Not too many towns in the country can trace their recorded history back to the 16th century, but Parkin most likely can do so. Evidence indicates that it was the site of the American Indian village of Casqui, described by Hernando de Soto during his expedition through the area in 1541. The main Casqui mound is preserved at what is now Parkin Archeological State Park, an official interpretive center for the Great River Road National Scenic Byway.

Named for William Parkin of Memphis, who was in charge of laying tracks for the Iron Mountain railroad in the late 1880s, the town quickly developed as a sawmill and lumber town, with the two major businesses becoming the Northern Ohio Cooperage and Lumber Company and the Lansing Wheelbarrow Company. In 1910, a school for the children of African American workers at these mills was established on property that is now part of the state park. The school has been preserved and is open to visitors.

During the 1940s, both major mills closed, and the community shifted to the agricultural focus that exists today.  Farming operations were sustained through World War II, thanks to a German prisoner of war camp established in Parkin that contracted prisoners out to address the labor shortage. “Summer of My German Soldier,” a novel by Bette Greene, was written from her childhood memories about the prisoners in Parkin.

Located just 30 miles northwest of Memphis, Parkin was a regular stop for musicians on tour, including such greats as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and B. B. King. Another highly successful musician, bluesman Chester Arthur “Howlin’ Wolf” Burnett, learned to play the harmonica after moving to Parkin in his early twenties.