With the railroad pushing west and the cattle traders soon used Abilene as the largest stockyards west of Kansas City. The Chisholm Trail ended in Abilene and brought in many travelers and made Abilene one of the wildest towns in the west. Wild Bill Hickok became marshal of Abilene for a short time in April of 1871. His time as marshal was short lived when, in a shoot-out with Phil Coe, he accidentally shot his friend and deputy, Mike Williams. He lost his job two months later in December.
In 1880 Conrad Lebold built what the newspapers called the finest house west of Topeka. Lebold was one of the early town developers and Bankers from 1869 through 1889. The Hersey dugout can still be seen in the cellar of the Lebold Mansion. In 1890, Dr. A.B. Seelye founded the A.B. Seelye Medical Company. Dr Seelye developed over 100 products for the company including "Wasa-Tusa," an Indian name meaning to heal.
Abilene became home to Dwight D. Eisenhower when his family moved to Abilene from Denison, Texas in 1892 where he attended elementary school through high school. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library is located in Abilene. It is now the final resting place for President Eisenhower, his wife, Mamie, and one son.
The Early History of Abilene
by Frank W. Blackmar (1912)
Abilene, the judicial seat and largest city of Dickinson county, is located on the north bank of the Smoky Hill river, 96 miles from Topeka, and has an altitude of 1,153 feet. It was first settled in 1858, was first the terminus of and later a station on the stage line. The first store was opened by a man named Jones, usually referred to as "Old Man Jones," in whose stock of goods whisky was a prominent article. In 1860 the town was surveyed and the following spring it was selected as the county seat by a popular vote.
Early in 1867 the Kansas Pacific railroad was completed to Abilene, and the same year the place was selected by Joseph G. McCoy as the most available point for assembling cattle for shipment, the selection being made because of the abundance of grass and water in the neighborhood. Concerning the town at this time, Mr. McCoy says: "Abilene in 1867 was a very small, dead place, consisting of about one dozen log huts, low, small, rude affairs, four-fifths of which were covered with dirt for roofing; indeed, but one shingle roof could be seen in the whole city. The business of the burg was conducted in two small rooms, mere log huts, and of course the inevitable saloon, also in a log hut, was to be found."
After Mr. McCoy had decided upon Abilene as the best cattle shipping point, circulars were sent all over Texas and before the close of the year 1867 some 35,000 cattle had been driven there for shipment on the new railroad to the eastern markets. This had a tendency to stimulate the growth of the town but it also brought in many undesirable characters. Gamblers, confidence men, cowboys, etc., came in and practically took possession of the place, much to the chagrin and disgust of the reputable, law-abiding citizens.
Shooting affrays were common, and the turbulent element, being in the majority, continued to run things with a high hand until the probate court of Dickinson county, on Sept. 6, 1869, granted a petition to incorporate Abilene, and named J. B. Shane, T. C. Henry, Thomas Sherran, T. F. Hersey and Joseph G. McCoy as trustees. McCoy was chosen the first mayor and the new city government took steps to check the prevailing lawlessness. A stone jail was commenced, but about the time the walls were up a band of cow boys tore them down.
Finally, Thomas Smith, who had come to Abilene from Kit Carson, Col., was elected town marshal. It is said that his appearance was against him, but what he lacked in physical strength was more than made up in courage and diplomacy, and in a short time he succeeded in disarming all the desperate characters, thus bringing about a reign of law and order. The Kansas Monthly of Feb., 1879, ten years after Abilene was incorporated, says: "Abilene, from being a Texas cattle town without law, order or society, is now one of the most home-like, orderly and agreeable towns."
Since that time the growth and development of Abilene has been steadily, onward and upward, and in 1910 the city had a population of 4,118. Its location at the junction of the Union Pacific, Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific, and the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railways makes it an important shipping point, and large quantities of grain, live stock, etc., are annually exported. The city has two banks, an international money order postoffice from which emanate seven rural delivery routes, unsurpassed express, telegraph and telephone facilities, a modern electric lighting plant, a fine system of waterworks, a fire department, a Carnegie library and a well appointed opera house.
Mount St. Joseph Academy is located here, which supplements the excellent public school system and affords ample educational opportunities. The manufactures include flour mills, creameries, foundries, an organ factory, planing mills, cigar, carriage and ice factories, etc. The press is well represented by two daily and four weekly newspapers, the Implement Dealers' Bulletin (monthly), and the Kansas State Sunday School journal (also monthly).
Abilene is located along I-70, Kansas' main east west highway, at 38°55'11N, 97°13'2W (38.919721, -97.217329). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 10.7 km² (4.1 mi²), all land.
Abilene's sister city is Minori, Japan.
Eisenhower Presidential Center and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum
Lebold Mansion, National Register Property listed in 1973. Built in 1880 in the Italianate Tuscan villa style. Today this decorative arts museum is home to one of the finest collections of American Victorian antiques and artifacts.
Greyhound Hall of Fame
Old Abilene Town and Museum - A replica of a part of old Abilene.
Seelye Mansion and Museum - A Georgian style mansion built in 1905 at a cost of $55,000. The 25 room mansion contains the original furniture and Edison light fixtures. The Patent Medicine Museum contains many artifacts of the A.B. Seelye Medical Company.
Heritage Center of Dickinson County - Two museums including the Historical Museum and the Museum of Independent Telephony. The Museum of Independent Telephony tells the story of C.L. Brown, whose independent Brown Telephone Company grew to become the telecommunications company known today as Sprint Nextel Corporation.
Over the course of a year, temperatures range from an average low below 20°F in January to an average high of nearly 95°F in July. The maximum temperature reaches 90°F an average of 67 days per year and reaches 100°F an average of 14 days per year. The minimum temperature falls below the freezing point (32°F) an average of 117 days per year. Typically the first fall freeze occurs between the last week of September and the first week of November, and the last spring freeze occurs during April or the first week of May.
The area receives nearly 33 inches of precipitation during an average year with the largest share being received in May and June—which when combined average 20 days of measurable precipitation. During a typical year the total amount of precipitation may be anywhere from 22 to 44 inches. There are on average 79 days of measurable precipitation per year. Winter snowfall averages about 14 inches, but the median is less than 10 inches. Measurable snowfall occurs an average of 7 days per year with at least an inch of snow being received on five of those days. Snow depth of at least an inch occurs an average of 11 days per year.
As of the census of 2000, there were 6,543 people, 2,836 households, and 1,772 families residing in the city. The population density was 611.7/km² (1,584.7/mi²). There were 3,104 housing units at an average density of 290.2/km² (751.8/mi²). The racial makeup of the city was 95.52% White, 1.01% African American, 0.52% Native American, 0.38% Asian, 0.96% from other races, and 1.60% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.72% of the population.
There were 2,836 households out of which 29.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 50.5% were married couples living together, 9.0% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.5% were non-families. 34.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 17.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.27 and the average family size was 2.90.
In the city the population was spread out with 24.7% under the age of 18, 7.0% from 18 to 24, 26.5% from 25 to 44, 21.7% from 45 to 64, and 20.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 89.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.4 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $33,778, and the median income for a family was $46,052. Males had a median income of $31,971 versus $17,361 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,356. About 4.8% of families and 7.3% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.2% of those under age 18 and 14.9% of those age 65 or over.
Noted Residents (past and present)
C. Olin Ball, food safety pioneer
Joseph R. Burton, United States Senator
David Jacob Eisenhower, engineer and father of Dwight D. and Milton S. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States
Milton S. Eisenhower, Brother of Dwight D. Eisenhower, noted academic and university president
James Butler Hickok (better known as "Wild Bill" Hickok), Marshall and legendary figure in the American Wild West
John Wesley Hardin, American Wild West outlaw
Deane Waldo Malott, American academic and administrator and 6th president of Cornell University
Joseph McCoy, 19th century cattle baron and origin of the phrase "The Real McCoy"
Luke Short, American Wild West gunslinger
Ben Thompson, American Wild West saloon keeper and noted figure