Prairie View is on U.S. Highway 290 and the Texas and New Orleans Railroad, between Hempstead and Waller in north central Waller County. It traces its roots to Alta Vista, the plantation home of Jared E. and Helen Marr (Swearingen) Kirby. Alta Vista was one of four plantations and several small farms owned by the Kirbys in the vicinity of Best and Iron creeks, and at one time claimed a population of 400 slaves. Kirby was a colonel in the Confederate Army, and his home was Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith's headquarters during the later phases of the Civil War. When her husband died soon after the war, Mrs. Kirby was left in debt. In 1867 she transformed the mansion into a boarding school for young ladies called Alta Vista Institute; when she moved the school to Austin in 1876 she sold Alta Vista to the state of Texas. That year the Fifteenth Legislature established the first public institution of higher learning for Blacks in Texas, to be located on the former Kirby plantation. The new agricultural and mechanical training school opened in March 1878 with only eight students, who did not remain long. In April 1879 an act of the state legislature established Prairie View Normal and Industrial Training School (now Prairie View A&M University) to extend broader educational opportunities to Black youth. It opened on October 6, 1879, with sixteen students, and flourished.
In 1892 the first post office in Prairie View was established by Duncan D. Robertson in his home, which also served as a general store for the area's Black college students and for White farmers and stock raisers. The population at this time was reported as 300. The post office was discontinued in 1938, but in 1988 mail still came to a branch office in the Prairie View A&M student center, via the Hempstead post office. The presence of an academic institution contributed as significantly to the area's growth as did agriculture. In the late 1980s the town remained both a college and agricultural community. It got its water from the Prairie View A&M University water system and was dependent upon the university for fire protection, ambulance service, and medical service. Local farmers produce corn, melons, and other commercial crops and benefit from the expertise available from the school's agricultural department. Prairie View citizens voted to incorporate in the spring of 1969, electing W. D. Thompson as their first mayor. The City News, published twice a month, began publication in July of that year. The town had six churches, retail businesses, the Waller ISD Junior High School, and a bus station. Prairie View is also home to St. Francis Episcopal Church, established in 1870. The church was originally located in Hempstead and was moved to its present location in 1958. The population of Prairie View was 4,129 in 1980 and 4,004 in 1990. By 2000 the population was 4,410.