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Olean Town

Olean Town Hall is located at 2634 Route 16 North, Olean NY 14760; phone: 716-373-0582.

Beginnings [1]

The Town of Olean, a division of the Holland Land Company, was formed on March 11, 1808, at the same time Cattaraugus County was created by an Act of the New York State Legislature. The Town of Olean, located in the southeastern area of the county of Cattaraugus, grew slowly with settlers from Pennsylvania and New England, as well as eastern New York. Adam Hoops is credited with the naming of the Town of Olean, while the 1808 map drawn by E. Johnson of the village carries the name Hamilton, in honor of Alexander Hamilton, his compatriot in Revolutionary service. As early as April 1804, Adam Hoops proposed to Joseph Ellicott that the Indian name Ischus was confusing and suggested the name Olean, being more appropriately named for the nearby oil spring (most likely derived from the Latin word, oleum, meaning oil). The names given to the streets on the 1808 map are distinguished soldiers and statesmen (Sullivan, Laurens, Warren, and Montgomery Streets) and suggest the influence of the Revolutionary War. The grid system of north-south and east-west streets with various squares set aside for public purposes, resemble that of the plan for Philadelphia, encountered by Adam Hoops while in residence.

The settlement had less than 500 permanent residents by 1810, but in the years before the completion of the Erie Canal (1825), thousands of emigrants gathered in Olean to build rafts for their trip down the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers. Overland travel in 1810 was difficult on crude roads, but by 1815 the Olean to Batavia Road, a north/south corridor was passable as well as the Cerestwon, Pennsylvania to Olean Road. By 1828, the Holland Land Company had built a road to Buffalo by way of Ellicottville, the first county seat. Partly, as a result of the seasonal influx of people, Olean experienced an expansion of commercial activity and began to utilize a variety of natural resources to stimulate growth. The initial industry centered around the vast timber resources in the region. As early as 1807, Wyllys Thrall and William Shepard built saw mills on Olean Creek, while Robert Hoops built the first grist mill in 1809. The surrounding forest had a variety of hardwoods and tall pine trees, which were harvested and floated down river on large rafts to supply more distant markets. Economic development through lumbering reached its zenith during the period between the 1830's and 1840's, it remained a significant activity throughout the nineteenth century and provided the basis for a number of other related industries such as tanning, manufacturing of wagons, farming implements, building construction materials and home furnishings. Another prominent settler arriving in Olean in the spring of 1818 was Frederick S. Martin, who operated a farm on land along East State Street, leased the Olean House Hotel and constructed a flour mill and a large sawmill by 1852.

During the first half of the nineteenth century, Olean grew slowly, because of the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, which changed the travel patterns that were more dependable. By 1834, people on the southern tier saw the need for a lateral canal, which would connect Olean to the Erie Canal System. The Genesee Valley Canal began in Rochester in 1837, but did not reach Olean until 1856. The canal traffic at first was important to Olean, but by 1877 it had become too expensive to operate, because of the competition with railroads and closed. The arrival of the New York and Erie Railroad, later called the Erie, in 1851 was a key factor in the substantial growth in population, manufacturing and agricultural development, because it provided a less expensive avenue of reaching eastern/western markets. The fertile soil near Olean supported grain and dairy farming as the forest products were harvested. By the 1870's, several small railroads combined to become the Pennsylvania Railroad, which provided an important connection for Olean, between Emporium, Pennsylvania and Buffalo. Olean had a central location where lines of travel and traffic branched off in several directions, carrying coal, iron, hemlock, dairy and farm products, lumber and oil.

  1. Ross, Claire L., New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, Oak Hill Park Historic District, nomination document, 1997, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
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