By Lori Bredemeyer, Copy Editor
Students soon will have a new place to spend an afternoon, learn about history and have some wild-West fun.
Frontier Texas!, a new museum and Visitor Center at Treadaway Boulevard and North First Street, allows guests to relive the events of this area from 1780-1880.
The idea for Frontier Texas! began with a seven-acre patch of land. The lot had been privately owned since Abilene’s founding in 1880. H.C. Zachry, who owns the advertising firm Zachry Associates, said he knew if the city could acquire the land, it could benefit Abilene by helping to beautify downtown.
“I think that beautification is one of the most rampant opportunities that we have in most West Texas towns, including Abilene,” Zachry said, “because they were all started about the same time, about the same way, and we don’t have many geological features that give us natural beauty. I think a continual attention to the visual aspects of the community is really important-but easy to overlook.”
He said he had attempted to obtain the land but had not succeeded after several years of trying. However, in 1999, when the city bought the lot, Zachry began to think of ways to use the land. With the help of the city, a grant from the Texas Department of Transportation, research conducted by McMurry University professor Donald Fraser and many volunteers, Frontier Texas! was born.
After four years of planning, negotiating, hiring, building and perfecting, Frontier Texas! will have its grand opening Saturday, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m.
The museum uses history and technology to inform, entertain and engage visitors. The museum boasts a full-size tepee through which visitors can walk; a replica of a longhorn, Amigo, which held the record for longest horn span; and three female scalps found buried with an Indian chief.
Also, according to the Frontier Texas! Fact Book, visitors can watch as many as 67 minutes worth of audio-visual programming. The tour begins with a five-minute introduction to the trail guide, Buck Taylor, who starred in Gunsmoke, and he introduces the “spirit guides,” who are distributed throughout the tour.
Another audio-visual attraction is the “Frontier Experience,” shown on a theater screen that surrounds the viewers and “utilizes state-of-the-art technology to put a visitor in the middle of attacks by Indians and wolves, stampeding buffalo, a card game shootout and a prairie thunderstorm,” the fact book says.
Zachry said the technology should keep visitors interested in the information.
“Because [students] have grown up in a video-game, action-movie world, they will appreciate the technology that’s involved in presenting the story,” he said. “It will prove to them that education can in fact be entertainment.”
Because many students grew up away from Abilene, Zachry said Frontier Texas! will help them understand the area’s heritage.
“If they’re not from around here, it will help them appreciate this part of the country more,” Zachry said, “because they’ll come to realize that things they’ve heard of all their life originated here: the cowboys and Indians, the buffalo hunters, the trail drives, the longhorns.”
He compared going to the museum to sightseeing in Boston and learning about early-American history.
“We’ve got a different chapter of the American heritage that’s connected to this part of the country that they can see,” he said. “So, as any good tourist, the visiting students should see it and will enjoy it.”
The building also includes a Visitor Center, where guests can find information and talk to volunteers about nearby towns and attractions, said Billy Proctor Shaw, chair of the Frontier Texas! board.
“We consider Frontier Texas! a tourist magnet to bring people off of the interstate to stop in Abilene,” she said. “The whole purpose of it is to improve the economy, to bring more money in for the restaurants, for the motels, for the small shops. And we think it really enhances downtown.”
Zachry said he is pleased with the museum and center.
“I think the Visitor Center, with its regional emphasis, is going to be unique and attract significant attention,” Zachry said. “I think the historical experience is going to be of a caliber in uniqueness that residents will be delighted to have it in Abilene. I think people will look at this because it is our heritage.”
Admission for Frontier Texas! is $8 for adults, $6 for seniors over 60 and military personnel, $5 for students and teachers, $4 for children ages 3-12, and free for 3 and under.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday.