Adair County, organized in 1841, was named after  John Adair, Governor of Kentucky, the state of origin for many of the settlers.

The town of Kirksville was laid out in 1841 and became the county seat that same year. While the name Kirksville literally means ‘village of churches’, the city was named after one of its earliest settlers and tavern owner Jessie Kirk. Legend has it that the surveyors working in the area were invited to share Thanksgiving dinner and good whiskey with Kirk provided that they name the town after him. The deal was made, and the new town became Kirksville.

Memorial Park commemorates the  Battle of Kirksville, a Civil War action. On Aug. 6, 1862 1,250 Union troops arrived under the command of Col John McNeil to meet 2,000 Confederate soldiers led by Col. Joseph C. Porter. After a three hour battle around the Courthouse and the northwest part of town, the Confederates retreated. The Adair County Historical Society has a cannon ball retrieved from the Court House.

The First District Normal School (now Truman State University) was found in 1867 by Joseph Baldwin and has the distinction of being Missouri’s only highly selective statewide public liberal arts and sciences university.

The  American School of Osteopathy (ASO) was founded by  Andrew Taylor Still in Kirksville in 1892, in a two room frame building. The first class of five women and sixteen men, including three of Still’s children and one of his brothers, graduated in 1894. Today the A.T. Still University of Health Sciences provides leadership for comprehensive medical education, research, and healthcare throughout the world.

Kirksville serves north central Missouri as an educational, medical, agricultural and manufacturing center.