Joshua Bentley is thought to be the first settler of Ellington, from Rensselaer County in about 1814. He purchased a tract of land from the Holland Land Company in the Conewango Valley area and built a log cabin. John Bates built a tavern in 1815 and 1820, and Ward King built the first grist mill. The first apple orchard was planted by Simon Lawrence, with seeds said to be carried in his pocket.
Timber was an important early industry in Ellington, with lumber hauled from Ellington to Jamestown and floated on rafts to Pittsburgh.
The population of Ellington grew until the gold rush was discovered in California in 1849, coupled with the decision to turn away railroad stops that were later placed in Conewango Valley and Kennedy. Even still, the town had 12 operating schools by 1872.