Abilene's Grace Museum Houses History

By Kevin Litwin on April 26, 2011 at 9:48 am EST

PHOTO CREDIT: J. Kyle Keener

It was 1909, and the

Grace Hotel

opened in Abilene, a building bathed in a grandeur that reflected the prosperity brought by the railroad’s arrival to the region.


Now, 100 years later, the Grace is no longer a hotel, but it’s still a beautiful sight to behold and has been transformed into a cultural touchstone for the region.


The Mission-style building was boarded up in the 1970s when the hotel business dropped off, and the city of Abilene even considered demolishing the four-story structure.


But to its rescue came the

Abilene Preservation League

and the Abilene Fine Arts Museum, which banded together in the 1980s to save the landmark.


The preservation league organized a $5 million capital campaign that resulted in a major restoration of the building in the early 1990s, says Dan Carpenter, Grace Museum director of information services.


After that renovation, the structure was placed on the

National Register of Historic Places



“The museum is now one of several downtown success stories in Abilene as the district continues to become fully revitalized,” Carpenter says.


The Grace is just one of several standout museums in the Texas Midwest.


The major restoration efforts at the Grace have primarily concentrated on the façade of the building as well as the stunning first-floor interior, transforming both into what they looked like in 1909.


“Much of the architectural character of the Grace has been maintained, including an elegant marble ballroom, glass loggia, enclosed brick courtyard and a restored lobby,” he says. “In addition, smaller touches like the paint scheme, ceiling fans and furniture have all been redone in an effort to return the building to its original glory.”


Today, the Grace Museum houses four art galleries, a history museum, children’s museum and administrative offices. A staff of 14 oversees day-to-day operations, and more than 60,000 people visit each year.


“We have about 6,500 historic and artistic items on site, with many of them Texas-related or having to do with the southwest United States,” Carpenter says. “We also have 1,000 annual members who help fund our endeavors.”


The Grace features 15 to 20 temporary art exhibitions each year, while the history section is billed as the only museum that covers Abilene from 1900 to 1950. The

children’s museum

has several hands-on interactive exhibits, including a fully padded Toddler Exploration Area that looks like a West Texas landscape, and a secret-repeating Whisper Phone for relaying messages to friends and parents.


The history museum also features an authentic re-creation of a 1940s boot shop, while the galleries present a diverse array of traveling exhibits as well as art from the museum’s permanent collection.


“The Grace,” says Carpenter, “truly has become a leader in the cultural life of Abilene and the Texas Midwest.”

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