In 1940, Abilene, Texas was just an overgrown country town of some 25,000 souls. World War II wrought a permanent change through the advent of a major army training camp housing 60,000 troops. Though the base closed at the end of the war, the city soon attracted an air force base that continued to leaven the community.Over the next seventy years, Abilene grew to be home to nearly 120,000 citizens. Population growth carried with it the need for geographic expansion, infrastructure upgrade, and economic diversification, but also unimaginable cultural change. While the retail operations of the city spread far beyond the bounds of the old business district, a historic preservation initiative changed the deteriorating downtown into a thriving and vibrant cultural center.
ROBERT W. SLEDGE is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, McMurry University, and historian-in-residence for the Grady McWhiney Research Foundation. He has written several pieces on the history of Abilene, a place he has called home for the past forty-five years.