Abilene

Overview

Introduction

In the 1860s, Abilene, Kansas, was the northern terminus of the legendary cattle route known as the Chisholm Trail. Longhorn cattle from Texas were driven north on the trail to Kansas, one of the few Midwestern states with access to the railroad. As it grew into a boomtown, this town 85 mi/140 km west of Topeka became home to such famous Old West lawmen as Wild Bill Hickok and Tom Smith.

Rail lines expanded west and south, quickly bringing an end to Abilene's cow-town era, but not its prosperity. The Seelye Mansion, home of a patent-medicine mogul, is open for tours. The 25-room, 11-bedroom house has been restored to near-original condition, down to its furnishings and fixtures, and there's a lever-operated bowling alley. Many of its features were purchased at the 1904 World's Fair. The 1880 Lebold Mansion is also open for tours. A history of Abilene's boomtown era is given during a trolley tour (Memorial Day-Labor Day).

One of the town's major claims to fame is former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who grew up there. Ike's legacy is celebrated at the Eisenhower Center, which includes his home (preserved as it was in 1946, when the general returned from his service in World War II), a museum, the Eisenhower Presidential Library and the Meditation Chapel (Ike and Mamie, his wife, are buried there).

For more history, buy a ticket to the Dickinson County Historical Museum. It includes admission to the Heritage Center (focusing on pioneer life), the Museum of Independent Telephony (documenting the early history and development of the communications industry) and a ride on the 1901 C.W. Parker carousel. The collection of the nearby Fashion Museum includes pieces from the 1870s to 1970s.

Other Abilene sites include the American Indian Art Center, a gift shop and gallery featuring works by Native American artists; a Russell Stover Factory Outlet, located west of Abilene on Interstate 70; the Abilene & Smoky Valley Excursion Train (May-October); and the Brookville Hotel, which is famous for family-style chicken dinners.

Kansas is a major breeding center for greyhounds, and Abilene is home to the Greyhound Hall of Fame. (The dogs were originally brought in to control the jackrabbit population.) The most important annual event in Abilene is the Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo and Western Heritage Festival (August).

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