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The Senecas had a major village located in the Southern Tier called “Kah-ni-sti-oh.” The first settlers arrived around 1788, making Canisteo one of the earliest occupied locations in the county.

Canisteo is rich in Indian lore. It is the site of the largest Living Sign in the world, noted by the Registry of Historical Places. It is 60 by 400 feet. The seeds for it were planted in 1934. It is known as the “world famous living sign” which was once featured in a Ripley’s “Believe it or Not!” book. The sign spells out the name of the village in Scotch Pine trees and has been around for more than fifty years. It is maintained by the local school and is viewable from Greenwood street near the elementary school. The sign, which has an almost perfect North/South axis, is still used by the armed services to orient true north when flying over it. The Canisteo Living Sign was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

The town was formed in 1796 at the time of the creation of Steuben County and is one of its original towns. From parts of Canisteo came, in whole or part, the Towns of West Union, Hartsville, Hornellsville (1920), Greenwood(1827), Troupsburg (1808, 1820) and Jasper (1927).

The population of Canisteo in 1905 was 3,171.

An Indian village on this site, Kanestio Castle, was destroyed in 1765 by Sir William Johnson. Settlers began arriving at the new community around 1789. It was one of the first settlements in what is today Steuben County. The largest growth came after the American Civil War when many factories opened. The village was incorporated in 1873.

The Village of Canisteo was originally called Bennettsville, and “consisted of a few houses and the rather large Canisteo House hotel”. The original Canisteo, today a hamlet called Canisteo Center, was south of the present village, along the river. When the Erie Railroad was built approximately in 1870, there was not room for a depot between the tracks and the Canisteo River, so the depot was built upriver, at its present location. Railroad Street (today Depot Street) was built to connect the depot to the Canisteo House hotel. A large community with businesses, shops, and other hotels sprang up.

Canisteo received dial telephone service about 1950; the original building, on Fifth St., was still in use as of 2018. Numbers were four digits, beginning with 2- or 4-, and the only pay phone in town, in the school, with 8-. However, it was an isolated island until the commercial center of Hornell got dial service in 1963. To call Hornell, one dialed 3- for a Hornell operator. This is probably a reason why Hornell’s exchange, 324, begins with a 3-. The only other dialable location was the hamlet of Cameron, whose exchange was accessed by dialing 5-.

The Village of Canisteo has continued to evolve over the years welcoming several different businesses and industries. A current listing of active businesses can be found here.