A New School in a New Town

On February 18, 1891 Abilene Baptist College was officially chartered.

Hardin-Simmons University has gone through a handful of name changes over its 125 years (read about that here), and its first  name was Abilene Baptist College.

The fact that this school was opened in 1891 is a huge testament to the people and priorities of this area.

The city of Abilene was incorporated in 1883, just 8 years before this school was established.

That means eight years before the school was opened, there was no city of Abilene.

Let that sink in for a few moments.

Taylor County, the county in which Abilene resides, was organized in 1878. By this year, the Native American population had been driven out, white cattlemen ran their herds across the land, and Buffalo Gap was named county seat. The town of Abilene did not exist yet.

1880 Land Survey of Taylor County

This was cow country: no paved roads, simple houses made from local rock or reused wood (lumber was in scarce supply), and more cattle than man.

Fast forward to 1880 and we find the Texas and Pacific Railroad beginning to expand its tracks westward. A local group of cattlemen and landowners from Taylor County petitioned the railroad lay its tracks and build a station in Taylor County. These cattlemen knew that if a rail line ran through their land they would prosper immensely for multiple reasons:

  1. They would make money either leasing or selling their land to the railroad to lay track
  2. They would make money moving their cattle north on the railroad, rather than on foot
  3. They would have access to more and better goods transported via train
  4. The population (of people and basic goods) of the area would grow, building up the county and its economy
Map of Taylor County with railroad

And so in January 1881 the railroad was laid just north of Buffalo Gap, and with it, the money, people, and goods came streaming in.

The land where the railroad came through was named Abilene, after the successful cow market and rail station in Abilene, KS.

Abilene began as a tent town. Just think, the train brought in a sudden influx of people to a land where there weren’t houses to purchase, no lumber shops to buy building supplies, and no official land lines to know who owned what property.

That is until March 15, 1881.

On March 15, 1881, Abilene held a town lot sale: an auction, essentially, where new community members had the ability to purchase different lots in town. An estimated 2,000 people gathered for the sale and at the end of the day, 178 lots were sold for a total of $27,550.

Shortly after the sale ended, the trains came in, hauling building supplies and other goods to turn Abilene from a tent town into a state of the art city.

Ten years later, the citizens of this new town saw the need to establish a Christian college.

Old Main001
1891, Old Main- the first building on campus

Pretty fascinating, right? In what feels like the blink of an eye, Abilene grew out of dust and rail, leading to the development of the college we now refer to as Hardin-Simmons University.

Quick Timeline Recap:

1878: Taylor County organized

1880: T & P Railroad agrees to lay track in Taylor County, just north of Buffalo Gap. The train stop is called Abilene, named after the cattle town Abilene, Kansas.

1881 (January): Railroad is opened, bringing new inhabitants

1881 (February): Abilene Post Office opens

1881 (March): Town lot sale

1883: The city of Abilene is incorporated

1891: Abilene Baptist College is chartered




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