San Saba, the county seat of San Saba County, is on U.S. Highway 190 eighty-seven miles northwest of Austin in eastern San Saba County. It took root on the agricultural frontier in the 1850s and developed rapidly as the political and commercial center of San Saba County. In 1855 ranchers and cotton growers first settled the banks of the San Saba River, from which the settlement took its name. When the county was organized a year later, San Saba won election as the county seat. Baptist and Methodist congregations were the first to hold services in the community. By 1857 a post office had been opened and the first county courthouse completed. The court building also served as a school and meetinghouse until it was replaced in the 1880s. Cattle drives, sheep ranching, and cotton cultivation sustained the town's steady growth after the Civil War. By the 1890s San Saba had established itself as a finance, processing, and marketing center for county farmers and ranchers. Merchants and craftsmen supplied settlers on the expanding frontier with wagons, farm implements, furniture, and clothing. The local economy also supported legal, banking, and medical services. The San Saba County News, promoted as the first newspaper in West Texas, began publication in 1873. The News, which consolidated with the San Saba Star in the 1960s, was still in publication more than a century later. Within two decades of its founding the town had a population of 1,200, two newspapers, a bank, and an active gin and mill industry that processed the cotton and grains produced in the San Saba River valley. The local economy apparently sagged by 1900, when the population dropped below 900. Completion of a branch line of the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway through San Saba in 1911 revived the town, which by 1925 had 2,000 residents.
San Saba weathered the Great Depression without a dramatic loss of either residential or business population. A flood in 1938-when the San Saba River inundated a third of the city and displaced numerous families and businesses-took a heavier toll. The town nevertheless recorded a 30 percent increase in population during the decade. On the eve of World War II more than 2,900 people lived in the recently incorporated county seat. Growth slowed but continued through the war and early postwar years until a three-year drought in the mid-1950s set back the local economy. From a postwar peak of 3,400, the population of San Saba fell to 2,336 in the early 1980s. Recovery from that low was incomplete in 1986, when the town recorded just half the number of businesses that it supported before the drought; nevertheless, the population exceeded 2,800. Industry in San Saba remained based on the agricultural economy of the surrounding area, which changed to reflect the post-World War II concentration on the cultivation of wheat, pecans, peanuts, fruit, and grain sorghum, and on cattle, sheep, and goat ranching. San Saba calls itself the "Pecan Capital of the World." In the mid-1970s local concerns manufactured pecan-harvesting and livestock-loading equipment, and processors prepared meat, pecans, and poultry feed for shipment. The production of construction materials was also significant. Tourism-especially hunting and fishing-also became important. In 1990 the population of San Saba was 2,626.