Welcome to the Abilene and Taylor County, Texas History Website
This site is dedicated to the history and stories of Abilene and Taylor County, Texas and the surrounding area. Here you will find stories about the history of the area, the people that made that history and the impact these people had on present day Abilene and Taylor County, Texas.
Join us and learn a little about this small and interesting part of Texas.
March 8th, 2007
Thank you for spending time on these pages and for your interest in Abilene, Taylor County and the surrounding area. I hope you find this site to be informative and interesting.
Abilene and Taylor County, Texas History
The land on this site, Lot 9, Block 3 of the original town plat of Albany, was purchased in 1882 by noted local restauranteur Charles Hatfield. He planned to build a restaurant next door, and the pending establishment was much anticipated by local diners. Shortly before his death in 1884, Hartfield sold the lot to Alabama business Max Blach. Blach was Vice President of the Albany Water Company. He and partner N.H. Burns brought a system of running water to the town in 1884.
Blach began construction on this one-story native stone structure in March 1884. The building was completed in April and leased to J.R. Davis, who put it to its most infamous use. The White Elephant Saloon opened for business on May 1, 1884. Among its instantly popular features was a white elephant display which was removed from the rooftop early in the establishment’s heyday. The perpetrators were believed to be citizens who disapproved of the saloon’s raucous business.
Despite its popularity, Davis announced his intent to close the saloon in February 1886. The Blach building soon was leased to W.M. Wigley, who operated a dry goods and furniture store on this site. Succeeding furniture businesses occupied the building for many years.
Blach’s heirs sold the structure to S.C. Coffee in 1919. Coffee sold it in 1923 to T.J. Crow, who conveyed it to Albany businessman L.H. Hill (1859-1932) in 1935. The structure was used for various purposes over the years: it was the home of The Albany News in the 1940′s and was the workshop and office of a pipe organ maker in the 1950′s and 1960′s. The Hill family maintained ownership of the edifice until 1977.
(From the Texas Historical Commission sign on the property)
Loretta Fulton: 2013 Perini award Winner
March 8th, 2013
An Abilene author & journalist is being honored with the Taylor County Historical Commission’s highest award. Loretta Fulton is the recipient of the 2013 Maxine Perini Award. Ms. Fulton was recognized Thursday night, March 7th during the 19th annual Perini Award Dinner at the Elks Building downtown.
This annual award honors a person who has made outstanding contributions to Taylor County in the preservation of its history and the promotion of historical events. The award is named for one of the Taylor County Historical Commission’s most tireless workers for local historical preservation, the late Maxine Perini of Buffalo Gap.
Fulton moved to Abilene in September, 1969 to work at the Abilene Reporter-News, having received her Bachelor of Journalism degree earlier that year from the University of Texas at Austin. She spent most of her journalistic career there, with stints as the reporter for religion and higher education, as well as City Editor on her resume. She retired from the paper in 2007, but still free-lances for them, as well as for many other publications.
The writing bug has not limited its bite to journalism –Fulton has several books to her credit, as either author or editor. Her latest is a biography of Abilene’s first woman doctor, Dr. Virginia Connally, Virginia Connally, M. D.; Trailblazing Physician, Woman of Faith. Her latest projects include attempting to collect the stories of as many Abilene area Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots, as possible to put into a book tentatively titled Flying High.
Fulton is a long-time member of the Abilene Community Band.
Flying High by Loretta Fulton
January 5th, 2013
In the 1950s, women pilots were still a rarity. An international organization of women pilots, the Ninety-Nines, Inc., with Amelia Earhart as the first elected president, had formed in 1929. By the time the United States entered World War II, women pilots had earned enough recognition and respect that they formed their own branch of service, Women Airforce Service Pilots, who trained at Avenger Field near Sweetwater.
But even with that history, it was rare to see a woman flying solo in the 1950s. That’s why the stories of a group of Abilene women who dared to buck the trend are significant. The women didn’t see themselves as trailblazers or pioneers. They just wanted to fly—and did.
Abilene freelance writer and author Loretta Fulton is attempting to collect the stories of as many Abilene area Ninety-Nines as possible to put into a book. The first local chapter of the Ninety-Nines eventually dissolved but was followed by a second in the 1980s.
Anyone who would like to be included in this project, or anyone who knows of former local and area members of the Ninety-Nines, is asked to contact Fulton, firstname.lastname@example.org or 325-669-9006.
The Ninety-Nines organization originated November 2, 1929, at Curtiss Field on Long Island, New York. At the time, 117 women in the United States held a pilot’s license. All were invited to the organizational meeting but not all attended.
Louise Thaden was elected secretary and is credited with keeping the group together until 1931, when Amelia Earhart was elected as the first president and the group was named for the 99 charter members.
Today, the Ninety-Nines is an international organization of licensed women pilots from 35 countries. The international headquarters and museum are located in a two-story building on the grounds of the Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. For more information on the Ninety-Nines, Inc., go to www.ninety-nines.org.
OFF THEY WENT
“Did you fly that plane in here?”
It was a question asked over and over of women pilots back in the day before they were accepted as equals to their male counterparts. Even in 1957, when a group of Abilene women received their charter for a chapter of the Ninety-Nines, Inc., an international organization for women pilots, stares were commonplace.
The puzzled looks were somewhat understandable considering how the women likely were dressed when they stepped out of the cockpit. Instead of something sensible like a flight suit, women pilots of the 1950s dressed like women dressed almost every day in the 1950s—to the nines.
It wasn’t unusual to see a woman at the controls of her airplane wearing a tailored suit, heels, nylons, hat, and gloves. A photo from a 1959 edition of the Abilene Reporter-News showed a local member of the Ninety-Nines, Margaret Childs, in the cockpit dressed to the nines, topped by an elegant fur stole.
“Sunday best” attire, even for daily routines, was common for women of the day for good reason. Two of the most popular shows on television in the 1950s were Queen for a Day and Father Knows Best. The women in those shows also dressed to the nines.
In the first, women vied for the opportunity to win a new household appliance or exotic vacation trip, with the winner being adorned with a queen’s robe, crown, and roses. In the second, an attractively dressed Jane Wyatt presented the face of the ideal American woman, whose life revolved around her equally attractive TV husband, Robert Young, and three children.
Many of the women pilots of the day lived the Father Knows Best life at home, but with a little something extra. Whether for practical reasons or just to give it a go, they decided to venture away from the traditional and take to the skies.
In Abilene, those women represented varied backgrounds. Some were wives of men who flew for business purposes. In case of an emergency, the wife wisely believed it would be good to know how to land the plane.
Others included a lawyer, journalist, business owner, and even the first woman in Taylor County to hold an embalmer’s license and fly an air ambulance.
Following are the stories of nine of the charter members of the Abilene Chapter of the Ninety-Nines, Inc. The original chapter eventually faded as the women gave up flying. But other women pilots who followed them formed a subsequent chapter. Their stories will be added to the website as they are completed.
The original group made history on December 6, 1957, when they received their official charter from the Ninety-Nines, Inc. Five of the women pilots—the minimum number required to form a chapter—had met in October 1956 but it took just over a year for them to be officially recognized with a charter.
The originals featured here—and offices they held—are:
- Ruby Caldwell (now Ruby Kinard), president
- Ann Nell Hooks, vice president
- Beverly Tarpley, secretary-treasurer
- Maxine Elam, newsletter chairwoman
- Jo Ann Elliott (later Hamil)
- Patty Taliaferro
- Amber Cree
- Margaret Childs
- Mozelle Scarborough
As of 2012, several of those women were still living in Abilene and shared their stories for this project. Those included Ruby Kinard, Beverly Tarpley, Amber Cree, and Patty Taliaferro. Others are deceased, but a relative gladly shared recollections of those heady days.
Sharing those remembrances were Charles Scarborough (son of Mozelle Scarborough), Sharon Knaus (daughter of Ann Nell Hooks), Richard Elam (husband of Maxine Elam), Roxy Childs-Cox (daughter of Margaret Childs), and Angela Hamil-Willis (daughter of Jo Ann Elliott Hamil).
Just like today, the weather was a factor the day the original bunch of women pilots met for a luncheon in Abilene to receive their charter. A write-up in the Abilene Reporter-News on Sunday, December 8, 1957, two days after the luncheon, noted that the charter presentation didn’t actually take place during the luncheon but was held later in the afternoon.
The reason? The weather. According to the article, Broneta Davis of Minco, Okla., president of the international organization at the time, was to present the charter but was delayed because of weather. The luncheon went on as planned.
“The women pilots enjoyed their luncheon, did a lot of ‘hangar flying’ (talked about flying) and waited and wondered,” the story related.
Davis eventually arrived mid-afternoon. According to the story, “Mrs. Davis enjoyed a quick snack at the airport and then made a quick dash into Abilene to complete her mission.”
The infamous West Texas weather may have caused a slight delay for the first batch of Abilene women who formed a Ninety-Nines chapter. But, the same force of nature proved to be a plus in the long run.
According to the story in the Reporter-News, the women said Abilene was the perfect place to learn to fly. Their reasoning, according to the story: “Wind and weather conditions are so difficult that if you can learn to fly here you can fly anywhere and under any conditions.”
Notice came quickly to the local women pilots even before they officially were recognized as a chapter by the Ninety-Nines, Inc. The first women who met in October 1956 to start the charter process were featured in a large Sunday spread in the Abilene Reporter-News on January 20, 1957.
And, in March 1958, just three months after receiving their charter, the local pilots were featured in a story in Pilot, the magazine of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. The same magazine caught up with some of those charter members exactly fifty years later, March 2008, for another story and photos.
A photo in both the 1958 and 2008 issues showed six of the local pilots standing beside a plane. The photo was from the San Antonio Express-News. The caption began with the words, “Off for a cross-country party.” The six women pictured were Maxine Elam, Patty Taliaferro, Amber Cree, Ann Nell Hooks, Margaret Childs, and Ruby Caldwell.
The headline on the story read, “The Ladies Fly to Breakfast.” The first sentence stated, “Wouldn’t you guess it? They’re Texans.”
The story noted how pretty the Abilene pilots were—and how adventurous. According to the article, “Every month the group gathers for a collective flight from Abilene to another city. Maybe it’s just a flight down the river for a swim. Maybe it’s cross-country to San Antonio for breakfast.”
Those monthly getaways were fun and served as bonding experiences for the women pilots. But flying wasn’t all fun and games for the ladies. Some of the women were married to local businessmen who also had a pilot’s license. They wanted to be licensed, too, so they could land the plane in case of emergency or could fly solo on business trips.
Mozelle Scarborough’s son, Charles, who provided information on his late mother for this project, recalled her comments when she decided to learn to fly. Mozelle’s husband, the late Davis Scarborough, was a pilot and used his plane in his legal practice as well as for pleasure trips.
Charles recalled the motivating factor behind Mozelle’s decision to learn to fly. She might one day be the sole passenger in the plane with her husband.
“If he has a heart attack,” Mozelle had said, “I need to learn how to land this plane.”
Another of the pilots, Beverly Tarpley, not only was a charter member of the local chapter of Ninety-Nines, she also distinguished herself in school and in the practice of law. She had entered the University of Texas at the unusually young age of fifteen and was the only woman to graduate from UT’s law school in the Class of 1951 at age twenty-one.
Beverly was fortunate to be offered a position with a law firm in Abilene that not only supported women attorneys but also women pilots. The firm was founded by Dallas Scarborough, father of Davis Scarborough, and also included a third attorney, J.R. Black Jr.
About two years after Beverly joined the firm, another attorney, John Crutchfield, was hired. Since the law firm served clients in a 250-mile radius of Abilene, flying was almost a necessity.
When the firm hired Crutchfield, the partners wanted him to take flying lessons to help serve the widespread clientele. That offer wasn’t lost on Beverly. She wanted to learn, too, and got the chance.
After getting her license, Beverly flew on business trips for the law firm and also for fun, like many of the local Ninety-Nines.
When the women weren’t in the air, they might have been found on a runway or on top of a building with paintbrush in hand.
Like other Ninety-Nines across the country, the local women took it upon themselves to paint a compass rose on an airport runway or the name of a town on top of a large building to aid pilots.
Even after all these years, Beverly recalled helping paint “Tuscola” on top of the Jim Ned High School gym. She doesn’t remember all the details, but one still stands out.
“I just remember it was curved roofing,” Beverly said.
As recently as October 2011, a new compass rose was painted on a runway at Abilene Regional Airport. Local and area members of the Ninety-Nines painted the new compass rose to replace one that had been covered up during renovations.
The compass rose shows true north so that a pilot can calibrate instruments by parking the plane on it. Don Green, director of aviation at Abilene Regional Airport, said pilots still sometimes use the compass rose today even with modern technology.
Most of the local members of the first Abilene chapter of the Ninety-Nines flew by visual flight rules and did not use instruments. They relied on air markings, good sense, and steely nerves.
To this day, the surviving members of the original chapter don’t see themselves as a curiosity or a pathfinder. As one of women, Amber Cree, said, they may have been an oddity to outsiders but not to each other. They were just pilots—not “women pilots.”
“That’s what we did,” Amber said. “We didn’t know the difference.”
New Book from Jack North, “Lost Abilene”
February 7th, 2013
This article courtesy of Loretta Fulton
A Carnegie Library and a school building that resembled a country estate are among the magnificent structures lost to present-day Abilenians. Many of those old buildings, plus a few still standing, are featured in Jack North’s latest pictorial book of Abilene history titled, “Lost Abilene.”
This is North’s second book published by Arcadia Publishing, which produces local history photo books. His first book was titled, “Early Abilene.”
A book signing for “Lost Abilene” will be held 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at Texas Star Trading Co., 174 Cypress St.
North, owner of North’s Funeral Home and a member of the Taylor County Historical Commission, has put together a collection of photos that will make present-day residents of Abilene want to cry. “Most everything in there is not here anymore,” North said.
“Lost Abilene” is aptly named. Abilene lost much of its history and beauty with the destruction of those buildings. The Carnegie Library, shown on page 43, was built in 1909 at North 2nd and Cedar streets. It was razed in the 1950s. “Many visitors who came here remember the strict noise policies from their first library visit,” the caption reads. Pictured on page 88 is Abilene’s first high school, a stately building located at South 1st and Peach streets. The picture was taken in 1928, not long before it was torn down.
Visitors to Abilene may have thought they were on the grounds of an English country estate at first glimpse. Abilene’s third high school, which most recently was Lincoln Middle School on North 1st Street, was built behind the first building.
North’s book mostly features buildings lost to time and the wrecking ball. But it also contains photos of some still standing—and improved upon. The Henry Sayles house on Sayles Boulevard has been much improved since the photo featured in the book. The house now is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In his acknowledgements, North thanks early day Abilenians who had the foresight to capture some of those magnificent structures on film before they became part of “Lost Abilene.” “They probably did not even think about preserving history through their photographs,” North wrote, “when they took them and put them in a drawer or album.”
What: Jack North will sign copies of his new book, “Lost Abilene.”
When: 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 9
Where: Texas Star Trading Co., 174 Cypress St.
Details: North’s book is a collection of photos of long-ago buildings that no longer exist in Abilene such as the Carnegie Library. The book was published by Arcadia Publishing, which produces local history photo books.
Book signing 3-6 p.m. Feb. 16 at Hastings
Monthly Meeting of the Taylor County Historical Commission – Feb 7th, 2013
abilenet February 5th, 2013
The regular monthly meeting for the Taylor County Historical Commission will meet at Wesley Court on February 7 at 6 P.M. in the Library.
Agenda for February 7 meeting
Perini Award Dinner – March 7 at Elks Building
Program, decorations, and meal will be announced later
Mulberry Canyon and Cornelia Fort markers – update
Bankhead Highway sign – $20
Research on Women Pilots by Loretta Fulton
Jack North’s new book Lost Abilene – Released Jan. 28
Health update of members
THC yearly report – Anita Lane
A Little Help With an Image – Nubia, Texas?
abilenet August 4th, 2012
A gentleman from Early, Texas has a photo he would like to have verified as being shot in Nubia, Texas. The picture is believe to have been taken in front of the Nubia Store sometime around the turn of the 20th century or before.
This picture is a closeup of the wider image above. The elderly gentlemen with the white beard might be a man named John Moore. Here is a quote from the person that submitted the photo:
My great-great-grandfather, John Moore (1815-1896) died at his home in Mulberry Canyon on 7 Jan 1896. He is buried in White Church Cemetery, not far from Mulberry Canyon. I have a photo of John Moore, likely taken in the 1890s. One of the men in the Nubia photo (2nd row, man with full white beard, dark coat, light hat) looks very much like the picture I have of John Moore.
If you recognize this photo or anyone in it, please leave a comment here and I’ll pass the information along.
Taylor County Historial Commission Honored by State Historical Commission
abilenet July 17th, 2012
Receives award second year in a row
By Garner Roberts Special to the Reporter-News
Posted March 23, 2011 at 7:11 p.m.
For the second consecutive year, the Taylor County Historical Commission has received the Distinguished Service Award from the Texas Historical Commission in Austin.
Anita Lane of Buffalo Gap, chair of the county commission, was notified this week of the award, which tentatively is scheduled to be presented to the TCHC on April 12 by Taylor County Judge Downing Bolls.
Taylor County is one of 71 counties in Texas to receive the award for 2010.
Lane said the TCHC was selected for the award for its overall volunteer work and service during the last calendar year. The commission, which includes about 50 members, receives $2,100 a year from the county budget, Lane said, and opens its archives each Thursday afternoon in the old courthouse building.
“We have had our commission working on things all during the year,” Lane said. “We provide a summary to the state, and they evaluate our commission and make their selections.”
During 2010 one Texas historical marker was set in Taylor County at the site of the county’s first oil well, and Lane said three other applications were made for additional markers. They are the 100th anniversary of the Swenson House, the original 1906 site of Abilene Christian College and the site on Pine Street where the first law enforcement officer was killed in the line of duty in Taylor County in 1887.
The TCHC also presented its 17th annual Maxine Perini award to Abilene High School history teacher Jay Moore. At the request of former County Judge George Newman, the commission researched and compiled a list of all county judges and commissioners to serve Taylor County since its beginning in 1881.
Lane said TCHC members also work on other projects with county officials, serve on boards of museums and cemetery associations, speak to civic clubs and recruit new members to the commission.
She said the TCHC members, who include residents of Abilene, Buffalo Gap, Merkel, Potosi, Trent and Tuscola, accumulated 2,174 volunteer hours in 2010.
Lane, a former longtime American history teacher at Madison Middle School in Abilene, is in her second term as chair of the Taylor County Historical Commission, an all-volunteer group that will conduct its next meeting April 7.
Among other county historical commissions honored with the Distinguished Service Award in 2010 were Brown, Erath, Runnels, Shackelford and Tom Green.
Happy 131st Birthday Abilene!
March 15th, 2012
131 years ago today, Abilene came into being. On this day in 1881, the first lots were sold in the town auction that started the city of Abilene. The first lot, sold to T.J. Berry at the corner of N.2nd and Pine Streets marked the beginning of a journey for the town and its people that continues today.
In 1931, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of that event, Bill Slaughter penned an article for the Abilene Morning Reporter-News.
Jim Radford’s Fire
(submitted by Jay Moore)
February 26th, 2012
After beautifully anchoring the corner of South 1st and Oak for more than a century, it was sad to watch the century-old Matera Paper building give way to flames and Father Time. Many referred to the red and cream-brick structure as the Matera building due to the large sign letters. Less obvious – but with infinitely greater significance – were the smaller metal letters attached to the north side of the building which once spelled out “J.M. Radford Gro.” The “J” and the “M” stood for James Matthew and the “Gro.” was simply short for Grocery. For nearly fifty years, the James Matthew Radford Wholesale Grocery business was headquartered in what is now a pile of charred rubble.
James Radford, known as “Jim,” claimed that he was drawn west after reading letters sent back by his brother in the early 1880’s and alluringly postmarked from places named Buffalo Gap and Fort Griffin. So, in January of 1883, at the age of 21, Jim Radford arrived in the infant town of Abilene with $1,000 in his pocket. He would invest $600 buying the stock of the bankrupt Waldo Brothers grocery in the firm belief that Abilene was a town bound for growth.
He would grow his tiny investment into a West Texas empire. In 1883, Radford had sold $24,000 worth of groceries. Fifty years later, in 1933, the 71-year old had sold over $400 million dollars in wholesale goods. That original single store had been replaced by the Oak Street warehouse and office headquarters from which Radford oversaw distribution centers spread over 27 cities.
Radford was quick to join any club, volunteer for any effort, and dedicate considerable time and money to any enterprise aimed to help Abilene prosper. Radford served on the boards of the earliest West Texas Fairs. He was a charter member of the Progressive Committee which sought to bring in new industries. He lobbied for more railroads and better public utilities. Along with his wife, he supported the earliest library efforts and personally called on Andrew Carnegie for a building donation. A roster of early Abilene boosters inevitably includes Radford among the Sayles, Legett, Merchant, Wooten, Wagstaff, Paxton, Minter and other early families who endeavored to create a better city.
In his lifetime, Jim Radford built over 40 buildings in Abilene. Many still stand, including the Park Building just across from Radford Grocery. By the 1920’s Radford property holdings comprised five-percent of the city’s total tax base. Undoubtedly, he was proud of the South 1st and Oak building clad in Thurber brick with an interior finished in quarter-sawn oak and polished brass fittings. A 1907 newspaper article boasted of the building’s cold plant and “refrigeration machine” and described how five train cars could be loaded at once through a system of chutes. The last sentence ironically added, “The building is equipped with fire plugs and 200 feet of hose for protection.”
As was his custom throughout his life, Jim Radford worked early until late. On the morning of Monday, July 3, 1933 he was at his office by 6:30 and stayed past sunset. But, before the sun rose the following day, Jim Radford would be dead from a heart attack. The funeral was on July 5th and took place in the Radford’s Hickory Street home. Friends and family gathered on the veranda, across the front lawn, past the sidewalk and out onto the street as Abilenians paid their respects.
Only hours before his death, an Abilene farmer suffering effects of the Great Depression stopped by to see Mr. Radford about possible assistance. As was his nature, Radford was quick to help but did so in secret. As the relieved farmer walked away, Jim Radford turned to his wife saying, “No one need know.”
On February 25, 1933, four months before his death, Abilene threw a surprise party to honor Jim Radford’s fifty years of building Abilene. The ballroom of the Wooten Hotel was packed with friends and admirers as the stunned guest of honor arrived. Accolades were offered by many, including Radford’s longtime grocery competitor, H.O. Wooten. Overcome by the tributes, Jim Radford stood and haltingly offered, “I came to Abilene as a boy with a vision, and I resolved to work and to persevere. A man passes this road but once, and he ought to leave it better than he found it.”
Though the edifice to Mr. Radford’s business empire has now fallen, his constructive civic influence still stands. And, I am proud to live in a city that J.M. Radford passed through.
Story of West Texas Drought of the 1950′s. Information Needed.
November 9th, 2011
John Burnett is working on a story for National Public Radio (NPR) on the Texas drought of the 1950s.
He has found some good sources and is in West Texas this week visiting archives and doing interviews. However, he is looking for other audio files/oral histories that may exist in various repositories that he might draw on for his story.
If anyone has suggestions regarding collections that might be pertinent, please contact Cynthia Beeman at the email address below. Thank you for your time.
Cynthia J. Beeman