Prineville is the county seat of Crook County, It was named for the first merchant located in the present location, Barney Prine. Prineville was founded in 1877 when Monroe Hodges filed the original plat for the city.

Once a major town in central Oregon, Prineville was snubbed in 1911 when the railroad tycoons James J. Hill and Edward H. Harriman bypassed the city as they laid track south from The Dalles. In a period when the presence of a railroad meant the difference between prosperity and the eventual fate as a ghost town, in a 1917 election, Prineville residents voted 355 to 1 to build their own railway, and raised the money to connect their town to the main line 19 miles away.

Helped by timber harvests from the nearby Ochoco National Forest, the City of Prineville Railroad prospered for decades. The profits from the railroad were so abundant that between 1964 and 1968, the city levied no property taxes.

Les Schwab Tire Centers, a chain of tire stores based in Prineville, has been associated with the city since the company’s founding in 1952. The city that suffered through the downturn in the wood products industry is enjoying an economic renaissance. Federal jobs with the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service help anchor the economy while a housing boom and a growing tourism industry have diversified the area.

In 2010, Prineville was selected as the location for a new data center for Facebook. On February 21, 2012, Apple announced that it would open a “Green Data Center” on a 160-acre tract of land owned by the company.