When the Great American Frontier was still largely undiscovered by the white man, tent communities and makeshift villages would pop up one day often to be gone the next, following herds of buffalo as they roamed and were hunted across the plains and into the great Southwest.
A few of those boom towns – like Buffalo Gap – survived the changing face of the prairie as progress slowly washed over the fledging nation from the East coast to the West. Few, however, have survived to modern times.
Buffalo Gap Historic Village
The Buffalo Gap Historic Village near Abilene is an historic gem of living history, a frontier boom town that tells the story of how life developed on the American frontier. A reconstructed township consisting of both original historic structures and imported historic structures from across the region, and located exactly where the original town was built.
And a visit to the site nets a lot more than a glimpse into history, but visitors get the chance to feel it and breath it and taste it through the ongoing living history programs of the Grady McWhiney Research Foundation, owners and operators of the historic site.
HISTORY of Buffalo Gap
It was a wild and fertile land around where Abilene was later developed, full of roaming Comanche and large herds of buffalo. In ancient days, great herds of buffalo favored this gap in the Callahan Divide, a few miles south of present-day Abilene, and it soon became a favored camping place for native peoples. As settlement approached, U.S. soldiers patrolled and skirmished in the area. Hide hunters and cattlemen arrived in the 1870s.
After the Indians and the buffalo passed into history, settlers came to the gap, drawn to its abundant water and good grazing. A new town called Buffalo Gap arose, the first capital of Taylor County. A county courthouse, a two-story limestone structure combining a courtroom and a jail, was completed in 1879. In the following years, the face of the area changed rapidly. Soon, steel rails criss-crossed the once-wild land, horsepower no longer meant horse-drawn wagons, and motor cars churned up dust once trod by shaggy bison and Indian ponies. The county seat was moved to the new city of Abilene in 1883.
Buffalo Gap Historic Village originated as a historical site in 1956. Ernest Walter (Ernie) Wilson purchased the courthouse building and established a small historical museum of Indian and Western artifacts.
The site was purchased by Dr. R. Lee Rode and his wife, Ann. After taking ownership in 1977, the Rodes continued to expand the site by acquiring more historic structures from the area. When Rode retired from the medical profession in 1999, the Village was offered for sale. Thanks to the assistance of the Taylor County Historical Foundation, the Village was kept intact and acquired by the Foundation to be operated as a non-profit educational facility.
Now the facility represents a major tourist draw to the region with planned events year round. Visitors can stroll around and through the town’s dozen buildings, each housing a form of living history, from a frontier weapons and arrowhead exhibit in the Courthouse Museum, an exhibit of medical instruments, a maps collection, Model T exhibits and a tour of the circa 1925 two-room school house.
You can’t leave the site without visiting the Texas History Store where you can pick up memorabilia or just browse through their interesting collection of history-related products.
If you’re traveling from a distance and need overnight lodging, a pair of quality bed & breakfast lodges can offer up “Big Country” hospitality. Abilene State Park is nearby and Abilene proper is just eight miles up the road. And don’t leave the Village area without a visit to a Texas standard, the Perini Ranch Steak House.
Nearby attractions include the Grace Museum is always worth a visit; it has a permanent display on West Texas history and the Texas and Pacific Railroad as well as frequent special exhibitions. Practically around the corner from The Grace are several other noteworthy structures: the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, the Center for Contemporary Arts, and the museum of the 12th Armored Division. If you want a break from history and culture, a few minutes’ drive brings you to the Abilene Zoo on the eastern edge of town.
We’re located 14 miles south of Abilene on State Highway 89 (Buffalo Gap Road in Abilene), in the middle of the scenic town of Buffalo Gap. If you’re driving in from the Dallas – Fort Worth area, just get on Interstate 20 and head west. When you get to Abilene, take Loop 322 south to the Buffalo Gap Road exit. If you’re coming from Midland or Odessa, do the same thing except head east; and when you reach Abilene, follow Loop 83/84 south to the Buffalo Gap Road offramp. Once you’re on Buffalo Gap Road, just continue south, past the Abilene Mall and the city limits. When you start seeing speed signs telling you to slow down, you’ll know you’re on the edge of the town of Buffalo Gap. Turn right on Elm – then go two blocks.