Williamson County
Historical Commission

 



HUTTO: Heritage, Hippos and “Branding”

by Mike Fowler

The history of Hutto is unique and varied; covering a vast amount of information about Indians, early setters, cattle, agriculture, Hispanic and Black culture, Swedish and German immigrants, national and international events, prosperity, depression, great schools and unprecedented growth. Hutto was settled in 1854, established as a town in 1876 with coming of the railroad and subsequent growth, incorporated as a city in 1911 and has witnessed tremendous growth in the twenty-first century. The economics and demographics of 2005 are just the “tip of the iceberg” regarding eminent growth in our community. State Highway 130 almost guarantees the success and continued economic development of Hutto. Hutto is in the right place at the right time! So with our rosy future, why is our heritage so important?

 

Our heritage pays tribute to those that came before us and were the essence of this community. Our heritage sets a stage and tells our story. The early settlers made an indelible impression on the blackland prairie that is the Hutto community. Hutto was cattle country before farming took over. When the farmers came, cotton and agriculture was king. It was after the depression of the 1930’s, that the City of Hutto was reduced to a core of about five to six hundred people that lived, worked and died here. Since the 1990 census declaration of 630 Hutto citizens, the City of Hutto has exploded to a population of over ten thousand in 2005. Many of the early families of Hutto have been honored by city streets beginning named for them; however, much more needs to be done to remember these fine people, the heritage and the areas where they primarily lived and worked. More historical markers for our community are in order. The City of Hutto has declared the 1911 Incorporated City Limits and the now city owned COOP property to be our historical district. This relatively small historical district it is very important and must be preserved enhanced and reinvented as the jewel of our community. As Hutto grows, our heritage will be diminished if we do not protect and provide for it. Mayor Ackerman has talked of the need for sidewalks and historical looking lighting and signs for the historical district. The City of Hutto Historical Preservation Commission supports him on these efforts.

Even with the rich heritage of Hutto, nothing rings true like the hippo for our community. The mural on the side of the Chamber of Commerce building exemplifies the story of our prime identifier.

                 

According to local legend, it was in 1915 that a circus train stopped in Hutto at the depot to take on passengers, pick up mail and possibly take on water and fuel for the steam locomotive. The circus train workers also would have taken this opportunity to care for their animals. At some point during this historic layover, it is said that the hippo got out of the railcar and made its way to the nearby, Cottonwood Creek causing much consternation for the circus workers. Local farmers and merchants watched the commotion in amusement and with interest as unsuccessful efforts were made to extricate the troublesome hippopotamus from the muddy waters of Cottonwood Creek. It is said that the Depot Agent, who at that time would have been Hal Farley, Jr., had to telegraph the communities of Taylor and Round Rock that were eight miles to the east and west of Hutto to the effect of: “Stop trains, hippo loose in Hutto”. After much effort the hippo was prodded from the mud and water that resembled its natural habitat and was reloaded back on the train. Soon afterward the Hutto School adopted the hippopotamus as its mascot and as early as 1923 it appeared on the Hutto High School official graduation announcements. Other stories have been told, however, this is the most popular version of the origin of the hippo in Hutto.

The hippo has uniqueness to our community as illustrated in the above story. Just as special is the ways in which the hippo has become a part of our community fabric through the schools, people, the businesses, the city and the Chamber of Commerce

Roger Brooks, the CEO of Destination Development, Inc., wrote a great magazine article in the April 2004 article in the Texas Municipal League publication, Texas Town & City titled: Make It Easy to Tell Your Cows From My Cows: Why Branding Your City Is Important. Brooks, known as “the Dr. Phil of tourism”, stated that “In its simplest form, branding is the art of setting yourself apart from everyone else.” Roger Brooks also explained his “Ten Rules of Branding” that were all clearly applicable to Hutto and our hippo identifier. You are certainly encouraged to research branding and destination development and draw your own conclusions.

It has been frequently stated that other communities will search for something unique to be associated with and often spend huge sums of money to create even artificial symbols for themselves. When you read the Roger Brooks article on “branding” and fully relate its importance to Hutto, it is clear that we have a perfect identifier and hook with the hippopotamus. This is exactly and correctly what Hippos Unlimited has been promoting for the past three years. Hippos Unlimited is a 501c3, non-profit group that seeks to “educate, publicize promote the Hutto Community through the use of its primary identifier-- the Hippo.”

Polo Enriquez, Executive Director of the Hutto Economic Development Corporation often tells the story of being able to meet for an extra period of time with Rick Perry because the Governor of Texas knew that we are the hippos. The Governor used that information of Hutto being “hippoland” as an opener to initiate conversation with Polo regarding economic development issues for Hutto. After all, Hutto is “the Official Hippo Capital of Texas” and it was Governor Perry that had signed House Concurrent Resolution 89 providing that designation.

Hutto is already self-branded with the hippo and we should make the most of it. The hippo is Hutto’s natural “brand”. Wherever we go and bring up Hutto, people that know anything about our community know that we are the hippos. Just because of this uniqueness, Hutto is already clearly branded with the hippo identifier.

Let’s preserve our past and build our future with the heritage retention that is presented through the redevelopment and reclamation of the CO-OP property and the Almquist-Johnson house. It is time to create libraries, museums, heritage centers and art in public places. In Hutto it is clear that Hippos and heritage do go together. The possibilities are endless… could our brand result in a Healthy Hippo Festival, a water park, a cook-off, gift shops, tourism… to name just a few ideas. Let us not only take pride in our identifier, but use it to its fullest potential to promote community pride, heritage, uniqueness, tourism and even economic development.

 

Mike Fowler is the author of The Capitol Story: Statehouse in Texas and Hutto Lutheran Church: A Century of Community Faith and is working on a new book on the history of Hutto. He is also a retired State of Texas employee and served undefeated for twenty-five years as Councilman and Mayor of the City of Hutto. Mike currently chairs the City of Hutto Historical Preservation Commission. He is also a licensed real estate broker and owns TEX US Real Estate and has a degree in government from the University of Texas at Austin. Mike is also a founding member of Hippos Unlimited.

 

HUTTO, TEXAS est. 1876