Giddings, county seat of Lee County, is on U.S. highways 290 and 77, fifty-five miles east of Austin and 100 miles west of Houston. The land was originally part of Stephen F. Austin's colony and later in the Robertson colony. Giddings was founded in 1871, when the Houston and Texas Central Railway came through the area. A town and a post office were established to serve communities that were bypassed. The town is usually said to have been named for Jabez Deming Giddings, a stockholder in the railroad, though some sources state that the source of the name was Dewitt C. Giddings. Local farmers raised cotton, and many businesses soon were started by residents from surrounding communities. Ethnic groups included Jewish and Wendish families from the Serbin area. A syndicate headed by William Marsh Rice owned the whole townsite and sold property to settlers. Later Rice Institute (now Rice University) in Houston had control and sold the lots.
Wide streets were a distinguishing characteristic of the town; both main thoroughfares were 100 feet wide, and other streets were eighty feet wide. The town's first church, established in 1871, was Methodist. J. D. Giddings Masonic Lodge, chartered in Evergreen in 1865, moved to Giddings, and early churches and a public school met in its building. Soon after the Civil War freed slaves from farms and plantations settled in Giddings. Classes for more than fifty Black students were held in a church in 1883, and the first Black public school was built in 1887.
Giddings became the county seat when Lee County was established in 1874. Early businesses included the Granger store, a blacksmith shop and saloon, a millinery shop, a saddle and harness shop, and an oil mill. Brick buildings came in 1875. The courthouse built in 1878 burned and was replaced in 1899. Fletcher House, built in 1879 by August W. Schubert, was sold to the Missouri Synod of the Immanuel Lutheran Church in 1894 to house Concordia Lutheran College. By 1890 the town was part of a rich cotton-growing area with access to the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway, several gins, an opera house, newspapers including the German-language Giddings Volksblatt, and a population estimated at 1,000. The First National Bank was opened in 1890 and was still in operation more than a century later. The town was incorporated in 1913 and had a population of 2,000 by 1914.
In the early 1980s the oil-laden Austin chalk that underlies the town was tapped, and the area experienced an oil boom. Some 300 oil-related businesses located in the town, and many oil rigs were operating in outlying areas. In the late 1980s, however, the oil activities decreased almost to a standstill. The population of Giddings in 1988 was 5,178. In 1990 local businesses included a hospital, a medical clinic, a dialysis clinic, a chiropractic clinic, two nursing homes, a library, motels, restaurants, two newspapers, a peanut mill, Invader Boat Manufacturing Company, and Nutrena-Cargill Mills. There were nineteen churches in the city. Giddings State Home and School and Pieratt's Seed Lab, a project of the Texas Department of Agriculture, are located in Giddings. In 2000 the population was 5,105 with 446 businesses.