From the founding of the city through the 1950s, Downtown Abilene was a bustling focal point of the city. However, with the decline of the railroad and growth toward the south, like many cities in the United States, the downtown area saw a decline in business and activity overall despite the municipal presence. By the 1980s, several vacant buildings sat in disrepair and were subject to vandalism and home to vagrants. Founded in 1977, the Abilene Preservation League was one of the groups created to help preserve some of the landmarks around Abilene and downtown.
This exhibition, Downtown Revitalization Beginnings, is the second part of a series of exhibitions highlighting the early efforts of the many groups and community leaders that banded together to jump-start the revitalization of downtown north of the train tracks.
This exhibition is dedicated to the late Jim Stuart, director of the Abilene Preservation League. His help with the research and this exhibition was instrumental. Although his time with the APL was short, he was doing many great things for the organization and for Abilene.
The Dodge Jones Foundation and Judy Matthews
written by Jay Moore
The transformation and revitalization of downtown Abilene are largely due to the financial support of Judy Matthews and her family foundation known as the Dodge Jones Foundation. Except for time spent at boarding school and attending Smith College, Judy Matthews spent her life in Abilene. Her love for the city was deep, as were her family roots, which went back to the town’s beginning with her grandfather, K.K. Legett, in attendance at the town lot sale in 1881. Her affection for Abilene can be seen throughout downtown today.
Beginning in the 1980s, Matthews and the Foundation undertook the goal of beautifying the railroad right-of-way beginning at Pine Street and continuing west through the city. The Dodge Jones Foundation covered the cost of architectural plans, irrigation, landscaping, and the purchase of over 800 trees in order to transform an Abilene eyesore into a green beltway running through the heart of the city.
In the 1980s and 1990s, several downtown Abilene buildings seen in this exhibition were renovated and, in some cases, brought back into use through the vision and philanthropy of Judy Matthews and her family foundation. In 1986, the Paramount Theatre was renovated with over $2 million from the Dodge Jones Foundation.
In 1988, the Foundation provided the funds to help purchase the 1909 Hotel Grace and then to renovate it into The Grace Museum. The philanthropy of Judy Matthews made possible the restoration of the three T&P structures, the old Windsor Hotel, the Compton Building, the Wooten Hotel, and the Elks Building.
This project is supported by a grant from the Abilene Cultural Affairs Council and the City of Abilene.