Trails and Treasures Home Page  Road Trips  Across America 2004

Abilene, Kansas

Abilene was the first terminus of the Chisholm Trail as a cattle trail and thus the first cowtown in Kansas.  Approximately 75,000 head of cattle were driven north from Texas to Abilene in 1868 after Joseph McCoy, a Chicago cattle dealer, negotiated cheaper rates with the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, built new holding pens, and sent circulars south promoting Abilene as a better place to sell their cattle.  The next year 350,000 head arrived in Abilene.  By the time the majority of the trade moved on to Ellsworth in 1871-72 more than 3 million head of cattle had been driven from Texas to Abilene.

With the arrival of the cowboys came general mayhem and lawlessness.  After the town incorporated in 1869, Tom Smith became the first town marshal.  After his murder in 1870, Wild Bill Hickock was recruited for the job, and in 1871 he evicted John Wesley Hardin from Abilene before leaving himself.

Abilene went back to being a quiet, though now prosperous, farming community thanks to the planting of winter wheat.  The town attracted entrepreneurs such as C. H. Lebold and A. B. Seelye.  Conrad Lebold, a banker and real estate speculator, built a grand Italianate-style home on the southwest edge of town in 1880.  Seelye, a purveyor of patent medicines beginning in 1890, built an even grander Georgian-style home in 1904.  Both of these homes can be visited today.

The Lebold Mansion cost $18,000 to build in 1880.  When Lebold went bankrupt nine years after building the home, the house was bought by George Sterl.  Later the house was turned into a dormitory for single women telephone operators and then later during the 1930s, an orphanage.  It is being restored in the high Victorian style by Gary Yuschalk and Larkin Mayo who bought it via the internet.

The Seelye Mansion cost $55,000 to build and even more than that to furnish it in 1904.  To build it, Seelye tore down his 20-year-old Queen Anne Victorian that had just been redecorated in 1900.  In designing and furnishing their new home, the Seelyes bought Edison light fixtures and numerous other items at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.  The house has 25 rooms including 11 bedrooms, four bathrooms, a ballroom, and bowling alley.  While the house was redecorated once in the 1920s when the ceiling friezes and stenciling were removed, most of the original furnishings and light fixtures remain.  The current owner, Terry Tietjens, bought the home from Seelye's daughters Marion and Helen, who lived there until their deaths in 1988 and 1992.

Among the Seelye girls' high school classmates were some of the Eisenhower boys.  At the time, these boys who would later go on to become a banker, lawyer, druggist, engineer, college president, and President of the United States were from the other side of the tracks, and assuredly not good enough for the Seelye girls.  Today most visitors come to Abilene not to visit the old cattle town or to walk through the stately Seelye mansion, but rather to visit the Eisenhower Center.  The Center includes a visitor center, museum, library, the home Ike grew up in, and the Place of Meditation, where he is buried. 

 

Geocaches: Texas Cattle Trail and I Like Ike.