Sonora, the seat of Sutton County, is at the crossroads of Interstate Highway 10, Exit 400 and U.S. Highway 277, sixty-five miles south of San Angelo and ninety miles north of Del Rio.
About 1885 Charles G. (Charlie) Adams, a rancher and merchant from Fort McKavett, settled on four sections of land two miles north of Winkler's Well, one of the few water sources in the county. He staked a townsite and named it Sonora, after a family servant who came from Sonora, Mexico. In 1889, the year the community received a post office, Adams drilled a water well and offered free lots in his town, which in 1890 was selected as the county seat. The community comprised eighteen houses, three stores, two livery stables, two hotels, a combined schoolhouse and Masonic lodge, and fourteen tents. The weekly Devil's River News, Sutton County's oldest continuously operating business, began publication in 1890 under the direction of Mike Murphy. By 1892 Sonora had 700 inhabitants, two saloons, a grain and flour mill, a restaurant, three physicians, and at least one church; it was connected to San Antonio by a mail stage. R. W. Callahan, who owned much of the city property, donated land for the courthouse, which was completed in 1893. Most of the area residents were ranchers.
In 1900 a number of merchants led by E. F. Vander Stucken formed the First National Bank of Sonora. On September 12, 1902, a fire wiped out nearly half the town's businesses. Proprietors who could afford to rebuild did so with native stone. A new school building was completed in 1904. In the early days supplies were freighted from San Angelo and Fort McKavett by wagons, a round trip that took from six to fifteen days. In 1908 the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient Railway was awarded a contract to lay track from San Angelo to Del Rio with a stop in Sonora. Work began in 1909, but financial problems retarded progress. Eventually, in 1928, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe acquired the Orient line and began construction on the San Angelo-to-Sonora portion of the original proposed route. On May 13, 1930, after a wait of some twenty-three years, the first train rolled into Sonora.
From a population of 738 in 1904, the town grew to 1,009 in 1925 and nearly 1,800 by the end of the decade. Between 1910 and 1920 several churches were constructed, including Baptist, Episcopal, and Methodist. In 1914 the First National Bank reported capital holdings of $100,000, and a second newspaper, C. R. Meyers's New Era, began publication. Sonora was incorporated in 1917. Above all else, prosperity continued to depend on livestock and livestock products. When the Great Depression caused the price of wool to drop by more than half, local sheep and goat raisers organized the Wool and Mohair Cooperative Marketing Association, later known as the Sonora Wool and Mohair Company. The cooperative sold 2,738,600 pounds of wool in its first year, and as time went on it helped stabilize commodity prices. The Sonora Wool and Mohair Company continues to handle most of the region's production and sponsors the annual Sonora Wool and Mohair show, where the National 4-H Wool Judging Contest has been held since 1938.
The population of Sonora remained steady in the 1920s at about 1,900, and the number of businesses, after declining from fifty-five to forty-three between 1931 and 1933, held firm for the rest of the decade. The prosperity that followed World War II stimulated another wave of development. The first city hospital was constructed in 1955, largely with a gift from the estate of community leader Roy Hudspeth. The first adequate airport, named after land doner Joe Berger, was completed in 1957. In 1959 the city council commissioned plans for a series of flood-control dams; thirteen were constructed on the Devil's River Draw and Lowrey Draw by March 1961. By that time Sonora had a population of 2,633.
During the 1970s oil and gas exploration peaked in the area. In 1977 an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 people lived in Sonora. But that year the boom ended, and the Santa Fe Railroad received permission to close its Sonora terminal. In 1984 the population was 4,500; 52 percent were Mexican American. The schools were integrated in 1970. In 1990 the population had fallen to 2,751. In 2000 the community contained 2,924 inhabitants and 222 businesses.
In 2008, Sonora had a population of 3,060 and Sutton County's population was 4,303. In the latter part of 2008 and on into 2009, a decline in the oil and gas industry, coupled with the national financial crisis, has taken a toll on Sonora's economy and forced a number of residents to relocate. The ultimate impact of this latest economic downturn cannot be envisioned at this time.