Pioneering Spirits: A Look at the Homesteads of Early Abilene Innovators
Discover the amazing stories behind the pioneering spirits who shaped the history of Abilene. From Minter and Guitar to Parramore and Merchant, these innovative individuals left their mark on the city through their determination and resourcefulness. From early deeds and boards of directors to groundbreaking business ventures, their names can be found throughout the annals of Abilene's history. Join us as we explore the stunning homesteads of these early pioneers, built as far back as 1881, and uncover the legacies they left behind.
Weather Bureau Building (1909) – 1482 North 1st
The Weather Bureau Building is a striking example of Georgian Revival architecture, with its red English brick exterior and white porches and trim. It is equipped with two flagpoles, one for the American flag and the other for a forecast flag. This building served as the weather bureau's facility from 1909 to 1946. W.H. Green, the first forecaster, lived in the building with his family until 1944, while C.E. Sitcheler lived and worked there until the weather bureau was relocated to the airport in 1946. After serving as a storage facility for the Soil Conservation Service and the National Guard from 1946 to 1961, the building was taken over by Gail Business College, owned by Helen Robinson, for the next 14 years. In 1980, the building was sold to Will Minter Jr., who renovated it for use as office space. In 1981, the building received recognition from the Texas Historical Committee, receiving a historical marker.
Guitar Mansion (1912-1964) – North 1st & Beech
The Guitar Mansion, constructed in 1912, was a well-known and highly regarded landmark in Abilene for over half a century. It was built by John Guitar, Sr., a successful oilman and rancher, and his wife, for their family of eight children. The mansion featured six winged lions cast in stone and holding stone guitars on the front corners. Five of these lions were later buried on the property. The impressive five-bedroom home had a bowling alley in the basement, hand-painted wall coverings, beautiful wood and marble accents, and a walk-in ice box that could hold 1800 pounds of ice. In terms of both technology and architectural design, the Guitar Mansion was truly ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the mansion was demolished in 1964 after having been vacant for many years.
Finberg Apartments (1917) – 1502 & 1504 North 3rd
The Finberg Apartments are a testament to Abilene's commitment to preservation. These beautiful buildings were constructed by George and Hattie Francis Finberg in 1917. When Finberg declared bankruptcy in 1924, the buildings were transferred to Percy Jones. There have been six other owners before Ken Brooks purchased the apartments in 1984. The buildings, which had a stucco exterior and offered one- and two-bedroom apartments, had fallen into disrepair and were severely damaged that winter when pipes broke and the basement flooded. Mr. Brooks considered tearing down the buildings, but ultimately decided against it due to their historic significance. This renovation demonstrates how an older building can be restored and made attractive and functional through proper care.
Will Minter Home (1925) – 340 Beech Street
The Minter Home is another example of a historic building that has been successfully restored. Built for Will A. Minter Jr., the founder of Minter Dry Goods Store, this grand three-story home with Tudor-style accents was once vandalized, set on fire, and in terrible condition. At the time it was built, the home was a very exclusive property, featuring a library, sun parlor, butler's pantry, and trunk room, as well as a carriage house and tennis courts on the grounds. The house was closed in 1964 and sat vacant until 1971, when it was renovated by the architecture firm of Tittle, Luther, & Loving. Despite its previous disrepair and vandalism, the original floor plan was easily adapted for use as office space. Today, most homes do not have some of the luxurious features that were present in the Minter Home.
The Parramore Addition is a six-block area in Abilene that stretches from Orange Street to Grape Street between North 7th and 8th. The land was purchased in 1882 by Colonel James H. Parramore from his friend and business associate Clabe Merchant and the T&P Railroad. Colonel Parramore was a prosperous farmer and cattle baron with extensive holdings in West Texas and Arizona. When he passed away in 1917, each of his children inherited a block of land, except for J.H. Parramore Jr. Only two of the Parramore children actually built homes in the Parramore neighborhood, which consists of numerous Prairie style brick homes built in the 1920s.
Parramore Home (1885-1960) – 710 Orange Street
The Parramore Home was built by Colonel James H. Parramore in 1885. When he died, the property was inherited by his daughter Eunice, who made significant modifications to the house. After Eunice's death in 1960, the house was torn down at the request of her family.
Schroeder-Wolfe Home (1917) – 760 Orange Street
The Schroeder-Wolfe Home was the first of four homes built in the Parramore Addition by E.V. Sellers and Sue Sellers, the daughter of Colonel Parramore. This one-and-a-half-story red brick home features a porch that extends across the front and south side of the house. The interior is highlighted by golden oak paneling. Past owners include the Ira Guffey family and Fred Schroeder, who were the first family in Abilene to decorate the eaves of their house with electric lights for Christmas. Known as "760" in the 1940s, the home has hosted visitors such as Joan Blondell, Lew Ayers, and Rita Hayworth. In 1945, the home was purchased by Dr. and Mrs. J.A. Wolfe, and it was later sold to Mrs. Virgil Robbins in 1979.
Caldwell House Heritage Plaza (1919) – 790 Orange Street
The Caldwell House Heritage Plaza is a good example of a Prairie style home. This large two-story brick home has six bedrooms and features lovely beveled glass and a large front porch and balcony. It has a total of about 7,000 square feet, including the carriage house, and at one time even had an elevator. From 1922 to 1964, the Caldwell House was the home of the C.M. Caldwell family. Mr. Caldwell was a well-known rancher, attorney, and judge who made generous contributions to Hendrick Hospital and Hardin-Simmons University. In 1984, the Caldwell House was purchased by Frank Murray, who renovated the building. It is now a 13-room office building known as Heritage Plaza.
Hendrick Home (1925) – 802 Orange Street
The Hendrick Home was built for Thomas G Hendrick, a successful businessman who made numerous contributions to the city of Abilene. At one point, Mr. Hendrick and his wife Ida were on the verge of bankruptcy due to falling cattle prices and a severe drought. However, they were able to turn their fortunes around when oil was discovered on their property in West Texas. This Prairie style home was the home of the Hendricks from 1932 until Mr. Hendrick's death in 1946. It has five bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms, and was the first residence in Abilene to have central air conditioning. The bricks used in the construction of the home were imported from England, and originally the house had a tile roof. The large den and breakfast room were added in 1953 under the ownership of Dr. Raymond Wray, who lived in the home from 1952 until 1977. The buildings behind the house have had various uses
Ackers-McMillan Home (1920) – 772 Beech Street
The Ackers-McMillan Home was constructed by builder Roy Boatright for E.V. Sellers, who had purchased the lot from H.C. Parramore. This modified Prairie style home was built without the use of formal plans, with Boatright relying on occasional sketches drawn on paper bags. The residence has a low pitch hipped roof, porte-cochere, horizontal banding, and very deep eaves. In 1922, E.V. Sellers sold the home to Lewis Ackers, who lived there for 35 years. After the Ackers moved out, the house remained vacant until it was purchased by Harrison Munroe in 1963. Nine years later, the property was bought by Earle McMillan, who renovated the home.
Miller-Adams Home (1926) – 750 Beech Street
The Miller-Adams Home is another adaptation of Prairie style architecture. It was built by Bascom Miller, who was a vice president at Abilene State Bank, an oil company agent, and the owner of several service stations. During the Depression, Miller's bank failed, and he was forced to sell the home to the Radford family. James Omar "Mugsy" Radford, a Hollywood movie producer and heir to the J.M. Radford estate, considered this residence his home, and his mother, Mrs. Omar (Annabell) Radford also lived there. Annie Ruth Adams now owns the house.
Sears-Willingham Home (1922) – 726 Beech Street
The Sears-Willingham Home is a craftsman style residence with a gable roof and horizontal banding. It was built by Clint Goodwin and later purchased by the Arthur Sears family in 1928. In 1931, the Sears family added a second story to the home, carefully matching the brick to maintain the Prairie style. The Alton Willingham family has lived in the home since 1945. In 1971, a fire in the master bedroom caused smoke damage to the entire house. During the repairs, it was discovered that the original walls were covered with canvas and then covered with wallpaper.
Abilene Trolley Car Barn (1928) – 1021 Clinton Street
The Abilene Trolley Car Barn was originally a wood frame building with tin sides. In 1925, it was renovated and completely constructed out of metal. Trolley cars entered the building from the east and passenger cars and trucks were serviced in the west end, through one of three large openings. The trolley system was created to transport passengers and promote the sale of land, with tracks running from Simmons College to Rose Park and various other locations in the city. The trolley system was replaced with buses in 1931 and the tracks were paved over. The trolley car barn is still owned by West Texas Utilities and used for storage.
Merchant Park Shopping Center – North 12th & Grape Street
The location of the Merchant Park Shopping Center was once the site of the home of Clabe Merchant, known as the "Father of Abilene." His colonial ranch style home, built in 1881, was two stories tall and had rock walls that were two feet thick. When Merchant died in 1926, he willed the house to the city with the condition that it not be demolished. His daughter lived there until 1936, and the house was left vacant until it was eventually torn down in 1956. Clabe and his brother John purchased 1700 acres of land in the Abilene area before the town was officially established. They were involved in a meeting in December 1880 with T&P officials and landowners to determine the location and name of the new town, with Clabe ultimately choosing the name "Abilene" after Abilene, Kansas.
Swenson Home (1908) – 1726 Swenson Street
The Swenson Home was built by W.G. Swenson, a prominent figure in the early development of Abilene. The distinctive Prairie style house sits on a whole city block and features broad overhangs and long, horizontal lines, as well as some elements of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. The interior of the home boasts beautiful stained glass and intricate woodwork, including a grand stairway surrounded by oak paneling and adorned with finely carved spindles and newel posts. The house originally had four bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs, but in 1928 one bedroom was converted to a sitting room and a second-floor sunroom was added. The home is still occupied by the Swenson family and has been willed to the Abilene Preservation League.
Cowden-Godbout Home (1903) – 1802 Swenson Street
The Cowden-Godbout was built using a "Sears-Roebuck kit," making it a unique stone vernacular style with a hipped roof. The kit included all the plans, wood, mantels, doors, and cement for the bricks, which were made using a mold. The windows were made on site because the openings were of different sizes. C.W. Cowden built this home for his children who were attending Simmons College in the early 1900s. In the 1920s, the home was sold to W.T. Gregory, who used it as an orphanage. The home sat vacant and had deteriorated when the Godbouts purchased it in 1975. After twelve years of restoration, the Godbouts were able to bring the house back to its former beauty.
The pioneering spirits of Minter, Guitar, Parramore, Merchant, Hendrick, Radford, Swenson, and Caldwell have left a lasting legacy on the city of Abilene. These individuals, through their hard work and dedication, helped shape the city into what it is today. Their homesteads serve as a testament to their contributions and as a reminder of the rich history of Abilene. It is important to preserve and honor these historical sites as a way to pay tribute to the pioneering individuals who played a significant role in the development of our community.