In the 18th century there were no large settlements in the parish, but there were multi-family groups in the various fermtouns and the village was often described as a clachan (hamlet). However, its origins date back to the 13th century when John de Gemmelstoun founded a church beside the Dyrock Burn here, which he dedicated to St. Michael. For much of its early life the village was called Kirkmichael of Gemilston, after its founder, but the name was eventually simplified.
The present village church dates from 1787 and is a fairly typical T-plan design intended to provide a large number of seats within a fairly small space. The surrounding churchyard reflects its much greater age, though the attractive lych-gate leading to it only dates back to 1702, according to the inscription on its bell.
Kirkmichael focuses on two intersecting streets, largely occupied by white cottages originally built for hand-weavers in the 1790s. The most unusual building is the red stone McCosh Hall in Patna Road. This serves as the village hall and in 1898 was gifted to the village by James McCosh, President of Princeton University, whose family came from this part of Ayrshire.