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Cuba Village

Cuba Village Hall is located at 17 East Main Street, Cuba, NY 14727; phone: 585-968-1560.

Beginnings [1]

The area presently associated with the village of Cuba was originally part of a large tract granted by the Holland Land Company to nine men in 1806; the area, however, was not permanently settled until Col. Samuel H. Morgan and Salmon Abbott arrived in 1811 and 1812, respectively. These two settlers were soon followed by others, including General Calvin T. Chamberlain, James Strong, Judge John Griffen, David Row and Stephen Cole. Cuba originally was known as Oil Creek, named after the area's principal creek and famous oil spring where oil was discovered in 1627. The small community flourished initially as a trading center and seasonal stop-over for pioneers moving westward. Travelers would move into Cuba in the fall and winter, construct temporary shelter and devote their time before the first spring flood to building rafts or boats to continue their journey westward via Oil Creek towards the Mississippi River. The town was created by an act of legislature on February 4, 1822 and the name was changed to Cuba. Four justices and prominent founding fathers, Calvin T. Chamberlain, Samuel H. Morgan, John Griffin and Stephen Cady, were present to conduct the first town meeting.

During the 1820s and 1830s Cuba continued to flourish as a trading center. In 1820, Judge John Griffen had moved to the area and bought the land which is now the incorporated village of Cuba. In 1832 Stephen Smith purchased Griffin's holdings; General Chamberlain erected a public house and opened a small mercantile establishment. (At some point during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, it appears that Chamberlain acquired a large portion of Smith's holdings; Smith retained ownership of all village property north of Main Street while Chamberlain was in possession of all land south of Main Street.) The community's economic prosperity by the end of the 1830s is evinced by the number of dry goods stores, haberdasheries, milliners, butchers and banks, most of which were located in Cuba's central business district along East and West Main Streets. In addition, Cuba's foremost industrial concern, the Cuba Cheese plant (later known as Empire Cheese) was established by Ackerly, Sill & Company. By the mid-1800s, two additional firms, George H. Harris & Co. and Demcey & Sibley, were also extensively engaged in producing cheese.

A number of tanneries and mills also contributed to Cuba's economic prosperity at mid-century. Tanning had been an important industry in Cuba's early history. Erastus Kinney, a shoemaker, had a small tannery in the village. Another was run by Alfred Brand, who was the town's first manufacturer of boots and shoes. W.P. Stevens bought and expanded the Smith & Adams Tannery in 1844; Robert Adams built another tannery in 1870 on the site which later became the location of Phelps & Sibley Merchant Flouring & Feed Mills, established in 1884. Lumbering was also an important industry in Cuba's early history. Taking advantage of the area's dense forests of fine hardwoods, a number of local businessmen capitalized on the need for lumber during the building boom which occurred in the mid-1800s. Calvin Chamberlain, one of Cuba's most important founding fathers, owned one of the first sawmills; his operation was located two miles east of the village.

The village was incorporated on November 9, 1850. A number of important mid-century developments contributed to Cuba's continuing prosperity. The completion of the Erie and Pennsylvania Railroads in 1851 facilitated the transshipment of Cuba's most important product, cheese, to eastern markets, as well as increasing transportation efficiency in general. The Genesee Valley Canal was completed in 1856. An artificial spring-fed lake was constructed about two miles north of the village in 1858 at a cost of $150,000 as a reservoir to feed the canal. This lake, known as Cuba Lake, covers an area of nearly 1,600 acres. After the canal closed in 1878, the State of New York planned to drain the lake and abandon it as a state property. However, through the diligent work of Charles M. Wyvell, superintendent of the northern division of the canal in 1875, this plan was changed and Cuba Lake became a water preserve under New York State jurisdiction. It became an immediate success as a family resort, particularly because of its close proximity to the village of Cuba. Summer cottages began to appear on the North Shore about 1900; most were owned by Cuba residents. The popularity of the lake continues today, completely surrounded by privately owned, year-round dwellings.

  1. Nancy L. Todd, New York State Department of Parks and Recreation, Division for Historic Preservation, South Street Historic District, Cuba, Allegany County, New York, nomination document, 1988, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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