Located in Jones County, Texas, Fort Phantom Hill preserves a historic second-line fortress located along the Texas Forts Trail, open to the public as a living history museum site. Fort Phantom Hill was created as part of the second line of forts constructed in Texas during the westward expansion of the 1850s to protect the new state settlement.
The fortress was established in November of 1851, with construction overseen by Brevet Lieutenant Colonel John Joseph Abercrombie and initial command by Henry Hopkins Sibley. Initial conditions at the fort proved difficult, and as a result, the fort was only operated during its first use until April of 1854, shortly after which much of the fort was destroyed by fire. Following the abandonment, the remaining property was used as a way station for the Southern Overland Mail route and Butterfield Stagecoach until the American Civil War, when the Confederate Frontier Battalion occupied the fort for military operations.
The fort was used for military operations again during the later part of the 19th century in relation to conflicts with indigenous groups and was integrated as a subpost of Fort Griffin in 1871. A town area sprung up near the fort in the late 19th century, eventually serving as a home for more than 500 residents and becoming a trading post for buffalo hide, but by the 1890s, the fort and its town area had been largely abandoned. In 1928, the fort property was purchased by Abilene resident John Guitar. Guitar’s grandson, Jim Alexander, deeded the property in 1997 to be used as a living history museum site under the care of the Fort Phantom Foundation, ensuring its long-term preservation as a historic site in the Abilene area.
Today, Fort Phantom Hill is operated as a living history museum site, open to the public for self-guided exploration. The fortress is a part of the 650-mile Texas Forts Trail, which preserves a large number of historic forts connected by highways within the Texas area. Originally referred to as the “Post on the Clear Fork of the Brazos,” the 22-acre fortress site overlooks the Brazos River and stands as one of the most well-preserved historic sites within the state, showcasing the complete intact remains of the fort in their original 19th-century condition.
Following the 1854 fire, many of the fort buildings’ original log walls and thatched roofs were destroyed, but much of the original fort structure remains, including three stone buildings that formerly housed a guardhouse, a powder magazine, and a commissary warehouse. Over a dozen stone chimneys are also preserved, along with the original stone foundations of the fort space. Visitors may explore the fort site at their leisure and examine all structures within the site. A number of trails offer access to the site’s ruins, and a visitor’s pavilion area provides exploration materials that elaborate on the site’s history and roles in the conflicts and commerce of 19th-century Texas. Restrooms are also provided at the visitor pavilion. While some areas of the site are handicap-accessible, visitors should exercise caution due to the site’s rustic nature. The site is free and open to the public during daylight hours every day of the year.
In addition to the historic fortress site, the nearby Fort Phantom Hill Lake offers fishing and recreation opportunities through Texas Parks and Wildlife Services. The lake was impounded in 1938 and spans a surface area of 4,213 acres, reaching a maximum depth of 66 feet. A variety of fish species are found in the lake, including largemouth, white, and hybrid striped bass, freshwater drum, white crappie, and blue and flathead catfish. Fishing laws adhere to state regulations, and contour maps of the lake and its surrounding region are available through the Abilene Fisheries Office.
Ongoing Programs and Events
The Fort Phantom Hill site has been the site of a number of notable archaeological digs, including a 1998 excavation designed as part of a larger plan to uncover the history of the fort and its development and use. A topographic survey was conducted of the site, along with a comprehensive architectural survey of the remaining structures at the site. The site has also been the host of a number of special events, including the Fort Phantom Rendezvous, a living history reenactment event that ran from 1999 to 2003 featuring a variety of American Old West reenactments and demonstrations. The site has also appeared in a number of local films and media pieces, including a music video for Mississippi rock band Saving Abel.
10818 FM600, Abilene, TX 79601, Phone: 325-677-1309