Newkirk (population 2,243) was platted by the Federal Government in 1893 to be a county seat in the newly opened Cherokee Outlet, a swath of land populated by the fourth, and largest, of Oklahoma's five land runs. It became the county seat of Kay County. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railroad ran the length of the townsite and helped to ensure the community’s early economic growth.
In the 1920s, the discovery of oil added to the vitality of the already booming economy. Substantial buildings were built around town, many of native limestone, and one of the most beautiful courthouses in the state was built on the public square. Today, Newkirk has some one of the most intact historic streetscapes in Oklahoma. In 1984, Newkirk's entire business district was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1992, when Oklahoma Main Street added small towns under 5,000 to their program, Newkirk became of the first to be accepted. Since then, over $7.2 million in public and private money has been invested in the downtown. Newkirk has also launched the Junior Main Street program for local youth, who undertake an annual community clean-up. Junior Main Street members have also helped develop a coloring book featuring Newkirk’s historic buildings.
To promote heritage tourism, Newkirk has joined in Wild West Group, a regional heritage tourism program. The community also participates in the Oklahoma Main Street Center’s walking tour program, a coordinated effort to encourage people to experience Oklahoma’s historic downtowns.
Designated a Preserve America Community in November 2005.