Burke was originally named Rhodes in honor of postmaster and general store owner W. R. Rhodes, The location of his store is unknown, but it was likely adjacent the railroad tracks in the center of town.
In 1885 Burke had three sawmills and three cotton gins. By 1888 it had three general stores, a drugstore, a sawmill, a dentist and watchmaker, and a Farmers' Alliance store.
Harvey Belote, who owned much of the land where the town of Burke is located, ran a general merchandise store until he retired in the 1920s.
Besides their sawmill the Treadwells operated a company storehouse and general mercantile in Burke, located just opposite and east of the Houston East and Texas depot.
According to Gertrude Johnson Murrah, Arthur Arrington, whose second marriage was to her grandmother Emma Johnson, ran a combination grocery and drug store directly across from the old post office building. It was not the "boarding house" building that held Harvey Belote's store but was located facing the railroad tracks approximately where Fayette and Tennie Havard later lived.
Before Angelina County voted "dry" in 1902, Burke had several saloons. One was run by brothers Patrick K. and Robert B. Austin. Other saloons were operated by Bloomer F. Florence and his brother-in-law S. H. Spuiell.
Cary Crager ran a barber shop in a small building located adjacent the Burke and McCall store on the north side.