The earliest known visitor to the area was Lewis P. Hyde, who first came to the area in 1866. The first actual settler was August Linderman. By 1868, there were 35 people living in Lincoln County. The residents named the community Canton, believing the location to be the exact opposite of Canton, China. By the summer of that year, a caravan of 180 Norwegian settlers crossed the Big Sioux River to make their home in Canton.
In 1880, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad crossed the Big Sioux River to reach Canton. The city still has an active rail freight service. The city has many historical homes and buildings dating back to the late 1800s. Some notable sites include The Kennedy Mansion on Dakota Street, as well as the Historical Society House built in 1886. Lincoln County Courthouse was built in 1889, and Canton Lutheran Church was built in 1908.