Plainview, the county seat of Hale County, is on Runningwater Draw at the intersection of Interstate Highway 27, U.S. highways 87 and 70, State Highway 194, and numerous local roads, forty-seven miles north of Lubbock and seventy-six miles south of Amarillo in the northeast section of the county. The Burlington Northern and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroads serve the city. The elevation is 3,366 feet above sea level. In 1886 Z. T. Maxwell moved with his family and 2,000 sheep from Floyd County and established a farm in what is now northeast Hale County. About the same time Edwin Lowden Lowe from Tennessee took up residence north of the Maxwell homestead. Enticed by the possibility of founding a town, Maxwell and Lowe secured a post office on March 18, 1887. The names Runningwater and Hackberry Grove were rejected in favor of Plainview (Lowe's choice), since a vast treeless plain surrounded the post office. The town received a charter on July 3, 1888. Plainview became the county seat when Hale County was organized in August of 1888, despite moderate competition from Hale Center. The first courthouse was soon completed, at a cost of $2,500. Within a year the town grew to a population of seventy-five and had a hotel, a Methodist church, and Thornton Jones's store. The first newspaper in the county was the Hale County Hesperian, established in Plainview by John Davidson and D. B. Hill in October 1889. The first public school opened the same year. Located on a cattle trail in an area of abundant water, good ranchland, and excellent soil, the new town grew dramatically. By 1892 Plainview had four churches, two hotels, a seminary, a newspaper, stagecoach service, numerous businesses, and a population of 250. In 1906 the Pecos and Northern Texas Railway reached the town. The line was dedicated the next day, January 1, 1907. The coming of the railroad brought an agricultural boom for Plainview and the surrounding area. The growing city incorporated in 1907. The population reached almost 3,000 by 1910, when the economic district housed ninety businesses, including twenty land agencies. A local newspaper editor nicknamed the town the "Athens of West Texas." Central Plains College and Conservatory of Music was founded in Plainview in September 1907 and was soon bought by the Methodist Church and renamed Seth Ward College. Successful years followed until the entire college complex (three buildings) burned in 1916. Wayland Baptist College, now Wayland Baptist University, was established in 1909 after Dr. John H. Wayland gave forty acres of land and $10,000 to found a Baptist school in Plainview.
The area surrounding Plainview was used mainly for grazing before the railroad came. Early crops included corn, maize, sorghum, millet, alfalfa, vegetables, wheat, and fruit. Cotton was first tried in 1903, and irrigated farming developed after 1910. Many settlers in the area took advantage of the Texas Land and Development Company, established by Milton D. Henderson and Frederick S. Pearson in 1912; in the company's program incoming farmers could purchase improved lands complete with living facilities and farm buildings. Early cultural institutions in Plainview included a brass band established by Albert G. Hinn and the Schick Opera House, built by Levi Schick in 1911. By 1925 the city had a population of 7,500, numerous industries, and 50,000 shade trees. Unlike many South Plains cities, Plainview rested almost entirely on an agricultural economic base. In 1969 country singing star Jimmy Dean opened the Jimmy Dean Meat Company, which was later closed; in 1971 Missouri Beef Packers opened a large beef-processing plant near Plainview. The population of Plainview was 8,834 in 1930, 8,263 in 1940, 14,044 in 1950, 18,735 in 1960, 19,096 in 1970, 22,187 in 1980, 22,414 in 1988, and 21,700 in 1990.
The Hale County Historical Commission was founded in Plainview in 1963 in response to a federal directive establishing regional organizations. On July 4, 1976, the Llano Estacado Museum was opened on the campus of Wayland Baptist University to further the study of the South Plains. Of numerous newspapers established in early Plainview, only the Plainview Daily Herald remained in 1990. In the 1980s Plainview had 395 businesses, mostly related to an agricultural economy. Annual events included the Panhandle Parade of Breeds, Pioneer Round-Up Day in May, a June rodeo, and the High Plains Cotton Festival in October. In the city is the site of an early bison kill, dated by scientists at 7,000 to 9,000 years old. A uniquely shaped spear point found at the site in 1941 was later named the Plainview point.