By Loretta Fulton
Abilene, Abilene, prettiest town I’ve ever seen…
Many people who’ve never visited Abilene know at least the opening line of Abilene, a singable tune made popular in 1963 by George Hamilton IV. Local collector of Western music, Joe Specht, published a book in 2006 titled, Abilene in Song: The Women There Don’t Treat You Mean, detailing more than 100 songs in which Abilene, Texas, plays a role or is mentioned.
Not bad for a tent city that sprung from the prairie on March 15, 1881, the product of the Texas & Pacific Railway, which began pushing westward in 1880. A group of ranchers and businessmen convinced railroad officials that the tracks should cross the northern part of Taylor County through their land. The northern route bypassed Buffalo Gap, which had been named the temporary county seat in 1874 and the official county seat in 1878 when the county was organized. In 1883, Abilene, dubbed by railroad promoters as "The Future Great City of West Texas," became the new county seat following an election.
From humble beginnings, Abilene has grown to a thriving city of an estimated 123,000 people. Agriculture, the city’s original primary industry, still is a major part of the local economy. But 21st century Abilene also is a regional financial, shopping, medical, business, and educational hub -- with three four-year universities, two community colleges and a pharmacy school. Abilene also is a transportation hub, with the railroad bisecting it, Interstate 20 running along the northern edge, and Abilene Regional Airport providing daily flights in and out of the city.
Abilene owes much of its history and expansion to the military, first with Fort Phantom Hill, located about 15 miles north from 1851 to 1854. In the early 1940s, the U.S. Army built Camp Barkeley southwest of the city. The Army camp was followed by the opening in 1956 of Dyess Air Force Base. Generations of soldiers and airmen have stayed here, providing the city with civic leaders who strive to make Abilene the prettiest town anyone has ever seen.
Handbook of Texas Online
Abilene, Texas: Heart of the Big Country by Loretta Fulton