Location of Buffalo Gap, Texas
Buffalo Gap is an incorporated town in Taylor County, Texas, United States. It is part of the Abilene, Texas Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 463 at the 2000 census. It is the former county seat of Taylor County, having been supplanted in 1883 by the much larger Abilene to its north. Abilene won the referendum to be the county seat by a vote of 905-269.
Buffalo Gap was settled at the site of a natural pass through which bisonherds traveled. It was a point on the Great Western Cattle Trail. The community has a few restaurants and art handicraft shops and caters to tourists.
Buffalo Gap is the home of the large Buffalo Gap Historic Village, open year-round to visitors.
Buffalo Gap is located at the intersection of Farm-to-Market roads 89 and 1235. It was established in 1857 and procured a post office in 1878. The Callahan Divide, a topographic boundary between the Brazos and Coloradoriver basins, crosses Buffalo Gap from east to west. Elm Creek once provided a watering hole for buffalo. The Buffalo Gap Highway (Farm Road 89) was surveyed in 1774 and followed the old Center Line Trail, which extended from El Paso to Texarkana on the Texas-Arkansas boundary.
Another major road passed through Buffalo Gap in the direction of the abandoned Fort Phantom Hill north of Abilene. The road forked at Buffalo Gap; one branch led southwest to Pecos County, and the other south toTom Green County, which includes the county seat of San Angelo. Taylor County history centered upon the gap in the Callahan Divide, where during the 1860s and 1870s, buffalo hunters made winter camp and transported their hides to Fort Griffin northeast of Abilene.
On April 30, 1874, Governor Richard B. Hubbard, through his role as the acting Texas secretary of state, approved the selection of Buffalo Gap as the temporary Taylor County seat. In July, the county judge, sheriff, clerk, and county commissioners first met. A general election was held for the first time with eighty-seven male voters. By 1880, Buffalo Gap had 200 people, a drugstore, carriage and blacksmith shop, large hotel, jail, several grocery stores, and a saloon.
Presbyterians established the former Buffalo Gap College, which operated as an institution of higher education from 1800 until 1802, when its charter lapsed and enrollment declined. For a time, Buffalo Gap considered itself the "Athens of the West". The Baptist Church at Buffalo Gap is the oldest of its denomination in Taylor County. In the middle 19th century, Marshall G. Jenkins began a weekly newspaper, the Buffalo Gap Live Oak. A decade later it became the Buffalo Gap Messenger.
Abilene petitioned to become the seat of Taylor County when the Texas and Pacific Railway established its headquarters there. By 1884, Buffalo Gap had decreased in population to six hundred. In addition to Presbyterian and Baptist churches, there were Methodist, Christian, and Episcopal congregations, as well as a newspaper, sixteen businesses, and a high school in the town. In 1890, the population declined to three hundred, and the number of businesses dropped to seven.
In the 1920s, an "Old Settlers" picnic was particularly well attended, as residents showed their civic-mindedness and nostalgia for the bygone era. Between 1925 and 1980 the population fluctuated between 250 and 400 and the number of businesses between two and twelve. In the 1930s, Buffalo Gap had five churches, a park, and farms and habitations along major roads.
In 1959, the Ernie Wilson Museum of the Old West, named for its benefactor, Ernest "Ernie" Wilson, a Buffalo Gap lawyer, opened its doors. The town jail, displayed at the museum, is made of limestone, with sandstone blocks concave in the center and mortared together to reduce the possibility of a prisoner escaping. The jail is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The town noted in the 1960s and 70s for its restaurants and the fact that it was one of two "Wet" spots in Taylor County. The Buffalo Gap Fish House and Barbeque Barn still operate today.
In 2009, Buffalo Gap recorded a population of four hundred, eleven businesses, Presbyterian and Methodist churches, and a college.
The Shades of Hope Treatment Center in Buffalo Gap specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, and has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
The towns of Tuscola, Lawn, and Buffalo Gap are served by the Jim Ned Consolidated Independent School District based in Tuscola.