Visiting Abilene, Kansas
Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said he was most proud of the fact that Abilene, Kansas was his hometown. After paying it a visit, I see exactly where he was coming from.
There seems to be no end to the attractions in this small town of 6,800 or so folks. And the center of it all is five-building Eisenhower Center. The complex is a marvelous place to immerse yourself in the life of this American hero (call 1-785/263-4751 or visit www.dwightdeisenhower.com ).
All the buildings were built out of native Kansas limestone--very impressive. The center includes the house where the famous general grew up and the Eisenhower Museum, which features more than 36,000 artifacts, ranging from personal items to Ike's 1942 Cadillac military staff car. You can easily spend hours browsing here.
Greet the Greyhounds
But there's more to Abilene than the Eisenhower Center. Across the street, the Greyhound Hall of Fame details the 5,000-year history of these sleek racing dogs (1-785/263-4660).
I was surprised to learn that Abilene is the Greyhound Capital of the United States; the dogs were brought here in large numbers in the early 1900s to hunt coyotes. The day I visited the museum, two of these gentle dogs met me at the door.
There's also the Heritage Center of Dickinson County (1-785/263-2681 or www.heritagecenterdk.com ). Located just east of the Eisenhower Center, it preserves Abilene's colorful cattle-town roots, including the wild days that tested lawman Wild Bill Hickock.
You see, in the mid-1800s, Abilene became a booming cow town at the end of the historic Chisholm Trail, and the railhead for shipping cattle east. Between 1867 and 1872, more than 3 million Texas longhorn cattle arrived here!
There's another attraction that's part of the Center: the Museum of Independent Telephony (1-785/263-2681 or www.mitmuseum.com ), which tells the story of C.L. Brown, an Abilene resident who founded the Brown Telephone Company in 1899. Talk about a success story--it's now telecommunications giant Sprint Corporation!
Kids and adults alike will enjoy the hand-carved 1901 Parker Carousel on the Center's grounds. The carousel was made here at the turn of the century by the C.W. Parker Amusement Company.
Mosey Through Museums
There's even more to see here, including some great old houses like the 25-room Seelye Mansion and Museum, built in 1905 by Dr. A.B. Seelye, a patented medicine entrepreneur, for a mere $55,000--what a bargain by today's standards! It even had its own bowling alley and still retains its original Edison light fixtures (1-785/263-1084 or www.seelyemansion.com.
During my visit, I also stopped in at the Vintage Fashion Museum, which chronicles fashions dating as far back as the 1860s, and the American Indian Art Center (1-785/263-0090), featuring Native American arts and crafts.For dining, I highly recommend the Kirby House (1-785/263-7336), located in an 1885 Victorian mansion. Its chicken-fried steak is coated with a flaky crust and covers a whole plate--it's the best in the state.
There's also the Brookville Hotel (1-785/263-2244 or www.brookvillehotel.com), which serves up the best fried chicken around (see page 18 of the May/June issue). Save room for the ice cream!
As if all this wasn't enough, the town also boasts a vintage railroad that'll take you on a ride back to yesteryear. Yes, the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad offers narrated 1-1/2-hour scenic excursions from Abilene to nearby Enterprise and back. (It runs Saturdays and Sundays in May, September and October, and Tuesday through Sunday from Memorial Day through Labor Day. 1-888/426-6687 or www.asvrr.org.)
So no matter what your interests, there's something to enjoy in Abilene. Come see why Ike was so proud of his hometown!
Before You Visit...Abilene is just south of I-70 (Exit 275) on State Highway 15 in central Kansas, about halfway between Salina and Manhattan. To learn more about the attractions mentioned in this story, call the Abilene Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-569-5915 or check out www.abilenecityhall.com.
More to See...Nearby Salina, about 25 miles west of Abilene where I-35 meets I-70, offers historic attractions and turn-of-the-century architecture. For details, consult www.salinakansas.org or call the Salina Chamber of Commerce at 1-785/827-9301.