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Hippo Nation Proud to Call Hutto Home

July 28, 2023 Texas, Texas History, Member Spotlight

If you do not think of hippos when you think of Texas, then you have never been to Hutto where the hippopotamus is part folklore, school and town mascot, and a quirky symbol of the area’s small-town charm.

“That fact that we are all proud to be hippos -- that brings us all together as a nation,” explains long-time resident Troy McMillin. “You know we are the only hippo mascot in the nation. That’s unique … and we are not like everybody else. That makes us special.”

Small-Town Charm a Short Drive from Austin

Located just 7 miles from Round Rock and 22 miles from Austin, Hutto has clung to enough of its historic facade that it has been a favorite shooting spot for Hollywood movie crews over the years.

While Hutto’s population is officially just under 30,000, there is 10 times the population living within a 10-mile radius.

Hutto, like most of the Austin area, is growing fast – with even an IMAX and EVX theater opening in town next year.

“It’s growing like crazy, it’s not the small town that it used to be,” said Todd Robison, the voice of Hutto Hippos Football. “But I think one of our hopes and goals is that we will be able to kind of try to keep a small town feel even as we become bigger. People look for a place that they can call home; that they really want to have their kids grow up in.”

For residents, new and old, the hippo mascot is a town touchpoint.

“I love the hippo. Once you are here it’s rooted in you. You can try to resist it; it’s not going to work. You become hippo-ized!” laughs Kristi Barnes, Hutto community outreach and programs department manager. “When we think of the hippo it's more of a uniting piece for the community and residents and the ISD.”

While it takes just a 35-minute drive to get from Hutto to the Texas State Capitol steps, there are still more silos than skyscrapers in the town of less than 8 square miles. And that’s the way many folks like it.

“It’s home. The people are good here,” said Hippo ISD Athletic Director Brad LaPlante. “You walk into a shop or a store or a restaurant and they are downhome people. They care about you. They want to know about you. Life here hasn’t gotten too fast or furious.”

You say Hutto! We say Hippo!

You really cannot understate the “hippo hysteria” in Hutto, a town where:

  • World Hippo Day is recognized on February 15 each year with an annual celebration at City Hall.

  • Hutto High School’s Fight Song starts “Hippos Fight! Hippos Fight! Hippos Fight for the Orange and White."

  • There are more than 3,000 hippos of shapes and sizes around town, including an Instagram-worthy 14,000-pound concrete mascot named Henrietta in Hutto’s Old Town.

  • The local chamber of commerce will answer the phone: “I love hippos with all my heart … how can I help you?”

The hippo folklore in Hutto has multiple origins including a runaway hippo from a circus train.

Legend has it that shortly after Hutto was incorporated in 1911, a circus train stopped at the Hutto Depot to take on water and fuel for the steam locomotive and to feed the animals and let them stretch their legs.

A curious hippo decided Hutto looked like a good place to settle and waddled away from the train down to nearby Cottonwood Creek. That caused a bit of panic in the circus crew, and bemusement in the townsfolk, and station master Hal Farley fired off a memorable telegraph to nearby communities: “STOP TRAINS!! HIPPO LOOSE IN HUTTO”

The wayward hippo was eventually encouraged to resume its journey to Austin, but the hippo legend stuck.

The ISD’s Hippo Nation webpage says there is an alternative version of how the hippo came home to Hutto: the area’s big Dutch, Swedish, and German boys on the football team looked so big to an opposing coach that he said: “we can’t beat those boys, they’re big as hippos.”

A third version, which also involves football, has the Hutto football team in the early 1920s using used feed sacks as their team jersey which prompted an opposing coach to say the team looked like a bunch of hippos in makeshift outfits.

Whatever the case, Hutto became synonymous with the hippo and by 1923 the school had adopted the stocky mammal as its mascot.

Hutto History: Farmer Sold Land to Railroad Company

Hutto’s history, like a lot of Texas towns, centers around a railroad company and its need for a train station and surrounding infrastructure.

James Emory Hutto, a farmer and cattleman, settled in the area in 1855, and 21 years later he sold 50 acres of his land to the Texas Land Company of New York for a town site and railroad right of way.

“In 1876, the International and Great Northern Railroad was built three miles north of Shiloh, a small farming community near the crossroads of FM 135 and FM 139 on the north side of Brushy Creek. The McCutcheon-Shiloh Cemetery is all that remains of the once-thriving town. James sold 50 acres of his land near Shiloh to create the town of Hutto,” says the town’s official history.

Hutto grew slowly, with a population of 700 by 1896. A fire in 1902 destroyed the east side of East Street, but the community persevered and was finally incorporated as a city in 1911.

Hutto’s Events: 4th of July Festivities to Olde Tyme Days

Hutto has no shortage of events year-round that draw people into town including:

  • Hutto 38th Annual Olde Tyme Days (Oct. 14, 2023): This annual event has featured everything from pie eating contests to beauty pageants to parades to live music to fiddling contests to dominos tournaments.

  • 4th of July at Brushy Creek Amphitheater includes bands, food trucks, and fireworks.

  • December events include Christmas tree lighting, a Christmas fair, and a Santa Claus Crawl for Santa’s helpers aged 21 and over!

  • Hutto Farmers Market from March to October.

  • Treats on Park Street at Halloween annually at Fritz Park.

  • Spring-A-Palooza in May downtown.

  • Sunset Block Party Bash on the 4th Friday in April, May, and June at Fritz Park.

Lights! Camera! Action! Hollywood Calls on Hutto

Even if you have never been to Hutto, the town might look familiar as it is a favorite shooting location for Hollywood film crews.

Some movies from the past that utilized Hutto’s small-town look include:

  • Blood Simple (1984)
  • Courage Under Fire (1996)
  • The Rookie (2002)
  • 25th Hour (2002)

In recent years commercials for such companies as Ford and Mutual of Omaha have shot here and just recently the historic Hutto Lutheran Church, a residence next to the church, and nearby Fritz Park were used as a location for the HBO streaming series “Live and Death” starring Elizabeth Olsen.

From Hutto Old Town to the Co-Op District: Put on Your Walking Shoes

When events are not going on, you can still put on your favorite walking shoes and take the following tours in Hutto:

  • Commercial Historic District Walking Tour: Old Town is home to a number of local businesses, shops, and restaurants as well as a dozen buildings that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places along half a city block.

  • Self-Paced Hippo Tour: A selection of the 3,000 concrete hippos around town are highlighted on this walking tour map.

A newer option for walking in Hutto is the 35-acre business, retail, entertainment, and residential destination in the Hutto Co-Op District. The mixed-use, walkable development is on the site of what was once the Hutto Co-Op Gin and Hutto Co-Op Grainery.

Tenants include:

  • Hutto City Hall and Library
  • Southside Market
  • Top Notch Hamburgers
  • Cocina Jalisco Sports Bar & Grill
  • Hutto Silos Farmers Market

Comfort Food Abounds in Hutto

All that walking will surely build up an appetite and thankfully Hutto is home to some great restaurant choices, especially comfort food options including some of the best pie in Texas!

The most famous is the Texan Café and Pie Shop, which has been serving made-from-scratch-homestyle food and pies since 1996. The dessert menu includes a whopping 27 different pie flavors including Almond Joy Pie, Banana Cream Pie, Cherry Pie, Blueberry Pie, Elvis Pie, Oreo Cookie Pie, Snickers Pie, and Millionaire Pie.

Discover Hutto’s Eat & Drink Ships tour includes nearly 30 establishments including:

  • Hippo Café: $2 unlimited pancake deal! Comfort food such as chicken fried steak, catfish platter, and smothered pork chop by local owners Scott and Stacie Feller.

  • Downtown Hall of Fame Restaurant & Bar: Established in 2011, this place offers a burger experience that features locally sourced beef along with craft cocktails.

  • Elsie’s Egg Rolls: This Filipino kitchen started as a food truck.

  • Stockdale Kitchen: Blue plate specials, fried okra, and French fries seasoned as you remember from your youth!

These are just a few of the local eatery’s to check out as Hutto relishes local businesses from Foods Truck Fridays at the Hippo Escape to Hutto Donuts to Snuffy’s Bar & Grill (located in a former funeral home!).

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