Burkeville is at the intersection of State highways 87 and 63, seventy miles northeast of Beaumont in northeast Newton County. John Burke, for whom the town was named, laid out the plots in 1844, although settlers had apparently been in the area for some time. Upon discovering that Quicksand Creek, the place where the court officially first met, was not at the true geographic center of the county as was formerly supposed, Burkeville citizens petitioned in 1847 for their community to become county seat. Burkeville secured the honor in 1848, and an election the following year confirmed its position by a narrow 86–82 margin. The county courthouse, paid for by subscription, was located on a small tract donated by John Burke. The courthouse question was reopened, however, in 1853, when another election made Newton, a newly established settlement at the geographic center of Newton County, county seat. Burkeville citizens refused to allow the transfer without a struggle; indeed, they succeeded in temporarily restoring Burkeville as county seat in 1855. However, county officers refused to leave Newton, and the state legislature ruled in 1856 that Newton should remain county seat. As a center for local agriculture and trade, however, Burkeville remained active. It served as a Confederate arsenal during the Civil War. It had a newspaper, the Newton County Record, and profited from the growth of the lumber industry in the early 1900s. Some 600 bales of cotton were shipped from Burkeville in 1882. A small school, Blum Male and Female College, was chartered in Burkeville in 1880; it was named for Leon Blum, a Galveston merchant who owned a majority of stock in the private corporation that established the school. The institution soon became known as Burkeville School. A fire destroyed every business in Burkeville except one in 1906.
Renewed agricultural strength, especially in stock and poultry raising, several small local industries, and employment opportunities offered by the large refineries of the Gulf Coast had enabled the town's economy largely to overcome the effects of the declining lumber industry by about the time of World War II. Burkeville probably had between 200 and 300 residents before 1900. With the lumber boom of the first quarter of the twentieth century came new residents, and the population grew to as high as 800. In the subsequent economic decline the number of residents dropped below 400 by the mid-1960s. By the mid-1980s the site of the business section had shifted from along State Highway 87 to along State Highway 63. A sub-courthouse was still located in Burkeville. The Burkeville school district encompassed 320 square miles in 1986. While many residents of Burkeville are self-employed, others continue to work in the timber industry or commute to industrial plants in the area. Nearby, the Toledo Bend Reservoir provides recreational opportunities. The population was 515 in 1990 and again in 2000.