Hico, Texas:

The Business Emporium

A Chronological History

by Michael Leamons
(Page 1, Intro and the Short Version)

In the Beginning...


Hico (pronounced "high-co") began with a big bang. Well, really, it didn't begin that way, but sometime in the distant past when a meteor struck the earth just north of town, there must have been a big bang. Hico's meteor, like everything else in Texas, was bigger. It had to be! Experts say it left a 3-mile-wide crater . [1] The meteor, according to those who speculate about unobserved, unrecorded matters of the dim past, is believed to have been post-Cretaceous, so the dinosaur tracks in the Bosque River between Hico and Iredell, upstream of Langston's Crossing, probably pre-date the meteor. Enough of the pre-historic, let's fast forward to the arrival of the first settlers of European descent. [2]

Before continuing with our tale, a choice is required. For those who have the time and interest, Hico has a rich history, worthy of consideration. A seven page, sourced and footnoted, account of that history, along with a wealth of photographs, are provided beginning on page two and are accessible through the following link. For those with limited time and/or interest, a brief, one-page synopsis of Hico's history is provided below.

Full Account Continues on Page 2

Old Hico Historical Marker
On south side of FM 1602 just west of Honey Creek

The Short Version

The story of Hico, from the arrival of its first white settlers in the mid 1850's through the 1870's, is much like that of the many other pioneer settlements dotting the sparsely populated, Texas frontier of that time. Conditions were primitive, cash was scarce and threats abounded. The isolation created by the poor roads and the scarcity of hard money encouraged a home-made lifestyle, devoid of luxury. Confronted with the constant threat of marauding Comanche, drifting outlaws, drought, floods, plague or pestilence, any of which might bring devastation, why did they come? Primarily, for cheap land and the rich pasturage available for their livestock. Grass on the virgin prairies was lush and belly-high to a cow. The term "home-made" could also be applied to the settlers' defense and law enforcement arrangements. When a band of Indians passed to the west of the settlements, local militias were called out to meet the threat. When rustlers or thieves passed through, citizen posses, eager to shoot or string-up the offenders, would give chase.

Capt. Huchingson 1859 Capt. Huchingson 1907
"Father of Hico" Capt. J. C. Huchingson in 1859 and 1907.

The settlement, which was to become Hico, began when newlyweds J. R. and Martha Alford arrived in late 1859 and opened-up a trading post on the banks of Honey Creek. The name "Hico" didn't come along until about a year later, with the opening of the post office. Not much changed in Hico until the post-war years, when economic refugees from the deep South began arriving. With the new settlers came a modest degree of growth. Also, during this period the cattle business was on the up-swing, as area herds were driven north up the Chisholm Trail to rail heads in Kansas. The word "change" doesn't adequately describe the impact of the arrival of the Texas Central Railroad in 1880, as it made its way westward across the state. The word "transform" does. And, actually, the railroad didn't come to Hico; rather, at the invitation of its officials, Hico came to it. The town's buildings were torn down and moved some 2 1/2 miles to its present location so the townsfolk could enjoy the many advantages afforded by the steel rails and accompanying telegraph wires.

1880's Baldwin locomotive, Engine 104, near Walnut Springs.
Texas Central Locomotive 104 at Walnut Springs

Texas Rangers
Texas Ranger Company, five of whom were sent to keep the peace.

Though the move happened rapidly, the associated cultural changes took time; the community's rugged frontier flavor lingered on for a few years. During that time, there were a couple of bar room murders (alcohol was a serious problem in the community and prohibition has been imposed, then lifted, on several occasions over the years), the depot was robbed and a range war erupted in the surrounding countryside between the cattlemen and the sheep herders. The roughians opposing the introduction of sheep also worked to run blacks out of this part of the state. In 1883, the Texas Rangers were called in to keep the peace. Eventually, however, what had been a rough and tumble western ranching community was transformed into a more cultured and prosperous railroad town, though some of the early racial prejudices lingered on for many years.

Hico in 1882
Hico in 1882

The railroad ended Hico's decades-long isolation and positioned the community as a center of commerce for Hamilton County as well as portions of surrounding Erath, Bosque and Comanche counties. Several regional retailers emerged and spread out from this new economic hub; many doctors set-up shop in Hico, as well; and, an element of culture was added with the construction of an opera house and the assembly of both an orchestra and a band. A world class cotton market with 4 cotton gins and a cotton compress sprang-up along the tracks.

Main Street Cotton Market
Hico Street Cotton Market

Industrial Hico
Bales of cotton (foreground) and cotton gin smokestacks.

Undoubtedly, Hico's status as a railroad town differentiated it from many of its peers, but what really set it apart were some of the new arrivals. A pair of Universalist missionaries set-up shop and eventually established the sect's state headquarters here. At the time, Universalism was primarily relegated to the northern states. Not surprisingly, along with the Universalists came a number of Yankees, some of whom were affiliated with the sect. What did prove a surprise was that the citizens of Hico, with her many Confederate veterans, southern sentiments and having, recently, been led by two Confederate veteran mayors (one having been Capt. J. C. Huchingson, "the Father of Hico"), went so far as to elect a Union veteran, F. H. Snider, as mayor. What's more, that first Yankee mayor was succeeded by yet another one, Dr. Daniel Pingree, a Universalist hailing from New Hampshire and Illinois. He proved to be quite popular and held the office for a decade. Add to this mix, a very gifted German immigrant entrepreneur, V. F. Wieser, and you have the makings for a truly unique community.

Mayor Daniel Pingree ***Missionary Mary Billings
Mayor Daniel Pingree Mary Billings

Vincent and Mary Wieser
Vincent and Mary Wieser

After the coming of the railroad, the community flourished for more than 40 years. Wieser transformed the town's unprofitable flour mill into a thriving enterprise and, from that base, established numerous other businesses. Education was on the rise. The town had a first class public school system which included a college. Additionally, Hico was home to 2 private academies. The general prosperity was interrupted on two occasions. In 1891, three devastating fires gutted most of the downtown district. The old wood-frame, false-front buildings were replaced with fire-resistant, masonry buildings. Then, in 1908 the Bosque River flood waters rose up over the railroad tracks, washing away some of the homes, buildings and railroad bridges in its path. On both occasions, the town made a quick come-back, and it was business as usual.

Cattle Milling Amidst Debris from the First Fire of 1891
1890 Fire
Hico Flood-Wieser Mill
The Flour Mill in the Flood of 1908

Sometime during the first or second decade of the 20th century, with respect both to population and economic activity, the town peaked. With the building of railroads to Hamilton and some of the other neighboring towns, Hico lost its trade advantage. The boll weevil brought an abrupt end to the booming cotton market. Then, as Hico was struggling to regain its economic footing from those 2 blows, the nation's economy was brought to its knees by the Great Depression. About all that was left was the non-cotton, agricultural economy, which at the time was dominated by poultry and dairy operations. Virtually all that had come with the railroad had been lost. Rural America took another blow following World War II, as many moved from the countryside to find jobs in the cities. The communities of rural Texas took a final hit when the 7 year drought of the fifties drove many from the land who had managed to hold-on after WWII.

Old Railroad Bridge
Old Railroad Bridge Over Jack Hollow
Last Vestiges of those Steel Rails of Growth and Prosperity

During the 1950's, along with the countryside, freight traffic on the railroad dried-up. During the 60's, the railroad shut-down and the tracks were pulled-up. Hico reached its nadir in 1970, having declined to a population of only 925. In the years since, there's been slow, but steady, growth. Tourism, the traffic which flows along Highways 281, 6 and 220 and regional development of natural gas have been the primary contributors to that growth. With the help of economic development professionals with A&M's TEEX program, community leaders have developed a plan and are committed to bringing yet more growth and opportunity to Hico. As the community works together to achieve the goals that have been set, we invite you to come and be part of the success story now unfolding in "Hico, where everybody is somebody!"

Hico Economic Development Plan

Continued on Page 2

Page 1, Intro........
Page 2, 1854-1869
Page 3, 1870-1882
Page 4, 1882-1889
Page 5, 1890-1899
Page 6, 1900-1908
Page 7, 1908-1932
Page 8, 1933-2011



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