From its humble beginning of being just a small native settlement along the banks of a river, Santiago evolved into a Pueblo, reverted back to being a barangay of Echague, became a full-pledged municipality in 1910 until it finally became an Independent Component City in 1994. In 1998, it was transformed into a Component City and later through a historic Supreme Court decision, regained its original status of an Independent-Component City.

Corollary to its political status of being the first city in Region II is its phenomenal economic growth, which can be traced as far as the Spanish and American periods where its economy started to flourish through the Cagayan River, which provided the main migration and trading routes.

After the war, reparations of war damages made way for more development the most notable of which was the construction of the Pan American Highway including one of the major components, which is the steel arch Calao Bridge.

Reciprocating its great strides in infrastructure and utility development is its geographic centrality with respect to the different towns and provinces of Region II and the different neighboring regions as well. Forming a proverbial infinite tie, the three (3) major roads that converge at the urban area practically polarized and shaped the city to become what it is today known as the fastest growing economy in Region II. It is now being groomed as an agricultural Center and the Commercial haven of the North.