The Big Country, also known as the Texas Midwest, is in the central part of the state, where the more Western frontier towns with mesquite and junipers meet the live oak and cedar elms of East Texas. Located two-to-three hours West of Dallas and Fort Worth, most people think of it as just a place to drive by on I-20 as you make your way towards roads that take you to New Mexico, Colorado, and places beyond. It’s also the same distance from the Midland and Odessa region, so it’s centrally located whether you head east or west. Rolling hills of the northernmost part of the Texas Hill Country lead into deep valleys with bountiful lakes and wide-open spaces. Looking for things to do near Abilene and the surrounding area? Here are 17 places to see in the Texas Big Country.
How long? A lot of it depends on where you start. The drive to Abilene is around 2 1/2 hours, depending on traffic in Dallas/Fort Worth. It’s almost equal distance between Dallas/Fort Worth and Midland/Odessa, so the timing should be similar. To truly look everything in the area, at least two days would be needed. Make it a weekend trip and book a hotel to stay overnight.
Time of year? Texas is fairly open year-round, except the Panhandle region. The Big Country area does get winter weather, however, and occasional flash floors. Your best time of years would be late Spring into early summer. Mid- to late Summer can get very hot, but it’s doable in a car with great air conditioning. Fall is also a beautiful time to visit, but the weather does start to get more finicky.
Abilene, Texas, is known as the hub of what is called “The Big Country” or “The Texas Midwest.” It is also known as the furthermost eastern point of West Texas, where the trees start changing from the East Texas foliage into Mesquite trees and more of a desert-type ecosystem. The city manages to have one foot in a more traditional western lifestyle with farming and cattle ranching with the other in more of a traditional, modern city. You can find a mix of locally-owned shops mixed in with larger retail, historical downtown with sprinklings of modern diversions, and three universities with beautiful campuses. Frontier Texas is a multimedia museum highlighting the central Texas area from 1780 to 1880.
If you are a Texas History enthusiast, the Grace Museum has exhibits and art inspired by the Lone Star State.
People into antiques furniture, glass or collectibles will enjoy this multi-vendor mall.
Sweetwater, Texas, is west of Abilene and a little bit more into West Texas. You’ll notice the change into cotton farmlands, mesquite trees, and wind towers. Lots of wind towers. However, the town has a great museum celebrating Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), who were the first ever female pilots in America trained during World War II. The hangars have museum exhibits with a research library, video presentations, and special events. A Memorial Plaza is in the works, which will offer views of the taxiway and runways where the WASP trained from 1943-44.
Built in 1906, the historic Ragland House hosts the Pioneer City County Museum and period-style home. The house is decorated in the turn of the century. A funeral chapel also houses museum exhibits and an art gallery.
If you are interested in old buildings, you can explore the downtown district that has more than 50 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Buffalo Gap, Texas
Just south of Abilene lays Buffalo Gap Historic Village, a large museum of fifteen outdoor buildings and West Texas artifacts going back to 1870s. The centerpiece is the former courthouse and jail for Taylor County, build in 1879. You can also find buildings such as a doctor’s office, railroad depot, a two-room school, bank, post office, print shop, barbershop, an air-conditioned chapel, and private homes. The annual Bluegrass Festival is hosted there as well. Fees for the museum are $7 for adults, $6 for military and seniors, and students is $4. It is also less than ten miles away from the new Frontier Texas! Museum in Abilene.
Your journey into Brownwood takes you back into the mixture of the Texas Hill Country and East Texas forests. The town of Brownwood is a college town with a combination of historic sites and outdoor adventures. It’s also surrounded by a variety of small towns with unique names and historical buildings and homes. Near Brownwood, Lake Brown State Park is a peaceful park surrounding the 7,300-surface-acre Lake Brownwood that has been used for decades by families, college students, and nearby church camps. You can swim at this lake, fish, and water ski, jet ski, and paddle. There are also six miles of trails around the lake along with some beautiful hilltop scenery. The lake isn’t developed around like a lot of lakes, which makes it feel like more of a step into the past.
As you drive through Brownwood, you might see a beautiful old brick building in downtown. The Brown County Museum is located in the old four-story Brown County Jail, built in 1902 and the Educational Center. Both buildings are located on North Broadway, at 212 and 209 respectively.
Brownwood’s Lyric Theater was built in the 1920s and is a brick, two and a half-story structure that is still in use. It was designed as a performance stage and is used for theater productions.
The McCrary house was built in the 1870s and now serves as the tasting room for Brennan Vineyards. A Hill Country favorite, visitors are invited to learn local history while savoring a selection of wines among several old oak trees. Locals recommend the Super Nero blend.
Cora, Texas, once served as the first county seat and this 1856 building is considered the only log courthouse remaining in the state. The twelve-foot by twelve-foot structure was indicative of many of the buildings in Texas at that time. It was disassembled in 1983 and rebuilt on the current Comanche courthouse square.
The Comanche County Historical Museum has exhibits that explore everything from pre-historic time to the frontier history. Exhibits include a saloon, blacksmith shop, filling station, and a doctor’s office. It has fourteen rooms of historical exhibits and artifacts.
When visiting the small town of Breckenridge, you’ll quickly discover why the city is called the “Mural Capital of Texas.” A dozen murals depict the early history of the oil industry, from early photographs of oil boom photographer Basil Clemmons. The murals can be found off Walker Street; download a map at the Breckenridge Chamber of Commerce website.
A short walk from the 1926 Classical Revival-style Stephens County Courthouse, the Swenson Memorial Museum features exhibits and artifacts from early Texas history. The museum is housed in the 1920-era First National Bank era. The J.D. Sandefer Oil Annex Museum is right next door.
Throckmorton is a tiny town at the north-east portion of the Texas Big Country. The downtown area has buildings reminiscent of frontier days. At the cornerstone of it all is the Throckmorton County Courthouse, with its sandstone frame, square cupola, and red roof. The Italianate-style structure was erected in 1890 with an annex built in 1938. It was restored and eventually rededicated on March 12, 2015.
Old Throckmorton County Jail
Continuing the frontier-era sandstone architecture is the Old Throckmorton County Jail. The construction of the old jail began in 1893. It is located southwest of the County Courthouse.
Set inside a historic old stone jail, the Old Courthouse Art Center in Albany hosts an excellent collection of over 2,100 pieces of oil paintings, sculptures, and historical artifacts. The limestone courthouse was the first jail built in Shackelford County in 1877. It was used until 1929 and then was replaced by a new jail one block away. The art center has been used as a cultural institution for the region since 1980.
Fort Griffin served as one in a line of western defensive forts from 1867 to 1881. Among the ruins are a barracks, bakery, first sergeant’s quarter, mess hall, powder magazine, and a hand-dug well. You can also camp along the Brazos River and relax under the large shade trees.
Have any other suggestions for where to go around the Texas Big Country? A favorite hole-in-the-wall in Haskell or a hike in Cisco?