BEYOND THE GATES - Abilene offers something for everyone, post writer says
A greyhound statue greets visitors outside the Greyhound Hall of Fame in Abilene, Kan. Upon entering the Hall of Fame, visitors may also be greeted by live greyhounds because the museum is home to two retired racing greyhounds. Photo by: Julie Fiedler, POST.
Story by: Julie Fiedler
1ST INF. DIV. POST
Editor's Note: This is the third article in a commentary column by staff writer Julie Fiedler called, Beyond the Gates. In Beyond the Gates, Julie helps Soldiers, Family members, civilians and retirees discover Kansas by highlighting local destinations, fun and easy day trips, as well as quirky Kansas attractions.
ABILENE, Kan. – Whether you're a history buff, dog lover, art aficionado, antiques collector or kitsch fanatic, the historic town of Abilene, located just 30 minutes west of Fort Riley off Interstate 70, has something for you.
If history and politics aren't your thing, don't make the mistake of skipping the Eisenhower Center. With 22 acres boasting five distinct buildings, the campus includes much more than a presidential library. If history and politics are your thing, be sure to allow enough time to explore the entire complex during your visit.
"There's a lot more to see than most people would expect," said Samantha Kenner, communications director, Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.
The buildings, exhibits and displays encompass Eisenhower's home life, military career, presidency and more.
"We have the unique advantage of having not only a president but a five-star general to work with," Kenner said. "His resume is quite impressive."
Eisenhower grew up in Abilene with five brothers. A tour of his boyhood home offers insight into life in the early 1900s, as well as a unique Family upbringing.
"Those boys were from the wrong side of the tracks," a tour guide told a group of visitors.
Literally. The home is located just across a set of railroad tracks that run through the middle of town. Eisenhower's father worked 84 hours a week to make $10. His mother worked just as hard to keep the home running – baking nine loaves of bread every other day and canning hundreds of quarts of fruits and vegetables grown in their garden each summer, according to the guide. Everything in the home belonged to the Family, including a radio from the 1940s that the boys gave their mother so she could listen to news about World War II.
The museum includes an exhibit on "D Day to VE Day," showcasing weapons, dioramas and a small walkway designed to give visitors a taste of storming the beach, as well as an exhibit focusing on Mamie Eisenhower, showcasing her fashion, jewelry and other mementos.
Eisenhower's campaign and presidential years also are covered with a pop culture angle highlighting the impact of television, kitchen gadgets and the space age.
The museum contains a rotating exhibit, which currently features the work of Korean fiber artist Shin-hee Chin.
"She's amazing," Kenner said. "Her message is … that we are all connected; we are all touched at some level by war, and we all have the ability to be peacemakers."
Chin's pieces include extraordinary renderings of figures like Anne Frank, Joan of Arc and, of course, Eisenhower – all in yarns, fabrics and other textiles. The exhibit is open through the end of March.
Across the campus from the museum is the library, which also houses rotating exhibits along with archives comprised of more than 26 million documents from Eisenhower and more than 450 of his associates. Anyone can apply to look at documents, Kenner said. Sometimes visitors stop to see if the library has artifacts from their units in World War II or if a letter written to Eisenhower can be located among his documents.
"Those are always really fun, heartwarming stories," Kenner said.
With native limestone construction and details like bronze bison and bluestem grass, the building itself incorporates Eisenhower's Kansas roots.
"The proudest thing I can claim is that I am from Abilene," Eisenhower once said.
The campus also includes Eisenhower's final resting place in the Place of Meditation, a bronze statue of the general and a visitor's center that offers an orientation movie. Admission is free for active-duty military. Regular rates apply to Family members. For more information, including a recipe for Mamie's Million Dollar Fudge, visit www.eisenhower.archives.gov.
DICKINSON COUNTY HERITAGE CENTER
An outdoor park with a working old fashioned carousel, vintage telephones and pieces of Kansas history await visitors at the Dickinson County Heritage Center.
Outside visitors can ride the restored 1901 C. W. Parker Carousel.
"It's our pride and joy here at the museum," said Jeff Sheets, director, Dickinson County Heritage Center.
Visitors also can walk around historic restored buildings like a log cabin from 1858, barn and blacksmith shop. Each building houses displays for folks to explore like farmhouse living, old tools and farming equipment.
Inside, the Museum of Independent Telephony showcases the evolution of the phone industry as well as technology, including interactive switchboard and rotary phone displays. Old glass insulators are displayed like works of art alongside every manner of phone: antique, military, pay and even novelty phones from the 1980s. A noise-canceling phone from 1920 gave me a particular chuckle.
The local history portion of the museum highlights Abilene's cowboy history and heritage.
"That's one of the unique histories of Abilene," Sheets said.
It also showcases elements of pioneer life.
For more information, visit www.heritagecenterdk.com.
A block away from the heritage center are Old Abilene Town, which features a handful of small historic buildings that kids can play around, and the Abilene and Smoky Valley Railroad, which offers train rides during the summer.
GREYHOUND HALL OF FAME
Enter the Greyhound Hall of Fame and you will likely be met by wagging tails as Gary and Jade, retired racers in residence, come to greet you.
With a brief introductory video, the hall of fame itself and a museum portion devoted to the history of greyhound racing, dog care and retired racer adoption, the hall of fame offers a glimpse at an uncommon sport.
"I think it's a fascinating place," said Kathy Lounsbury, manager, Greyhound Hall of Fame.
Races typically last less than a minute and muzzles are worn to help determine winners in close races. Greyhounds are gentle and often have bursts of energy followed by leisurely naps, Lounsbury said.
Lounsbury said she loves hearing stories from old timers at local meets and hopes to pass that heritage along to visitors.
"There's just so much history there," she said.
For those planning to visit the hall of fame, admission is free.
A variety of locally run establishments offers a taste of Abilene's hospitality as well as cuisine.
A nice lunch spot is Amanda's Bakery and Bistro. Open the doors and you're likely to be greeted by the aroma of freshly baked brownies, scones and Amanda's signature gooey bars. Amanda herself can often be found at the counter taking orders and offering recommendations on local favorites. I opted for a chicken walnut salad sandwich on a croissant followed by a French silk gooey bar. Yum.
For a Family style chicken dinner to remember, try the Brookville Hotel, an Abilene institution that traces its history back to the 1870s. Go hungry as dinner includes eight dishes like coleslaw, biscuits and, of course, skillet-fried chicken.
Other notable dining spots include the Dish and Bankes Pharmacy, which houses an old-school ice cream parlor and soda fountain in the back.
Abilene is home to numerous antique shops and malls. The corner of Broadway and NW 3rd Street houses several, including Mud Creek and Buckeye Antiques. Also nearby are Yesterday's Rose and Countrypolitan.
Various jewelry and clothing boutiques, as well as a local bookstore can be found among Abilene's quaint shops.
ART AND ARCHITECTURE
Off the beaten path is Bow Studio and Gallery. Inga Bow passed away in September 2012, but her husband, Bob, still maintains the studio. The gallery focuses on Inga's fountains, sculptures and plates, but includes some of Bob's creations as well. One of Inga's signature techniques was to press wheat, leaves and homegrown flowers into clay before painting and firing decorative tiles.
Driving around town, visitors also can enjoy a variety of architecture from Victorian charmers to bungalows.
Last but not least is something special for the kitsch lover like myself: the World's Largest Spur. The spur stands at the entrance to the rodeo grounds on NW 7th Street. To me, no trip is complete without a bit of roadside Americana. Yee haw!
Along the town's main drag, a large horse and cowboy boot also can be spotted outside of a Western wear store. To see everything in Abilene would take more than a day, but part of the town's beauty is that visitors can pick and choose what to see and do based on their interests. So, saddle up and head west for a day trip to Abilene. Giddy up!
For more information on Abilene, visit www.abilenecityhall.com.