We had originally planned on only one night in Abilene but decided to spend an extra day exploring. After paring our list of 10 adventures down to three, we started off by driving south 15 miles to the Buffalo Gap Historic Village, stopped at the Abilene State Park for a picnic lunch, and finished up the day at the 12th Armored ‘Hellcats’ Division Memorial Museum.
Buffalo Gap Historic Village
Buffalo Gap Historic Village, a stop within the Texas Forts Trail Region, contains a grouping of 15 structures that depict life from the 1800s to the 1920s. The village began taking shape when Ernie Wilson purchased the original 1879 Taylor County Courthouse in 1956 to display his collection of artifacts and called it the “Ernie Wilson Museum of the Wild West.”
After adding other structures to the property over several decades, a couple of ownership changes, and a new name, Taylor County took ownership of the village grounds, buildings, and artifacts in February 2017, and the Taylor County History Center was formed to operate the museum and continue its mission.
The 1879 Taylor County Courthouse and Jail, opened in March 1880, to serve as the county seat of Taylor County. The brick construction includes cannonballs between the bricks to increase stability. Once Abilene became the county seat, the county sold the courthouse to a private party who turned it into a two-story home.
The Hill House is one of the first structures we entered on our tour through the decades. Tom Hill, Abilene’s first marshal at the age of 27, built the house in 1882 for $400. He and his wife Mollie lived there with their two children.
It seems there is a dispute about the details surrounding Hill’s death. Abilenescene.com describes a scuffle with an intoxicated saloon owner that caused the accidental shooting of Hill’s foot. They also report that Hill’s daughter told them he died of lockjaw a day later after the amputation of his big toe. An article in the Abilene Reporter-News on 08 April 1956 says Hill died in 1886 of gangrene after he was accidentally shot in the foot while on a hunting trip.
The village conducts ghost tours in October and the Hill House is reported to generate the most paranormal activity.
Knight-Sayles Cabin – Wilson reconstructed the cabin in 1964. James Malcolm Callaway Knight and his wife Susannah built the original cabin in 1875 where Lake Abilene is today. They raised six of their fifteen children in the cabin, cooking on an open fire outdoors. The fireplace and stove were used for warming the cabin.
Buffalo Gap Post Office – built in 1950 by postmaster Charlie McDonald in his front yard when the postal service required post offices to be located in a freestanding building.
Clyde Train Depot, built in Clyde, Texas, cost $40,000 in 1905. The train shortened travel to another town from months to days. The ticket and waiting room portion of the original depot is in one location on the property while the baggage compartment portion is now the general store where the tour begins.
Cottonwood Flat School, originally located in Scurry County, cost $900 in 1930. Grades one through seven attended the school, while older students transferred to the high school in Snyder. After 1938, its use as a school terminated and the community used it to hold office elections and events. Moved to the cemetery for funerals in the 1950s, the building found its way to the village when it was donated in January 1989.
Buffalo Gap Chapel The Nazarene Church, built in 1906, is the oldest church in Taylor County that is still used today. After bees used the back wall as their home, parishioners named it The Sweet Church.
Besides the Bourn Texaco Service Station (originally constructed in Winters), other buildings include a doctor’s office, barbershop, a wagon barn filled with historic vehicles, a bank, print shop, an art gallery, and a blacksmith shop.
With picnic tables, restrooms and a playground for children available, visitors have plenty to see and do as they experience life through the decades at Buffalo Gap Historic Village.
Abilene State Park
Having emerged from the 1920s to present day, we headed to the Abilene State Park to find a nice picnic spot. The 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps project includes a stone water tower and a swimming pool complex. Under a shady tree with a view of the complex was a great place to eat our lunch.
With shore and boat ramp access to Lake Abilene, anglers can fish for catfish, largemouth bass, and crappie. Campers can find space for their tents or RVs and during the summer, visitors can splash around in the pool.
12th Armored Division Memorial Museum
The 12th Armored ‘Hellcats’ Division Memorial Museum, located at 1289 N. 2nd Street in Abilene, includes World War II artifacts, photos, weapons, uniforms, vehicles, dioramas, and a Holocaust memorial.
Much of the museum honors the soldiers attached to the 12th Armored ‘Hellcats’ Division who trained at Camp Barkeley, Texas, which was located 11 miles from Abilene. Construction on the training installation began in December 1940 and completed seven months later. Approximately 840 German prisoners of war were held at the location during 1944 and 1945. The base was then closed and the land reverted to the original landowners.
We enjoyed our day exploring the outskirts of Abilene and the 12th Armored Division Memorial Museum in town. If we ever make our way through Abilene again, we’ll stay awhile, maybe find a spot at the State Park, scout around the historic buildings in town, and stop in at a restaurant or two. I’m sure we can find enough to keep us busy for a couple of days, or three, or four.