A Brief History

A Brief History by Richard G. Sherer

Steuben County Seal(Updated by John Ormsby)


Steuben County, as a political entity, came about by an act of the Ontario County legislature on March 18, 1796. Prior to that, a succession of developmental moves brought forth Ontario County from Montgomery and Albany counties. Steuben County was named after Frederic William Augustus "Baron Von Steuben", a German drillmaster in the Revolutionary War. 

Steuben County at that time had a population of about 890 people and an area of about 50 miles square. Over the years, portions have been annexed to Allegany, Yates, Livingston and Schuyler Counties, so that the present size of Steuben County is 1,397 square miles of land area. As a matter of comparison, Steuben County has 348 more square miles of land area than the State of Rhode Island. 

Land Ownership History

In 1788 Phelps and Gorham obtained the Genesee Tract of 2,600,000 acres from Massachusetts by an act of the state legislature. Two years later, they conveyed to Robert Morris, the great colonial banker and merchant, the remaining unsold 1,200,000 acres. In 1792, Morris sold to Colonel Charles Williamson, agent for the Association of British Capitalists, nearly 1,200,000 acres, which became the Pulteney Estate. The territory was surveyed into townships and lots for the Pulteney Estate. In 1793 Colonial Williamson commenced a settlement at Bath, now the County seat. 


Steuben is a rural county with a population of approximately 100,000. At one time, the largest industry in the county was farming, the main portion of which was dairy farms. While still an important part of the economy, agriculture has given way to other major economic developments, including tourism, with many attractions, much scenic beauty, and pleasant accommodations. There are many wineries that have tours and many museums to visit. Steuben County offers natural beauty, serenity and comfortable living throughout its hills and lakelands.