The area of Fairfax County known as Burke is named for Silas Burke (1796–1854), a 19th-century farmer, merchant, and local politician who built a house on a hill overlooking the valley of Pohick Creek in approximately 1824. The house is still standing. When the Orange and Alexandria Railroad was constructed in the late 1840s, the railroad station at the base of that hill was named "Burke's Station" after Burke, who owned the land in the area and donated a right-of-way to the railroad company. The community that grew up around the railroad station acquired a post office branch in 1852. Currently, railroad tracks on the same historical line are owned by the Norfolk Southern Railway and form part of the Manassas line of the Virginia Railway Express commuter rail system, of which two stations lie in the Burke area. The original Burke Station building can still be seen in the community, turned 90 degrees from its historical footprint.
The area remained predominantly rural well into the mid-20th century. After World War I, some employees of the federal government began moving into the area, and commuted to Washington by train. In 1951, the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Administration announced plans to condemn 4,520 acres (1,830 ha) of land in Burke to construct a second airport to serve the Washington metropolitan area. After a lengthy lobbying campaign by area residents, the government in 1958 selected a site near Chantilly, Virginia, which is now Washington Dulles International Airport, instead of Burke. This parcel of land was later developed into what is now referred to as Burke Centre. Burke Centre is a 1,700-acre planned community that was formerly part of the Burke CDP but is now a separate census-designated area. It is located west of Burke and is divided into five subcommunities: The Commons, The Landings, The Oaks, The Ponds and The Woods. Other notable communities in the Burke area include Rolling Valley West, Burke Village I & II, Lakepointe, Longwood Knolls, Burke Lake Meadows, Edgewater, Lake Braddock, Signal Hill, Crownleigh, and Cherry Run along with Burke Station Square. The first large subdivision in the vicinity, Kings Park, was constructed beginning in 1960, and was followed by many others over the next two decades, converting Burke into a densely populated suburban community.
Burke is served by two Virginia Railway Express stations, Burke Centre and Rolling Road, both on the Manassas line. It is also served by the Metrobus (Washington, D.C.) system, via the 17A, B, G, H, K, and L and the 18G, H, J, P, R, and S routes, with rush hour only service to the Pentagon and Springfield Metro stations. Along the boundaries of adjoining Fairfax Station, Burke Lake Park is an 888-acre park centered on a 218-acre recreational lake. The park contains a 4.5-mile jogging trail, campsites, numerous picnic and sports areas, an 18-hole par three golf course with driving range, a disc golf course, miniature golf course, boat rental, amphitheater, ice cream parlor, carousel, and miniature train ride.