In the middle of the 20th century, the town fathers set the course for another important revenue source. Back then, land parcels were purchased and given to the Army for their use. After it was closed, they turned to the military once again following World War II and were able to secure a new Air Force Base for Abilene, financially supported by the city’s inhabitants. Dyess Air Force Base, today providing jobs to some 13.000 people, continues to be a significant economic factor for the city. In addition, Abilene has positioned itself as hub of a wide, rather rural region and has taken a number of measures to make the city attractive to visitors.
In the Census of 1990, the city’s population number crossed the mark of 100,000 for the first time, the 2010 Census counted 117,000 in the city itself and some 160,000 in Greater Abilene. Approximately 20% of the population are Latinos, some 9% are African-Americans and 62% are Caucasians. The average age of inhabitants is at 30,9 years and thus significantly below the national average, but the average household income also stays behind the national average. These facts are in part due to the fact that Abilene is home to three universities and two branches of supraregional higher learning institutions.
Among the attractions of the city is the Grace Museum (102 Cypress Street), which was formerly the Abilene Fine Arts Museum. The museum is located in the former Hotel Grace in a building from 1909 untergebracht and puts an emphasis on Texan art in its permanent exhibition. Another section of the exhibition deals with the Texas and Pacific Railway, in addition there is an entire floor dedicated to children visiting the museum. Together with other institutions, the Grace Museum takes part in Artwalk, an event taking place always on the second Thursday of a month, when entry to all participating museums is free. Also worth seeing is the Paramount Theatre (352 Cypress Street), a historic theater building from 1930 with 1200 seats which is today used for various perfomances, for example ballet, musicals or stage shows by the universities’ theater groups. Among the newer attractions of Abilene is the museum Frontier Texas! (625 N First Street), opened in 2004. The museum covers the discovery and conquering of the American West by using state-of-the-art technology to create an interactive experience. Since 1966, the Abilene Zoological Gardens (2070 Zoo Lane) have been welcoming visitors, today showing more than 500 animals from some 200 different species. Since 2006, various sections of the zoo have been thoroughly renovated and expanded.
Abilene’s events calendar also reflects the “frontier city” heritage. Each year for ten days in September, the West Texas Fair conjures up images of Abilene’s early days. Merry-go-rounds, arts and crafts and show events contribute to the fun fair atmosphere. Of course, a traditional rodeo is also always a part of the festivities. Another rodeo is a part of the program of the Western Heritage Classic, an event inspired by Wild West spirits happening each year in May. The Heritage Classic usually also showcases an exhibition of art of the American West.
Abilene has a mild to hot climate. Summer temperatures regularly go beyond 30° C, while in winter it is rarely colder than 0° C.