Sweetwater received a U.S. post office in 1879. The Texas and Pacific Railway started service in 1881, with the first train arriving on March 12 of that year, beginning Sweetwater's long history as a railroad town. To encourage the railroads, Sweetwater increased its water supply by building a small town lake in 1898, and three larger lakes thereafter. Construction began on the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway in 1903. Sweetwater became a railroad town, with businesses and homes built along the rail line. Rail passenger service was discontinued in 1969.
Gulf Refinery operated there from 1929 to 1954, and at one time the town was a large telegraph center. The International Harvester Company operated a factory in Sweetwater from 1920 to 1950. Gypsum plants, apparel manufacturers, cement plants, cotton compresses, a cottonseed oil mill, and packing companies were among the nearly 250 businesses operating there from the 1970s. Many still operate today. Sweetwater remains a production hub for cotton, oil, and cattle. The population of Sweetwater has remained steady between 11,000 and 13,000 since 1940.
At Sweetwater during World War II, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) were trained under the direction of the famed aviatrixJacqueline Cochran at Sweetwater's Avenger Field. These WASPs were the first women to fly American military aircraft. The military airstrip closed abruptly at the end of the war, but pilots flying over Sweetwater can still land at Avenger Field – the Sweetwater Airport (SWW). The National WASP WWII Museum is located at Avenger Field. The WASP women were not recognized for having served in the armed forces until 1977, when U.S. SenatorBarry M. Goldwater of Arizona and Colonel Bruce Arnold, late son of GeneralHap Arnold, persisted in obtaining their official recognition as military veterans. In 1970, the field became the site of Texas State Technical College in Sweetwater.
Sweetwater also has a Pioneer Museum, with display rooms depicting the lives of early settlers with extensive photograph files, farm and ranch exhibits, Indian artifacts, and WASP exhibits.
Sweetwater has a hospital (founded 1976), an 18-hole golf course (opened 1958), a local newspaper (founded 1881), a municipal auditorium (where Elvis Presley once performed), a historic renovated movie theater, and a large public swimming pool, as well as public fishing and recreational facilities at Lake Sweetwater.
One of the earliest congregations that continues to exist in Sweetwater is First Baptist Church.
Parts of the south side of Sweetwater were devastated by an estimated EF3 tornado that swept through town early in the morning of April 19, 1986.
Sweetwater is the center of the Western Hemisphere's leading wind power generation region. It is sometimes called the "Wind Turbine Capital of Texas", which does not regulate wind power. About 1,330 direct wind-related jobs were created in Nolan County alone (in 2009), with almost $18,000,000 in annual landowner royalties and over $12,000,000 in annual local school taxes (2007).
The world's largest rattlesnakeRound-Up has been held annually by the Sweetwater Jaycees on the second weekend in March since 1958, along with the Gun and Coin Show hosted by the Sweetwater Rifle and Pistol Club which was founded in the 1940s.
According to Tom Henderson, a member of the Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors:
Sweetwater is the center of the Western Hemisphere's leading wind power generation region and West Texas has more than 4,000 MW of operational wind energy. Nolan County alone would currently rank as the eighth largest "nation" in terms of wind energy generation - with more than 1,500 MW installed.
As of the census of 2000, 11,415 people, 4,545 households, and 3,017 families resided in the city. The population density was 1,139.4 people per square mile (439.9/km²). There were 5,202 housing units at an average density of 519.2 per square mile (200.4/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 75.29% White, 5.83% African American, 0.58% Native American, 0.32% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 15.71% from other races, and 2.21% from two or more races. Hispanics or Latinos of any race were 31.70% of the population.
In the city, the population was distributed as 28.1% under the age of 18, 8.9% from 18 to 24, 26.0% from 25 to 44, 21.1% from 45 to 64, and 15.8% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.7 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $24,293, and for a family was $29,953. Males had a median income of $27,722 versus $18,064 for females. The per capita income for the city was $13,065. About 20.5% of families and 23.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 31.5% of those under age 18 and 22.0% of those age 65 or over.
The City of Sweetwater is served by the Sweetwater Independent School District, which includes J.P.Cowen Early Childhood Center, East Ridge Elementary, Southeast Elementary, Sweetwater Intermediate School, Sweetwater Middle School, and Sweetwater High School. For more information about Sweetwater ISD, visit the official SISD website.
In King of the Pecos, a 1936 film starring John Wayne, Muriel Evans, and Cy Kendall, Sweetwater is portrayed as a single homestead and said to be a necessary watering stop for the first cattle drive presumably up what would become the Pecos Trail towards Abilene, where a new railhead has been completed. Pecos to Abilene is about 250 miles, but said to be 1600 miles by characters in the movie, though they cross the distance with cattle in a short time.
^Marina Nemir of Sweetwater, "WASP (Women's Airforce Pilots) and the Avenger Field in Sweetwater", West Texas Historical Association, annual meeting, West Texas A&M University at Canyon, April 5, 2008.
^"Trackdown". Classic TV Archives. Retrieved April 14, 2012.
^Billy Hathorn, "Roy Bean, Temple Houston, Bill Longley, Ranald Mackenzie, Buffalo Bill, Jr., and the Texas Rangers: Depictions of West Texans in Series Television, 1955 to 1967", West Texas Historical Review, Vol. 89 (2013), p. 105
^ ab"Biography - Sammy Baugh". Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. Retrieved 22 Nov 2011.Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Tx" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).