Abilene, Kansas: Wild West to White House

Midwest Travel, USA Travel

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Abilene, Kansas, offers history buffs a timeline of experiences that begins in 1857 when Timothy and Elizabeth Hersey first settled on the banks of Mud Creek. Elizabeth named Abilene after references to Galilea, a region in the bible verse Luke 3:1.

In 1867, Abilene became the western end of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, where it met The Chisholm Trail. The town was the wild west in the truest sense, as cowboys herded cattle from Texas to Abilene and boarded them into railroad cars to ship them throughout the nation.

Welcome to Abilene Sign
Welcome to Abilene

Finally, although the town showcases the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home, a story that focuses on Eisenhower and his wife, Mamie, you’ll hear about the former President throughout the town. Almost every place I went, I heard a connection to Eisenhower. I’ve included those connections in the Eisenhower Fun Facts.

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Thank you to Visit Abilene for hosting my visit.

What to Do in Abilene, Kansas?

Old Abilene Town
Old Abilene Town

Explore Old Abilene Town

To get a sense of the wild west, my first stop was Old Abilene Town, a combination of replica and original buildings moved to the site that tells the story of the old west and the actual town from the cattle drive days. You’ll find over a dozen buildings in Old Abilene Town, everything from the Merchant’s Hotel, a blacksmith shop, and a saloon.

In 2021, True West Magazine named Old Abilene Town’s show the Best Wild West Show. You’ll witness gunfights and can-can dancers, and it will all take you back to the spirit of the old west.

Take the walking tour that starts in Old Abilene Town to the original town on Texas Street. The tour takes you in the footsteps of famous wild west icons that once lived and worked in Abilene like Tom “Bear River” Smith and Wild Bill Hickok. Old Abilene Town will give you a sense of the old west.

Abilene & Smokey Valley Railroad
Abilene & Smokey Valley Railroad

Ride the Abilene & Smokey Valley Railroad

You can ride the rails on the Abilene & Smokey Valley Railroad, where a 100-year-old steam engine pulls the train. You can have dinner on the train during one of their dinner tours. The railroad also offers the experience of an open-air car.

The train ride takes you to Hoffman Grist Mill, where Christian Hoffman began his first flour mill operation in 1869. They use Heritage Turkey Red Wheat milled on stone grinders, just as they did in the late 1800s. When you ride the train, you can explore the flour mill during the layover and purchase some flour to take home for your own baking. They’ll also ship it to your home. If you prefer, you can visit the mill by driving there, rather than via train.

Visit Dickinson County Heritage Center

History comes alive at the Dickinson County Heritage Center, so even those who aren’t history buffs will have fun with these immersive exhibits. A visit here is a way to step back in time and get a first-hand experience of what life was like for a pioneer family on the prairie. As I stepped into the one-room log cabin, it transported me back to when they heated the room with a wood-burning stove and lit it with kerosene lanterns.

History comes alive at the Dickinson County Heritage Center, so even those who aren’t history buffs will have fun with these interactive exhibits.

The Museum of Independent Telephony takes you back to a time before cell phones, where you can try your hand at being the operator at a party-line switchboard.

Take a few minutes to ride on the 1901 C. W. Parker Carousel, a National Historic Landmark and the only operating Parker carousel in existence.

Pet the Greyhound at the Greyhound Hall of Fame Museum

Greyhound Hall of Fame
Greyhound Hall of Fame

While the Greyhound Hall of Fame Museum is a fun stop due to the canine critters, like Ginger greeting you at the door, the museum continues this history theme. Did you know that greyhounds have a 4,000-year-old pedigree? Not sure what to expect, and in addition to learning about the best racing greyhounds in the business, I learned about the history of greyhound racing. Be sure to take the time to watch the introductory video, as it tells the story of a family traveling throughout the country racing greyhounds.

Fun Facts: They’ve clocked racing greyhounds at up to 45 miles per hour. In 1987, P’s Rambling sold for $500,000, the most money ever paid for a greyhound.

Tour Seelye Mansion

The Library at Seelye Mansion
The Library at Seelye Mansion Filled with First Editions

In 1890, Dr. Seelye founded the A. B. Seelye Medical Company. Today, we started our tour in Patent Medicine Museum, which was once the Seelye laboratory. The museum includes over 100 items, cure-alls to processed vanilla that the company sold throughout 14 states. The medicine company was how the Dr. made his fortune, which enabled him to build the mansion and set it up so grandly.

In 1905, Dr. and Mrs. A.B. Seelye built the 25-room, 11,000 square-foot, Georgian-style home for $50,000. Outfitted with items purchased at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, the furnishings cost more than the mansion. Today, the Seelye Mansion still has the original furniture in use as it did then. The home features 11 bedrooms, kitchen spaces, a ballroom, and a downstairs bowling alley. Take note of the Edison light fixtures and the Tiffany-designed fireplace in the grand hall. During special events, they still use the dining room set with Haviland china and glassware.

The Music room, furnished with gold French furniture, is stunning. If you enjoy music, you’ll be amazed at the music makers in the home. Terry Tietjens, our tour guide and the current homeowner, is also a talented musician. If you’re lucky, he’ll play a piece on the stunning Steinway mahogany grand piano. For us, he continued his concert on the organ.

One of my passions is reading, so the library at Seelye Mansion heightened the excitement. I could picture myself curled up on the overstuffed couch reading one of the library’s first editions.

Take time to tour the gardens where they have used the original 1905 landscape drawings to fully restore the fishpond and patio. Mrs. Seelye’s favorite flowers were lavender and roses, so you’ll see those throughout the garden.

Eisenhower Fun Fact: As a young boy, Ike delivered ice to the Seelye Mansion.

Learn History at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home

The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home is an entire 22-acre complex with a lot to take in. Begin by watching the orientation film at the Visitors Center, which provides context for the rest of the site. An excellent next stop is Eisenhower’s boyhood home, where the future five-star general and 34th President of the United States grew up with five brothers in a six-room house. You can take a guided tour of the home that still has its original furnishings. Then stop by the Eisenhower bronze statue, where you’ll have an opportunity for a selfie.

Next, tour the museum building, which features 25,000 square feet of all-new exhibits that opened in the summer of 2019. They upgraded the technology in the displays and made them more interactive, so it captures your attention. For example, here, you’ll learn about President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the first lady Mamie Doud Eisenhower. Then explore the Presidential library that includes videos to supplement the exhibits.

Finally, take time to pause at the Place of Meditation, the final resting place of President Eisenhower, his wife Mamie, and their son Doud.

If you enjoy history, you’ll learn a lot in the library and museum, and you’ll also find a lot of additional information about Ike and Mamie throughout town. Many venues mention a connection to Eisenhower. I visited the Eisenhower Park and Rose Garden, and while it was too early in the season for roses, I found an abundance of iris in bloom.

Where to Stay in Abilene, Kansas?

Engle House Bed & Breakfast

If you’re looking to continue the history theme, the Engle House Bed & Breakfast is where you’ll want to stay in your overnight accommodations. In his role as vice-president of a creamery, Jacob Engle was a prominent figure in the early 1900s in Abilene. Both David and Dwight Eisenhower worked for him at some point in their younger years.

My home away from home while in Abilene was the Lancaster Suite at the Engle House Bed & Breakfast. As a writer, it was the ideal place to get some work done. The desk was in its own nook just around the corner from the spacious bedroom that featured not only a queen bed but a standard size leather sofa.

Built by the same architect that built Seelye Mansion, The Engle House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is Heritage Home Certified.

Breakfast at Engle House Bed & Breakfast
Breakfast at Engle House Bed & Breakfast

Someone mentioned to me what a great cook Chris is, and they were so right. She served a sausage and egg casserole breakfast, a slice of warm cinnamon coffee cake, and a bounty of fresh fruit.

For those who enjoy the history behind homes built before 1930, pick up one of the booklets you’ll find around town entitled Abilene: Little Town of Mansions. This leaflet, published by the Heritage Homes Association, provides a brief description of over 100 heritage homes, along with a map. Those marked in red are on the National Register of Historic Places. You’ll also find Engle House Bed & Breakfast in this booklet.

Eisenhower Fun Fact: Jacob Engle, a school board member, signed Eisenhower’s high school diploma.

Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites

If you prefer a hotel to a bed and breakfast, the Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites is an excellent option that allows you to collect some IHG frequent stay points during your visit.

Where to Eat in Abilene, Kansas?

Hitching Post Restaurant & Saloon

I had lunch at the diner-style Hitching Post Restaurant & Saloon, but they also serve breakfast and, on some evenings, a steakhouse dinner. So if you’re looking for a home-cooked meal but are traveling, this is the place to go. Their menu features salads, sandwiches, and burgers, in addition to home-style entrées like meatloaf and fried chicken. Save room for a piece of house-made pie for dessert.

Mr. K.’s Farmhouse

Petit Filet and Loaded Baked Potato at Mr. K.'s Farmhouse
Petit Filet and Loaded Baked Potato at Mr. K.’s Farmhouse

One of my favorite restaurants, it turns out, was one of Ike’s favorites too. When Eisenhower ate at the farmhouse on the hill, they called it Lena’s. Today, Mr. K.’s Farmhouse still remembers our 34th President, with the framed newspaper headlining his election, “Ike Wins.”

Located on old US-40, west of Abilene, the restaurant offers various dishes, from entrée sized salads to burgers and chicken. I had a bacon-wrapped petite filet that came with a loaded baked potato, side salad, and house-made rolls. I must admit, I had a piece of house-made chocolate pie here too, and I didn’t regret it.

A tradition at Mr. K’s Farmhouse, a holdover from Lena’s, is that you’ll receive a paddling on your birthday. It brought back memories where this happened in jest at school, where the birthday kid walked through a row of classmates, and each had an opportunity to slap the birthday celebrant on the bottom. In addition to the paddling at Mr. K’s Farmhouse, the birthday person also gets a complimentary piece of pie or ice cream.

Eisenhower Fun Fact: Eisenhower received a paddling to celebrate his 75th birthday, and the signed paddle hangs on the wall today.

Russell Stover Chocolates

Russell Stover has quite a history too. They’ve been around since 1923 when Clara and Russell Stover started making candy in their Denver bungalow home. In 2002, the American Culinary Institute awarded Russell Stover Candies six Gold Taste Awards. These awards included America’s best-tasting toffee, fudge, truffles, chocolate-covered cherries, nut bars, and sugar-free chocolates. Being from Michigan, I want to mention they use Michigan cherries in their chocolate-covered cherries. So stop and purchase some chocolate for a treat or have an ice cream sundae as a snack on a hot afternoon.

Piper’s Pro Planning: Restaurants may be closed on Monday. Plan by calling ahead.

Getting There

Abilene, Kansas, is in the Central time zone and is in Dickinson County, where Abilene is the county seat.

The closest airport to fly into is Manhattan, Kansas. American Airlines (American Eagle) serves Manhattan Regional Airport (MHK).

How far is Abilene from these towns?

CityDistance
Denver, Colorado454 miles
Dallas, Texas454 miles
Kansas City, Kansas150 miles
Lansing, Michigan877 miles
Lincoln, Nebraska155 miles
St. Louis, Missouri398 miles
Wichita, Kansas93 miles
Driving Distance from Abilene, Kansas to Other Cities

Getting Around

The best way to get around Abilene is by car. If you fly in, you’ll want to rent a car.

Want more information on Midwest Road Trips, including Roxie on the Road’s four favorite Kansas road trips?

To learn more about road trips in each of the 12 Midwest states, including Kansas, check out the new travel anthology titled Midwest Road Trip Adventures. Retailing for $19.95, you can find it in stores across the Midwest. The authors who penned the collection live and work in the states they cover connected as members of The Midwest Travel Network, a consortium of writers and bloggers specializing in the region.

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    10 Comments

    1. Sage Scott

      I LOVE Abilene, ks. SUCH a great town! the gorgeous victorian architecture, the seelye mansion, the history. One of my favorite small towns in the sunflower state!

      Reply
    2. Cassandra

      Abilene looks really lovely! i love a good walking tour, and who doesn’t love a ride on a 100 year old steam train!

      Reply
    3. Ilene

      Wow- great post with great INFORMATION. Thank you for sharing.

      Reply
      • Piper

        Thank you! I hope it will entice you to visit Abilene.

        Reply
    4. Carrie Ann

      I’ve never been to this part of Kansas, but Abilene sounds wonderful with all its history! I’d love to experience the wild West SHow in Old Abilene Town – I bet it’s a great time.

      Reply
    5. Michelle

      This looks like a cute wild west town. Where is the old Abilene town show? Is it right in the middle of the old town?

      Reply
    6. Tanya

      I hAD no idea abilene was so full of HISTORY! Thanks for shaRing!

      Reply
    7. Christine

      Who doesnt love a good historical walking tour. Looks like an interesting place to go for a quiet weekend.

      Reply

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    Welcome to Follow the Piper! Discover interesting destinations, and practical planning tips for packing more travel into your everyday life.

    Our founder and author, Amy Piper, is a freelance travel writer, blogger, photographer, and author specializing in luxury and multi-generational travel. She is a native Michigander who travels through the lens of a food lover and has been to 41 countries and 45 states.

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