Nestled between the Adirondack Mountains to the west and Lake Champlain to the east, the town was formed in 1792 from Plattsburgh and Willsboro (Essex Co). Settlers thought the mountains surrounding the town resembled those of the Andean nation. The Ausable River crosses the southeast corner of the town, while the Little Ausable River drains most of the rest.
The earliest concentration of settlers was a Quaker community called "Union," in the vicinity of the present Keese Homestead and Quaker Cemetery. These Quakers were mainly farmers. Many became active in the Underground Railroad, with known stops at the homes of Stephen Keese Smith and Samuel Keese, both dedicated abolitionists in town.
Peru's rich military history places it on the map of important Revolutionary War sites. On October 11, 1776, the historic Revolutionary War naval battle of Valcour, led by Benedict Arnold, occurred in the channel between Peru and Valcour Island to the east. Though the Americans could not claim victory, they did successfully hamper the advancing British naval fleet and thus delayed British General Burgoyne's advance on Saratoga. Visitors can follow Route 9 to the Benedict Arnold Monument, and from the Peru dock they can see Valcour Island.
Peru had a very active port, Port Jackson [now Valcour]. Prior to 1823, white pine and other timber were shipped by raft from here to Quebec. After the opening of the Champlain Canal in 1823, lumber was destined for Albany.
Ironworks, lumber mills, cloth and starch factories, dairy farms and orchards provided Peru's economy. Iron making in particular contributed to its growth when high quality iron ore was discovered at Arnold Hill in 1810. As forests were cleared, settlers opened soil rich for agriculture. Though once known for its diversity, including potatoes grown and sold to starch factories, today apple orchards and dairies occupy most of the working lands, while most residents commute to Plattsburgh.