“It all started with a hippo! ... or did it?” 

The legend has it that Mr. Walter Trout got a hippopotamus for Christmas one year and then had to build a zoo to keep the hippo.

Another version goes this way:

In the early 1960s Walter Trout, president of Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company (later Lufkin Industries and GE), thought it would be good for the
children of Lufkin to have a zoo here so they did not have to go to Houston or Dallas to see the animals. Mr. Trout formed a committee of some of his employees and others in his circle of friends to help promote the concept of a zoo for Lufkin to the citizens and elected officials. He garnered much support, although many thought that a zoo in Lufkin simply was not going to work. But, they didn’t want to disappoint Mr. Trout, so they kept on promoting the zoo. During this time many offers of various animals (mostly East Texas species) came rolling in. and it looked like there would be enough support to build a zoo. The idea at the time was to house native species, so if the zoo did not make it, the animals could simply be released back into the wild.

This all changed when a friend of Mr. Trout’s, C.B. (Cy) Wentworth from Philadelphia, connived with Joe Byrd and others on the committee to donate a hippopotamus to the zoo. This was kept secret from Mr. Trout because it was not a certainty since there was no place to keep a hippo after it arrived in Lufkin. Mr. Byrd went to work to try to locate a place to board the hippo until a suitable home could be built for it in Lufkin.

The search looked dismal as no one wanted to house the hippo on a temporary basis. Then on the very day the hippo was scheduled to come to Lufkin, Kit Beecher, director of the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe, Louisiana, agreed to house the hippopotamus. The deal was on! “Hippy” was on his way to Lufkin! A truck with a big crate on it arrived from the Dallas Zoo at the offices of Lufkin Foundry and Machine Company. On the crate was a Christmas card and in the crate a large Christmas present. The present was “Hippy” the young male hippopotamus, and the card read: “Merry Christmas Walter. May all your troubles be big. Cy.” After a brief stay in Lufkin, Hippy was off to Louisiana while efforts intensified to build a zoo in Lufkin. The zoo was built on land adjacent to a small lake on the north side of Lufkin and named after Mr. Trout’s mother Ellen. After nearly a year and a half of construction, it was time to bring Hippy to his new home in Lufkin. Then on the 17th day of June 1967 the Ellen Trout Zoo was given to the city of Lufkin and opened to the public. The zoo was popular then and remains so now.