Abilene, Kansas: 19 things to do in a cowtown

Abilene, Kansas, calls itself “The Cowtown That Raised a President,” Dwight Eisenhower. Abilene preserves its Wild West and White House history with a friendly Kansas welcome. 

Like the cowboys on the Chisholm Trail who drove their longhorns to Abilene, we’ll saddle up and ride for Abilene. The city has earned numerous awards for its attractions and friendliness. We’ll find out what it has to offer.

I’ve visited Abilene many times, and Abilene partially hosted my most recent visit. All opinions are my own. If you use our affiliate links, including Amazon Associates and Stay22, to make a purchase, we might earn a small commission for our time and website costs (at no additional cost to you).  These links are always disclosed. 

The city of 7,000 is 130 miles west of Kansas City, 28 miles east of Salina on Interstate 70, and 93 miles northeast of Wichita. 

Related: Explore Clay Center, the Mural Capital of Kansas, less than an hour north of Abilene.

Elizabeth Hersey named Abilene in 1857 after she and her husband settled in a dugout on Mud Creek’s west bank. “Abilene” means “city of the plains” in the Bible verse Luke 3:1. 

Ten years later, the Kansas Pacific Railroad arrived. Texas cowboys drove their longhorns to Abilene, and the “city of the plains” turned into biblical sin cities of the plains, Sodom and Gomorrah. Abilene finally stopped the cattle drives in 1872. 

Six years later, the Eisenhower family migrated to Dickinson County to Belle Springs, a community southeast of Abilene. The group included David Eisenhower, the future father of Dwight Eisenhower. 

Related: Roy Eisenhower, the future President’s brother, was a pharmacist in neighboring Junction City. Explore our 37 things to do in Geary County.

The Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas
The Eisenhower Museum

1. Ike provides lots to do in Abilene, Kansas

Dwight Eisenhower is Abilene’s favorite son and No. 1 attraction. The 34th President came from the 34th state and still brings people to his hometown. Explore the arc of his life from toddlerhood to his death at the Eisenhower Library, Museum, and Boyhood Home. The complex is the only presidential library to include the President’s home. Ten people crowded into the two-story boyhood home. David Eisenhower worked 12-hour days, so his wife and children had to carry the load at home. Ida and her boys were as self-sufficient as they could be.

The museum reopened in 2019 after extensive renovations. When I visited before 2019, Ike seemed like his 11-foot statue in the courtyard, a man of bronze, cold and remote. I missed the man with the world-famous grin and the hidden, hot temper. The 25,000-square-foot museum still showcases his outsize accomplishments. However, Ike and his wife Mamie feel more like real people.  The museum’s post-renovation slogan is appropriate: “Come see Ike again for the first time.”

You’ll see Ike’s genius for planning and coalition building, culminating in his roles as Supreme Commander in World War II’s European Theater, building the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and President of the United States. His administration enjoyed peace and prosperity despite the challenges of potential nuclear war, the early Space Race, and the civil rights struggle.

As a lifelong World War II buff and Presidential site collector, I highly recommend the Eisenhower Library. It tops the list of our North Central Kansas things to do.

Related: Explore Abilene with Eisenhower, an underrated civil rights President.

The Georgian splendor of the Seelye Mansion, Abilene, Kansas
The Georgian splendor of the Seelye Mansion

2. The Seelye Mansion: A Kansas wonder in Abilene

Explore Abilene’s Seelye Mansion, home of a patent-medicine king. A.B. Seelye settled in Abilene in 1890, the same year Dwight Eisenhower was born. 

The Seelyes’ medicine line included over 100 products and employed 300 people. His sales staff drove custom medicine boxes wagons throughout the Midwest, and the company boomed. 

The company offered a generous return policy. Each bottle had a line at the one-quarter-full mark. If a customer didn’t like the product’s results before the contents reached the line, he could send it back. That rarely happened.

Patent medicine museum behind the Seelye Mansion
Patent medicine museum behind the Seelye Mansion

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Learn more about Seelye’s patent medicines in the Patent Medicine Museum next to the parking lot behind the mansion. 

Tiffany fireplace in the Seelye Mansion
The Seelye Mansion’s Tiffany fireplace

Designing the Seelye Mansion

A New York architect designed the opulent 22-room Seelye Mansion in 1904. The Seelyes, Albert Barnes, Jennie (Taylor), and their daughters Marion and Helen went to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and bought furnishings for the new home. The furniture cost more than the house did. Among their World’s Fair treasures was a five-pin box bowling alley, which they installed in the basement. 

Visitors box bowling at the Seelye Mansion, Abilene, Kansas
Box bowling at the Seelye Mansion

​​Roxie’s reliable report: Visitors can try bowling in the vintage alley.

The luxury was unbelievable, and everything remains. For example, the original Edison light bulbs still exist. The dining room table had 14 leaves, and the Seelyes often filled it with guests. The music room holds a Steinway piano. Upstairs, bedrooms surrounded a ballroom. Frank Lloyd Wright recommended an interior remodel in the 1920s. The Seelyes didn’t redo the house, but the mansion does have Tiffany lamps and a fireplace.

Related: The Allen House in Wichita is the only Wright-designed home in Kansas.

Then Kansas started taxing patent medicine wagons, and Congress began regulating food and drugs. The combination damaged the patent medicine business. It lasted until 1959 when Reed Products of St. Louis purchased it. Unfortunately, Reed terminated the agreement a year later and returned all the company’s bottles, samples, and formulas.

Seelye Mansion sheet presser
The Seelye sisters pressed their sheets on this machine.

Besides the bowling alley, the basement contained the mansion’s laundry facility, including a sheet ironing machine. After the Seelye fortune no longer supported servants, the sisters fended for themselves. The house gradually fell into disrepair, but the sisters still ironed their sheets daily because they couldn’t bear sleeping on wrinkled sheets.

Seelye Mansion dining room table
Seelye Mansion dining room table

The mansion returns to its glory days

Terry Tietjens first visited the house in 1969. He and his twin Jerry longed to return it to its glory days. They asked the sisters to sell them the house for 11 years. Their persistence eventually paid off in February 1982. Unfortunately, the house elevator caught fire days before the sale, but the Tietjens still bought the building. The sisters moved into a cottage during the initial restoration. When the house became liveable again, the brothers moved in – with the Seelyes. Restoration included the elevator, making the home accessible.

The Tietjens repurchased items the sisters had sold to pay their bills, and Helen and Marion became the brothers’ honorary grandmothers. Marion died in 1988, and Helen died four years later. Jerry Tietjens had already passed, but the sisters listed Terry as their adopted grandson in their obituaries. The restoration is so thorough that visiting the house is like traveling back in time.

Roxie’s reliable report: Helen graduated from high school in 1917 with Earl and Milton Eisenhower, but her mother would never have allowed her daughter to date an Eisenhower. Ironically, Earl became an electrical engineer and Illinois legislator, while Milton advised four Presidents. He was also the first Kansas State University alumnus to become its president, and later became the president of Penn State and Johns Hopkins universities.

The Wizard of Oz nutcrackers at the Seelye Mansion
The Wizard of Oz nutcrackers at the Seelye Mansion

Jennie Seelye collected 700 nutcrackers, some of which are always on display. At Christmastime, the house comes alive with poinsettias, decorated Christmas trees — and numerous nutcrackers.

Tour the beautiful gardens during the spring and summer. 

The longhorns still stride through Abilene, Kansas
The longhorns still stride through Abilene.

3-8. Ride the range to Abilene, Kansas

Abilene was law-abiding when the Seelyes came to Abilene, but the Wild West was only 18 years before. 

The Civil War had depleted beef supplies in the East, and Texas settlers were broke. Their only asset was the wild Texas longhorns. Then the Kansas Pacific Railroad entered Abilene in 1867, and the cowboys brought their cash cows. Livestock dealer Joseph McCoy led the way. He established the Drovers Cottage and Great Western Stockyards around the Texas Street and Cedar Ave. intersection. Saloons and brothels sprung up to service the incoming cowboys.

The cattle drives left southern Texas in early spring. Most of the trail cowboys were in their late teens or early 20s. After two or three months of hardship, they were ready for a good time. 

Abilene’s permanent residents mostly lived north of the railroad and regretted the vice south of the tracks. They braced for danger every spring and released relieved sighs each fall. Abilene incorporated in 1869 to provide law enforcement. The city eventually hired Marshal Tom Smith. When a settler murdered Smith, the city council hired James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok, who had been the Ellis County Sheriff. His deputies included Mike Williams. Hickok eventually shot Williams accidentally while trying to stop an altercation. After an inquest, Hickok left Abilene and never had another gunfight. 

An 1872 petition ended the cattle drives in Dickinson County. However, Abilene still honors its cowboy heritage.

Related: Experience cowboy heritage in Wichita, Hays, and Dodge City.

Dancing the can-can at Old Abilene Town
Dancing the can-can at Old Abilene Town

Old Abilene Town in Kansas

The Wild West is family-friendly in Old Abilene Town. Watch cattle drives, gunfights, and can-can dancers during the summer travel season.

Related: Old Abilene Town is one of our 13 haunted Kansas places.

Abilene, Kansas, Town replica
Part of the Abilene Town replica

Visitors stroll the boardwalk and visit historic Abilene buildings. Explore the Trail Center and examine the 1:24 scale replica of Abilene as it looked in 1871. Before you go, savor a steak at the Hitching Post Restaurant and Saloon.

Longhorns boarding the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad, Kansas
Longhorns board the Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad’s cattle car.

Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad

Take a nostalgic ride on the accessible Abilene & Smoky Valley Railroad (ASVRR). Trains depart from the old Rock Island Depot adjacent to Old Abilene Town. The standard route runs an 11-mile round trip to Enterprise. In Enterprise, passengers may visit Hoffman Grist Mill. The mill grinds heritage Turkey Red Wheat, the variety Mennonite farmers brought to Kansas. We recommend the spicy Southwest flour and the pancake mix.

The railroad also offers dinner trains and an extended excursion on a Silver Flyer Railbus.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Ride in the locomotive or the caboose to enhance your experience. An extra fee applies.

World's Largest Belt Buckle, Abilene
Abilene boasts the World’s Largest Belt Buckle. (Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau)

World’s Largest Belt Buckle

Abilene Convention & Visitors Bureau decided to produce the World’s Largest Belt Buckle. Therefore, they hid the buckle’s dimensions to preserve their record.

When Abilene revealed the buckle on December 21, 2022, it was 19 feet, 10.5 inches wide by 13 feet, 11.25 inches tall. It stands on a platform in Eisenhower Park. Visitors may climb stairs to a platform behind the buckle.

Local artist Jason Lahr’s design includes Eisenhower, Hickok, the ASVRR, Seelye Mansion, a carousel horse, a telephone, a greyhound, and a longhorn inlaid with blue quartz.

World's Largest Spur, Abilene
The former World’s Largest Spur

World’s (formerly) Largest Spur

The 27-foot-high spur arches above the Rittel’s Western Wear entrance. The spur held the world’s largest title from 2002 until 2013.

Related: Explore the state’s world record items.

Abilene, Kansas mural
The Abilene, Kansas, postcard mural features Abilene’s stars.

Murals celebrate Abilene, Kansas

Abilene displays its Kansas history and sense of humor with its murals. Hickok stares down ruffians from his mural at Buckeye and Second Street while Eisenhower celebrates his first election victory two blocks to the north. More murals portray a vintage train and longhorns. Across the alley from Little Ike Park, an Abilene postcard mural weaves Abilene themes into its letters.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Use the PDF map to find the murals.

Mud Creek Cowboy Boot in Abilene, Kansas

Popular legend says (PDF) inventors from Olathe and Spanish Fort, Texas, devised the cowboy boot in the mid-1870s. However, bootmaker T.C. McInerney invented the pointed-toe boot in 1870. His Drovers Boot Store started advertising the style in 1871. The Mud Creek Cowboy Boot commemorates McInerney’s store.

Log cabin at the Dickinson County Heritage Center, Abilene, Kansas
Log cabin at the Dickinson County Heritage Center

9. Turn back time at the Dickinson County Heritage Center

Take your time at the Dickinson County Heritage Center. The facility includes historic buildings, the Museum of Independent Telephony, the C.W. Parker Carousel, and exhibits about Abilene’s trailblazing pioneers. 

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Before exploring, pick up the historic items quiz at the front desk. The quiz helps to guide your experience.

Central had no work-life balance at the Museum of Independent Telephony, Abilene, Kansas
Central lacked work-life balance.

Museum of Independent Telephony

The Museum of Independent Telephony is my favorite museum section. Abilene’s C.L. Brown lost part of his arm in a childhood accident, which prevented him from becoming a farmer. Instead, his United Telephone Company eventually became Sprint. Sprint merged with T-Mobile, and is now part of Evergy.

The displays include vintage telephone equipment, like a working switchboard. Another exhibit shows Central’s lifestyle in a telephone company’s headquarters. Central was an operator who manually connected callers. 

100 Things ad
Shop our store: Eisenhower is in our 100 Things book, and C.L. Brown’s story is in Secret Kansas.

​​Roxie’s reliable report: Look for the Stowger switch on display. Almon Stowger of Kansas City, Missouri, owned a funeral home. When his competitor’s wife became Central, his business declined. She sent his calls to her husband’s business. So he fought back. He invented a switcher that eliminated the need for Centrals. 

Related: Visit the United Telephone Company’s Art Deco masterpiece in Goodland.

Two tan horses from the C.W. Parker Carousel, Abilene, Kansas
C.W. Parker Carousel horses

C.W. Parker intended to buy groceries. Instead, he put his daughter on a carousel ride. It was a worthy investment. Seeing her delight, Parker decided to build carousels. His successful company earned him the title of Amusement King. 

Parker’s company, the C.W. Parker Amusement Company, was the only carousel manufacturer not on the East Coast at its founding. The company remained in Abilene from 1894 to 1911.

The museum’s carousel rides more like a real horse than most. Its horses rock back and forth to the music of a 1904 Wurlitzer Band Organ.

Related: Take a fast, historic ride on the Kit Carson County Carousel in Burlington, Colorado.

Ginger the Greyhound at the Greyhound Hall of Fame, Abilene, Kansas
Ginger eagerly awaits guests at the Greyhound Hall of Fame.

10. Race the clock at the Greyhound Hall of Fame

An alert greyhound sculpture welcomes visitors in front of the free Greyhound Hall of Fame. A retired racing greyhound, Ginger, takes over welcoming duties inside. Greyhounds’ streamlined, muscular build, flexible spines, and big hearts enable them to accelerate to 45 mph. Their gait is like a cheetah. Hunting was the breed’s original role, but Americans used them for racing. 

The exhibits explain the sport’s history and the animals’ breeding. One sire, Molotov, sired 7,600 puppies.

Roxie’s reliable report: The heritage center, Eisenhower Library, Old Abilene Town, ASVRR, and greyhound museum are all within easy walking distance. 

11. Enjoy Abilene’s Kansas photo album at Jeffcoat Photography Museum

Peruse Abilene’s history in photographs at the Jeffcoat Photography Museum downtown. Lucy (Fritz) Jeffcoat retouched pictures from her home. Lucy and her son Paul started the Jeffcoat Photo Shop in 1921, then moved into what would become the museum in 1925. The family saved their photo negatives so that families could retrieve their pictures. Their archive became a priceless record of Abilene’s progress, and the citizens’ interactions with their favorite son Dwight Eisenhower.

Roxie’s reliable report: The free museum also contains a collection of vintage cameras and other photography equipment.

12. Watch live performances at the Great Plains Theatre

The Great Plains Theatre is the sole professional live theater between Kansas City and Denver. The actors, directors, technicians, and designers earn pay. The organization also offers the Readers Theater and shows first-run movies. Its educational programs allow students to perform next to professional actors.

Chocolate-covered bear at Russell Stover Candies entrance
The candy-coated bear outside Russell Stover’s factory outlet isn’t edible, but the stock inside is.

13-21. Shop, eat, and stay in Abilene, Kansas

Abilene, Kansas, isn’t all about museums. The city offers plenty of shopping, dining, and lodging options.


If you’re into antiques and collectibles, Abilene is your place. The Abilene Downtown Antique Mall, Buckeye Antiques Mall, Mud Creek Antiques, Vintage Bling and Antique Things, along with Yesterday’s Rose, offer hundreds of treasure-filled booths.

Books, candles, and plants

As an author, I am partial to independent bookstores. Travel with Sara named Rivendell Bookstore as the best bookstore in Kansas.

Fill your garden with unusual and not-so-unusual plants at the non-profit Cedar House Greenhouse, and light your world at the Cypress Bridge Candle Co.

Russell Stover Chocolates

After walking around Abilene, drive to the Russell Stover candy outlet for your sugar fix. The store stocks Russell Stover, Whitman’s, and Pangburn’s candies. Then eat an ice cream cone. Concerned about calories? Buy some Weight Watchers or sugar-free candies.

Legacy Kansas food and server
Legacy Kansas serves its menu family style.

Legacy Kansas: Munson’s Prime & Brookville Hotel in Abilene

The Brookville Hotel was originally a railroad hotel in Brookville. The business began in 1894, but the Martin family served family-style fried chicken dinners starting in 1933. They rebuilt the hotel in Abilene in the 2000s. They served the same menu, apple rings, peaches, bread and butter pickles, sweet and sour cole slaw, cottage cheese, hand-peeled mashed potatoes with cream gravy, cream-style corn, baking-powder biscuits with creamy butter and preserves. 

Brookville was a must-visit Kansas icon. And then they closed in 2020 after 125 years.

Shortly after, another Kansas restaurant icon, Munson’s Prime in Junction City, burned to the ground. The Munson family’s steaks and homemade ice cream were renowned.

So food lovers rejoiced when the Munsons bought the Brookville Hotel, renaming it Legacy Kansas. Restaurant patrons can choose a Munson beef or Brookville chicken entrée with Brookville sides and Munson ice cream. The restaurant is again a must-visit.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Reserve your seat in advance, because walk-in seating is limited.

Joe Snuffy’s in Abilene, Kansas

Savor comfort food in an old-fashioned diner at Joe Snuffy’s Old-Fashioned Grill.

Hapisoul Café and Juicery

Make your soul happy with healthy eats at Hapisoul. The menu changes monthly.

Flatland RV Park

For a short camping stay, choose the 21-site Flatland RV Park behind the 24/7 Travel Store.

Walt’s Four Seasons

For extended stays, choose the 70-site Walt’s Four Seasons Campground & Country Store. 

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Walt’s offers a discount on Tuesdays.

Holiday Inn Express & Suites

Stay in comfort at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites hotel north of Interstate 70 in Abilene, Kansas.

So ride on into Abilene. You’ll be glad you did.

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