Canton's importance rests on its early village for Praying Indians, a center of nineteenth century industrial expansion and a district of estate development beginning in the early twentieth century. Part of the Dorchester new grant of 1636 was set aside in 1657 as Ponkapoag Plantation for Christianized Neponset Indians. Presumably located west of Ponkapoag Pond, this second Praying Town has no physical remains. By the early eighteenth century, English settlers had become the majority at Ponkapoag Village. Good farmland and water power for milling stirred the white settlers to view Canton as too valuable for the Indian community, with several iron works and saw and gristmills constructed along the east branch of the Neponset River by 1730.
In the early nineteenth century, the focus of the community shifted to South Canton, where worker housing developed around the Revere Copper Works (see CT7) and the Neponset Cotton Mill. A turnpike from Milton to Stoughton passed through Canton in 1806, connecting the town's industries to the Boston market. The early arrival of the Boston & Providence Railroad (1835) over the landmark Canton viaduct and the construction of a spur to Stoughton, creating Canton Junction (see CT5; 1845), improved transportation for the growing industries. New immigrants, primarily Irish, arrived to work for these companies, including the Ames shovel factory and the Draper Brothers Company's woolen mills (CT3). By the start of the next century, new industries replaced most of these, converting the former factories to new processes. Where South Canton remained heavily immigrant and working class, the northern and western sections of Canton began to welcome country estates and suburban houses for Yankee stock, dividing the community along scale and ethnic lines. Over the course of the twentieth century, the industrial base has declined as the residential zones expanded. One important exception was the creation of the Boston Metropolitan Airport built on the Neponset marshes in the 1930s, although no longer in service.
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