Sabine County (population 10,379), on the Texas-Louisiana border, is an original Texas county named for the Sabine River, a wide, fast-moving stream that flowed south to the Gulf of Mexico. The Caddo Indians originally lived in the area. A long-established ferry at the Sabine River crossing of the Camino Real (Spanish Royal Highway) was used as early as 1541-42 by Hernando De Soto.
Speculating that other settlers would choose to colonize west of the Sabine River, James Gaines purchased the existing ferry in 1819, and from this grew a mercantile establishment and later the town of Pendleton. During the 20 years Gaines owned it, more than 50,000 people, at least four-fifths of the settlers coming into Texas, crossed on this ferry. Today, at the same site, a modern three-mile bridge stretches across Toledo Bend Reservoir.
In 1828, the town of Milam was founded in the northern part of the future Sabine County area. Before 1832, the area was part of the Municipality of Nacogdoches, then belonged to the Municipality of San Augustine, and after 1835 became the Municipality of Sabine. By 1835, a census listed the Municipality of Sabine's population as 1,240.
After the victory at the battle of San Jacinto in 1836, the government of the Republic of Texas began to organize, forming Sabine County and defining its boundaries in 1837. Milam, once called Red Mound, was the original county seat (1837-1858) and was the first community to greet Texas immigrants.
But as early as 1850, settlers contended Milam was more than five miles from the geographic center of the county and petitioned the government for a county seat more centrally located. The new county seat was named in honor of John Hemphill, a former Texas Supreme Court Justice, who at the time served as a United States Senator.
The current county courthouse, completed around 1910 and remodeled in 1938 by the Works Progress Administration, is one of East Texas' best-known landmarks. It has been restored and the curved, original steps on the north side have been rebuilt. On the corner of the courthouse, square domino players regularly gather beneath an ancient cedar tree.
The old Sabine County Jail, built in 1904 and used until 1982, is one of two jails in Texas that had a hanging rope. The old jail is now a museum and library under custodianship of the Sabine County Historical Commission.
The Gaines-Oliphint House, built between 1815-1818 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is the oldest standing log house in Texas. It was built by James Gaines, born in 1776 in Culpepper City, Virginia. Gaines had a varied career as a planter, ferry operator, Sabine District Alcalde (Judge) and sheriff, signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence, contributor to the Texas Constitution, Republic Senator, innkeeper and postmaster.
The Gaines-Oliphint house provided lodging for Sam Houston, Davy Crockett, and Stephen F. Austin, among others. Other landmarks treasured by Sabine County residents include McMahan's Chapel, the oldest Protestant church in continuous service in Texas, and the Causey House, located in El Camino Park in Milam, a restored one-story log cabin built about 1830. It was moved to its present location and restored by local volunteers.
The Pratt House in Hemphill, built in the early 1900s, is currently being restored to its former grandeur under the direction of the Sabine County Historical Foundation. At Pineland, Sabine County's lumbering history is reflected in an old logging locomotive, a railroad depot, and a unique collection of sawmill homes. Today tourism is an important part of the local economy, including driving tours, reenactments, and annual festivals.
Designated a Preserve America Community in April 2005.