerts. It also serves as a venue for private parties and events.

Abilene Christian University

Both religion and education are deeply embedded in Abilene’s history. Residents recognized that educational institutions would greatly benefit Abilene’s economy, and the first school opened in the early 1880s. Soon after, the establishment of three Christian universities between 1891 and 1923 led many to call Abilene “The Bible Belt of the South”

Childers Classical Institute opened its doors in 1906. The school paid the Childers family to change the school’s name to Abilene Christian College in 1920, and in 1976, it became Abilene Christian University.

The Chapel on the Hill is located in the heart of Abilene Christian University’s campus. Embellished with beautiful stained-glass windows, it is representative of Abilene’s historic community and faith-based values. 

The Grace Museum

Designed by David S. Castle, the Grace Hotel first opened its doors in 1909. Located in historic downtown Abilene, it was positioned on the railroad line between Fort Worth and El Paso to serve as an upscale, full-service hotel for visitors who traveled by train.

The hotel was renamed The Drake in 1946. It prospered greatly until train travel significantly declined in the mid-1960s. The Drake permanently closed its doors in 1973.

The building was purchased in 1987, and later renovated into the culturally-renowned museum it is today.

Touted as the finest restored hotel in Texas, The Grace Museum exhibits the local history, along with historic and contemporary American art.

FSG Calls Abilene “Home”

In a community as strong as Abilene, as dedicated to working together to achieve success as we are, FSG is proud to serve as a trusted advisor to businesses (and buildings) of every size and shape in the area.

For lighting, electrical, facility disinfection, signage, and technology solutions that allow you to do more call FSG today at (512) 615-6615 or visit the FSG Abilene page here.

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