One of the key factors behind the emergence of Buffalo Gap as a heritage tourism destination was the creative vision of Ernest Walter (Ernie)Wilson. A successful local attorney, Wilson’s passion was the study of history. A serious collector of frontier artifacts and memorabilia, Wilson purchased the old stone court house in Buffalo Gap in 1956. The building had been serving as a private residence for some time, but now Wilson could use it to store and display his treasured artifacts. He named the building the Ernie Wilson Museum of the Old West.
During Wilson’s lifetime, the museum grew into an interesting and eclectic tribute to the region’s frontier past. Housing everything from arrowheads to six-shooters, antique furniture to “very old Indian dolls,” the museum attracted visitors from far and wide. Wilson also continued his avid collecting activities. He soon purchased an original log cabin built by early Taylor County settlers, as well as the home of Abilene’s first marshal, both of which he moved next to the original courthouse.
When Wilson passed away in 1970, Dr. R. Lee Rode and his wife, Ann, purchased the property. Rode loved history and determined to continue the work of Ernie Wilson. But Rode took Wilson’s vision several steps farther, laying out an ambitious plan to make the site a major regional tourist destination. He renamed the site Buffalo Gap Historic Village, and over the next few decades he continued to add buildings and artifacts to the museum.
In 1999 when Rode retired from his medical practice, he contemplated selling the village. Others who saw the value of this local historical resource began looking for some way to save this regionally significant collection. Three years earlier, the Grady McWhiney Research Foundation, based at nearby McMurry University, had been chartered as a non-profit organization, with its primary mission being that of history education. With the aid of local historical interests, Abilene philanthropists Judy Matthews and Dian Stai, and the encouragement of Joe Cannon, Tucker Bridwell, and H.C. Zachry, the McWhiney Foundation assumed ownership the Buffalo Gap Historic in 1999.
In February 2017, Taylor County took ownership of the Buffalo Gap Historic Village grounds, buildings, and artifacts. A new 501(c)3 non-profit, the Taylor County History Center, formed to operate the museum and continue the site’s mission of history education. This new partnership allows the site to flourish and opens the museum to financial opportunities that will allow us to preserve and protect the stories and heirlooms of all Taylor County communities and residents.
History Center Hours
10:00 am – 5:00 pm
9:00 am – 5:00 pm
133 William St. Buffalo Gap, TX 79508