Alpine is located in a wide valley in the foothills of the Davis Mountains in northwest Brewster County. Cattlemen lived in tents near their herds in the area between 1878 and 1882. The town began in the spring of 1882, when a few railroad workers and their families pitched their tents along a small spring-fed creek at the foot of what is now known as "A" Mountain. The railroad section was given the name of Osborne, and for a brief period the name Osborne was applied to the small community of settlers. The best of the springs was on a section belonging to Daniel and Thomas Murphy. The railroad needed control of the spring as a source of water for its steam engines, so it entered into an agreement with the Murphys to change the name of the section and settlement to Murphyville in exchange for a contract to use the spring. In November of 1883 the Murphys registered a plat for the town of Murphyville with the county clerk of Presidio County.
As the town grew the residents petitioned for its name to be changed to Alpine, and on February 3, 1888, the name of the local post office was officially changed. In 1888 a description of the town mentioned a dozen houses, three saloons, a hotel and rooming house, a livery stable, a butcher shop, and a drugstore, which also housed the post office.
Alpine grew very slowly until 1921. Then came the opening of Sul Ross State Normal College (now Sul Ross State University) and the construction of the first paved roads into the area. The college, along with ranching and the transcontinental railroad, made Alpine the center of activities in the Big Bend area of Texas. At this time city utilities, including water, sewerage, and electricity, came to the community. In the early 1940s, with the establishment of Big Bend National Park, Alpine came to be looked upon as the entrance to the park. Since the early 1960s the rapid influx of affluent retired people into the area has been an important factor in the town's continued growth.
Alpine is listed as one of the fifty safest and most economical places for retirement in the United States. It is often spoken of as the "heart of the Big Bend," the "Alps of Texas," "out where the West begins," and the "economic, cultural, and recreational center for Trans-Pecos Texas." Alpine was incorporated by 1929. The town is served by the Southern Pacific and South Orient railroads, Amtrak, and several bus lines and is crossed by U.S. highways 90 and 67 and State Highway 118. The Big Bend Telephone Company has its headquarters in Alpine and serves customers who are not served by Southwestern Bell. In addition to the facilities of three major petroleum companies Alpine has a number of financial institutions and small businesses. The medical needs of the area are met by Big Bend Regional Medical Center. The town has three public schools and more than eighteen churches. Recreational facilities include public parks, swimming pools, a golf course, tennis courts, and an outdoor theater. Alpine also has a TV cable system, two radio stations, and the campus communications program at Sul Ross.
The population was estimated at 396 in 1904. By 1927 it had risen to 3,000. The 1950 census reported Alpine's population at 5,256, but the 1960 census reported only 4,740 residents. A high of approximately 6,200 was reached by 1976. In 1980 residents numbered 5,465 and businesses 108. In 1990 the population was 5,637. In 2000 the population grew to 5,786.