Burwell began as a post office named The Forks in 1875. The town was incorporated as a village and changed its name to Burwell in 1884. Three years later, the newly-incorporated Lincoln & Black Hills Railroad laid track from Central City to Burwell. The L & BH planned to build all the way to South Dakota. The grade was constructed as far north as Butka in Rock County, but no tracks were laid beyond Burwell. The turntable was built here instead. It allowed steam locomotives to be turned around to make the return trip.
Although the railroad was owned by the L & BH, it was leased and operated by the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad. The CB & Q bought the line in 1908.