Oak Hill Park Historic District
The Oak Hill Park Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document.  Adaptation copyright © 2009, The Gombach Group.
The Oak Hill Park Historic District is situated near the center of Olean, New York, a small city of 6.3 square miles, located seventy-five miles southeast of Buffalo. Olean is located on the north side of the Allegheny River at the confluence of Olean Creek and the Allegheny River, and has served as a major center of transportation, commerce, industry and agriculture. Today, the city is centered around the intersection of State Route 16 (Union Street) and State Route 417. The Oak Hill Park Historic District is located one block northwest of the main business corridor near the intersection of Union Street and State Street. The Oak Hill Park Historic District represents a wide variety of mid-to-late nineteenth century thru early twentieth century architectural styles, including exceptional examples of Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Stick, Colonial Revival, Late Gothic Revival, Art Deco, Craftsman, Collegiate Gothic, French Eclectic, and Tudor Revival style buildings. The Oak Hill Park Historic District encompasses 89 properties: 82 residences, two churches, one school and a landscape design. The approximately 32.5 acre district roughly consists of portions of Laurens, West Sullivan, North First, North Second, North Third, and North Fourth Streets. The Oak Hill Park Historic District contains 76 contributing buildings, 31 contributing structures, and 13 non-contributing components. There are six non-contributing principal buildings in the Oak Hill Park Historic District. Primarily residential in character, the majority of the dwellings are detached and display a variety of decoration.
The boundary of the Oak Hill Park Historic District is drawn to include all of the contiguous, architecturally and/or historically significant resources that retain sufficient physical integrity to meet the National Register criteria. The boundary coincides with the legal (Tax Map) lot lines of the city parcels associated with the nominated buildings. Excluded are areas with heavily altered historic buildings. Surrounding residential areas to the south, between Laurens Street and Union Street, along both sides of North First, North Second, North Third and North Fourth Street are far more modest in scale, design, lack decoration, sited on smaller lots and generally lack integrity. To the east of the Oak Hill Park Historic District, between North First Street and State Street, the residences are heavily altered, with parking lots that service the commercial buildings that face Union Street. The northern boundary is defined by heavily altered residences and an old industrial site located at the bottom of a steep slope. The western boundary follows the rear lot lines of North Fourth Street between West Sullivan and Washington Streets, due to existence of heavily altered modest residences, sited on smaller lots. The properties west of the Oak Hill Park are excluded for the same reasons and are located at the bottom of a steep slope that visually separates the area. The southwest boundary contains a large modern manufacturing facility that has been excluded from the district.
The Oak Hill Park Historic District features a variety of relatively large-scale, highly sophisticated buildings erected between ca.1849 and ca.1937, and is characterized by a remarkably high degree of integrity. The streetscape itself is an important feature of the Oak Hill Park Historic District with its mature trees, some slate sidewalks, stone walls, iron fences, one brick street and consistent set-backs with well-landscaped lawns. The majority of the dwellings are wood frame construction, and are sheathed with clapboard siding or synthetic siding (asbestos, aluminum or vinyl), in some cases installed over the original clapboard. Some residences have a combination of surface treatments such as wood shingle siding, (both plain or decorative, flush board siding and half-timbering with stucco). There are two churches in the Oak Hill Park Historic District, the First Presbyterian Church is constructed of Medina sandstone, while the Immanuel Lutheran Church is constructed of brick and concrete. There are residences that are also brick construction. The more modest houses in scale or design in the Oak Hill Park Historic District are often distinguished by elaborate ornamentation, generally concentrated in the apexes of the gable ends, along cornices or on porches. Buildings of all periods, styles, methods of construction, materials, and levels of craftsmanship and design are fairly evenly distributed throughout the district, illustrating the random, yet orderly, subdivision and development of land over an extended period of time.
The Oak Hill Park Historic District contains a few properties dating from before the Civil War and has several that were built after the turn-of-the-twentieth century that survive intact. However, the majority of the buildings in the district date from the last third of the nineteenth century, thus giving the Oak Hill Park Historic District its overall late Victorian/Colonial Revival character, which corresponds with Olean's booming period of growth and prosperity. The Oak Hill Park Historic District is characterized by an overall visual cohesiveness and contains several outstanding examples of Queen Anne and Stick style residences with finely crafted detail. Eclectic and transitional interpretations of a variety of styles are also represented. A small number of houses are considered vernacular with little or no discernible stylistic features. Many of the dwellings are complemented by intact, late nineteenth century carriage barns or earl twentieth century garages.
The Oak Hill Park Historic District is an architecturally and historically significant concentration of mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century residential, educational, and religious architecture and landscape design, in the City of Olean, Cattaraugus County, New York. Situated at the head of navigation of the Allegheny River, Olean, an early transportation center, was settled in 1804 and became a prosperous community and a major stopping point for people migrating west until the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825. In the 1830's and 1840's, Olean continued to grow as a small commercial and agricultural center for the region. The coming of the Erie Railroad at mid-century, augmented Olean's growth with an emphasis on tanning and lumbering as the main industries. Following the discovery of oil during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Olean developed as one of the largest oil storage and refining centers in Western New York. As a result, residential construction increased significantly in the area north of State Street and west of Union Street. Encompassing one of Olean's most distinguished residential neighborhoods, the Oak Hill Park Historic District includes 89 properties dating from ca.1849-1937 and representing a variety of distinctive features associated with a wide range of popular American architectural styles. Architecturally, the Oak Hill Park Historic District includes exceptional examples of Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Stick style, Colonial Revival, Late Gothic Revival, Art Deco, Craftsman style, Collegiate Gothic style, Tudor Revival style architecture as well as vernacular interpretations of these national styles. Many of the buildings are distinguished by a high level of architectural sophistication and possess a remarkable degree of integrity of design, materials and workmanship. Together, the streetscapes and buildings reflect the historic development and evolution of Olean as an important city on the Southwestern Southern Tier. The Oak Hill Park Historic District derives additional historic significance for the association of several properties with Olean's most prominent citizens, including the first mayor of the city.
Transportation improvements ushered a new era of growth and wealth in Olean, which became an incorporated village in 1854. During the 1850's thru the 1860's, many of the best known and influential citizens located in Olean, opening commercial enterprises and beginning manufacturing establishments. Some of the new settlers during this period. Nelson Butler, a resident of the Oak Hill Park Historic District at 217 North Second Street, opened a dry goods store along Union Street, was a village trustee and later became the vice president of the First National Bank of Olean. E.M. Myrick, resided at 223 North First Street, a partner of the firm of Eastman and Myrick, later Myrick, Brothers and Company manufactured machinery and agricultural tools. Norman Birge came to Olean from Vermont, resided at 226 North Second Street, and became engaged in lumbering as well as associated manufacturing of carriage harnesses, saddles, whips and trunks. The Conklin Wagon Works, the largest establishment of its kind in the state, thrived due to the abundance of wood in the area and dependable transportation, which allowed shipment to markets all over the eastern part of the country. The leather industry contributed to the economic prosperity because of the lumber industry. W.D. Pierce, a resident in the Oak Hill Park Historic District at 218 North Second Street, built his tannery at the corner of Seventeenth Street and West State Street and organized its own fire company to protect its eighteen buildings. Four additional tanneries were built in Olean manufacturing shoes, heels, innersoles, and gloves. Fredrick S. Martin, a local businessman capitalized on the need for lumber during the building boom, which occurred in Olean during this period. He built 225 North Second Street for his daughter Olean upon her marriage to Erastus H. Smith.
The discovery of oil in Pennsylvania and Southwestern New York produced a booming new industry, whose effects were most felt in the Olean area between 1877 and 1890. In that period, large tracts of land around Olean and to the west constituted the largest oil storage fields then in existence. Oil refineries and associated facilities, established Olean as a principal oil center for the area, because of its railroad transportation network to outside markets across the country. On Thanksgiving Day, 1874, oil reached Olean as the result of the completion of a fourteen and a quarter mile pipeline constructed by the Olean Petroleum Company Ltd. from the Pennsylvania state line area of Cattaraugus County. Oil going through the pipeline to Olean grew from a few hundred barrels to 20,000 barrels each day by 1877. Terminal and transfer facilities were provided on the Buffalo, New York and Philadelphia Railroad, where oil tank railroad cars, numbering as many as 150 per day were loaded. Oil prospecting began in the immediate vicinity of Olean in 1876, north and east of the ridge, which separated the Olean oil area from the fields around Bradford, Pennsylvania. Within three years, approximately 150 profitable wells were operating in the Olean oil area.
In 1877, the Wing, Wilbur and Company established the first oil refinery in Olean, followed by Standard Oil (In 1881, the Standard Oil Company completed a six inch oil pipeline to carry crude oil from fields in western New York and Ohio to company refineries in Bayonne, New Jersey.), which produced stove gasoline, naphtha, white illuminating oil, fuel oil, coke and barrels for oil storage and transport. The Acme Oil Refinery moved to Olean from Titusville, Pennsylvania, after a fire destroyed their facility in 1880, followed by the Vacuum Oil Company (forerunner of the Mobil Oil Company), which purchased and enlarged the Eclipse Lubricating Oil Company in 1890. Mr. William M. Irish, Superintendent of Acme Oil Company resided at 219 North Third Street. Olean became one of the largest oil centers for both storage and refining in western New York State. As a result of the refining business, the population of the village doubled between 1880 and 1885 and in 1893, Olean was incorporated as a city with a population of over 10,000 people. The oil industry experienced a decline in western New York due to fires, a wildly fluctuating market and suffered from problems with production techniques that were limited by period technology.
During the first three decades of the twentieth century, additional companies developed major manufacturing facilities, continuing Olean's growth and economic diversification. Olean Tile, now American Olean Tile, was founded in 1913 and manufactures ceramic mosaic tile. Olean's largest employer, Dresser Rand, came to the city in 1912 as the Clark Brothers Company, a manufacturer of equipment for farms and sawmills.
The settlement and development of the residential area northwest of the main business corridor parallels the growth of the Village of Olean. Laid out during the first decade of the nineteenth century, this neighborhood was, intended to become a residential enclave. Architecturally, the Oak Hill Park Historic District reflects Olean's development as a transportation, commercial, industrial, and agricultural center during the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth centuries. No buildings survive from the earliest decades of Olean's development, which were located near the Allegheny River and Olean Creek.
The Oak Hill Park Historic District includes several transitional dwellings, which have Greek Revival and Italianate style features. There are two noteworthy examples that were built between 1849 and 1863, which remain within the historic district to represent the earliest phase of subdivision in the neighborhood and growth of the village Olean. These two houses retain their Greek Revival characteristic gable-front and wing form, symmetrical fenestration, and Italianate details. The Erastus H. Smith House at 225 North Second Street appears to be the oldest residence in the Oak Hill Park Historic District, built by Judge Fredrick S. Martin for his daughter Olean, upon her marriage to a local merchant. The house, constructed in ca.1849, is an early example of a transitional design with Greek Revival and Italianate influences. The one-story, hipped roof form with wide projecting eaves is Italianate, while the L-shaped plan, first story flush board siding its Greek Revival. The Norman Birge House at 226 North Second Street is a well preserved representative example of another transitional residence built ca.1863. The Greek Revival style features, including a pedimented front facing gable and side wing, while reflecting the influences of the Italianate style projecting cornice with dentils and wide frieze, bull-height first story windows with architrave trim and full-width porch with roof parapet. Norman Birge came to Olean during the lumbering boom of the 1830's and 1840's and became engaged in the manufacturing of carriages and wood products. Some of the Oak Hill Park Historic District's buildings from this era were replaced or incorporated into more pretentious residences of the post-Civil War decades such as the Nelson Butler House at 217 North Second Street, which incorporates features from the Victorian period. Originally built sometime between 1857 and 1867 by Nelson Butler, a leading dry goods merchant whose store was located on Union Street, updated the residence periodically with overlays of Italianate and Colonial Revival style design and decorative elements.
Many of Oak Hill Park Historic District's most significant residences date from the late nineteenth century; together, these picturesque and eclectic style buildings, along with upgraded older buildings, create the largely Victorian character of the historic district. The Italianate style and closely related Italian Villa style, represented by the Myrick House located at 233 North First Street, loosely inspired by the rural architecture of northern Italy, continued as a popular mode during the 1850's and 1870's. Outstanding, representative examples of the Italianate style in the district include: 311-313 Laurens Street (Samuel H. Bradley House) and 401 Laurens Street (Spencer S. Bullis House), 323 North Second Street (Charles S. Carey House) and 231 North Second Street (George L. Winters House), 232-234 North Third Street, and 411-413 West Sullivan Street. Distinguishing characteristics found in one or more combinations at these houses include cubic massing, low-pitched hipped roofs, broad projecting eaves ornamented with decorative paired brackets, and segmentally arched windows with tall and narrow proportions.
The Bradley House at 311-313 Laurens Street is architecturally significant as a distinguished example of an Italianate style residence. Built ca.1880 by Samuel H. Bradley, who had become associated with the thriving oil industry. This imposing two-story, L-shaped plan, stucco over brick residence features a variety of distinctive details of the Italianate style. These include the low-pitched hipped roof with broadly projecting, bracketed eaves and projecting tripartite bay windows on the north facade. One of the most impressive houses in this group is the E.M. Myrick House at 233 North First Street, an outstanding example of the Italian Villa style. It was built in ca.1865 by E.M. Myrick, a partner in the firm of Eastman and Myrick, later Myrick, Brothers and Company, a manufacturer of machinery and agricultural tools. The three-story tall, low hipped roof tower in the southeast corner is the primary character-defining feature of the house.
From about 1880 to 1910, architectural tastes grew increasingly eclectic and ostentatious and were most often expressed in the Queen Anne and Stick styles and toward the end of the period, the Colonial Revival style. Outstanding examples of the Queen Anne style are scattered throughout the Oak Hill Park Historic District, displaying high levels of architectural integrity, include 227 and 231 North Fourth Street (Max Mayer House), 240 North Second Street (Edward M. Danforth House) and 237 North Third Street. Generally, the Queen Anne style features asymmetrical massing, large scale, irregular profusion of elaborate ornamentation, differing wall textures and materials, towers, spindled porches, projecting bays, prominent chimneys, one-over-one, double-hung windows, and porches with fanciful woodwork, all reflect the continued prominence as one of Olean's most fashionable residential enclaves. The late phase of the Queen Anne style blended with features of the Colonial Revival style as reflected in the Dr. Seldon Mudge House at 316 Laurens Street, with its fluted columns, Ionic capitals supporting a plain entablature, rounded corner, porch surmounted by a flat roof. This is especially apparent at the cornice line featuring modillions and dentils. Representative and vernacular adaptations of the Queen Anne style are also found in the Oak Hill Park Historic District at 407-409 West Sullivan Street, 309 West Sullivan, and 230 North Fourth Street, featuring fish-scale shingles in the gables above a pent-roof.
Significant examples of other leading architectural styles of the Victorian period are also present in the Oak Hill Park Historic District. The Stick style house, much like the contemporaneous Queen Anne style, retains the asymmetrical massing, large scale, but is highlighted by applied vertical, horizontal and diagonal decorative "stickwork." The style is particularly well illustrated by the most imposing example at 302 Laurens Street, known as the Forman/Bartlett House. Representative examples of the Stick style displaying high levels of architectural integrity include 211 and 224 North Fourth Street, 218 North Second Street and 228 North Third Street. The Pierce/Moore House at 218 North Second Street, built in ca.1878 has a multi-gabled roof, embellished with brackets at the cornice line and features the typical vertical and horizontal stickwork. The Forman/Bartlett House at 302 Laurens Street, originally built in 1881 by George V. Forman, a lawyer and major landowner with interests in oil, occupied the house until they moved to Buffalo. The Stick style house was sold to Frank L. Bartlett in 1891, who for many years was President of the Exchange Bank, founder of the Olean Country Club, and the person primarily responsible for the building of the Presbyterian Church in 1913. This highly picturesque Stick style mansion, features the steeply pitched cross-gabled roof, wide overhanging eaves with brackets in some locations and bands of vertical and horizontal stickwork below the windows including corner posts. The original decorative trusses in the gables have been removed due to deterioration. The interior of the house received some updating in the 1890's with the introduction of Eastlake style moulding in the library as well as an oak mantelpiece, built-in bookcases and vaulted ceiling. Of special note on the interior of the house are the original mantelpieces, stair newel and spindled balustrade, large stained glass window on the second floor landing and the parquet floors with a variety of hardwoods found in different designs throughout the house.
The neighborhood was largely subdivided and developed by the turn of the century, with the exception of North Fourth Street and several lots interspersed throughout the historic district. There were four residences built during the early decades of the twentieth century at 404 Laurens Street, 208 North Second Street, 207 North Third Street, and 203 North Fourth Street, which represent the American Foursquare house. Characteristic features of the style include the boxy shape, low-hipped roof with projecting eaves and dormers with double triple sash windows and full width front porch.
Another early twentieth century architectural style represented in the Oak Hill Park Historic District includes the Craftsman style, represented by a sophisticated expression at 135 North Third Street, built (ca.1904) with many Swiss Chalet characteristics. Sheathed in dark brown staggered wooden shingles, this Craftsman style house's guiding force was the English Arts and Craft movement, which favored craftsmanship and natural materials. The organic massing and expressive use of material, which characterize the design of this house recalls the work of Greene and Greene in Pasadena, California. An unusual three story example, the Craftsman style residence features a cross-gable roof with exposed beams beneath the wide projecting eaves, grouped multi-light windows with exposed beams supporting window boxes and recessed entry porch, a Swiss Chalet influence, has round open arches supported by stone piers is flanked by a porte cochere with three stone piers supporting an enclosed porch with shed roof.
The Colonial Revival style houses of the 1930's became less ornate and smaller than houses built in earlier decades. Four representatives of the Colonial Revival style are located within the Oak Hill Park Historic District at: 215 North Second Street, 215 and 226 North Third Street and 215 North Fourth Street. This style is characterized by symmetrically balanced facades; gabled roofs often with gabled dormers; an accentuated front entrance with classical surround, sidelights, fanlight and pediment; multi-light double-hung sash windows with shutters, clapboard and some cornice decoration such as dentils or modillions. John W. Pratt, a grocer, built his Colonial Revival style house at 225 North Fourth Street.
Three of the houses in the Oak Hill Park Historic District, 211 North Third Street, 226 North Fourth Street and 402 Laurens Street, are inspired by the Tudor Revival, which became popular in the 1920's and 1930's. This style is loosely based on a variety of late Medieval English prototypes. While each house is unique, as a group they share certain characteristics in one or more combination such as steeply pitched cross-gabled roofs, stucco wall cladding, decorative half-timbering, asymmetrical massing with bay and oriel windows as well as leaded multi-paned windows arranged in sets of three with rectangular panes or double-hung sash windows. The Tudor Revival house at 211 North Third Street was originally built in ca.1881 as a Queen Anne style residence, but was remodeled in ca.1924. It displays a variety of materials and textures including stucco, decorative wood timbers, brick, wood clapboard in the front gable, oriel and bay windows, prominent chimney and leaded multi-paned casement windows arranged in sets of three with rectangular panes.
Two significant examples of religious architecture date from the early decades of the twentieth century. Anchoring the east end of Laurens Street, one block from the Union Street business district, the First Presbyterian Church at 212 Laurens Street and at the west end at the intersection of North Fourth Street, the Immanuel Lutheran Church at 419 Laurens Street are architecturally significant as imposing, highly sophisticated and remarkably intact examples of ecclesiastical architecture. Built in 1912, the First Presbyterian Church, designed by Charles M. Robinson (1867-1932) of Richmond, Virginia, is a representative example of the Late Gothic Revival style architecture, characterized by a large bell tower engaged in the west corner, surmounted by crenelated parapet and pinnacles, stained glass windows, buttressed walls, and features a large rose window above a three arched loggia. Prominently situated at the southwest corner of Laurens and North Fourth Street, across from Oak Hill Park, stands the Immanuel Lutheran Church built in ca.1937. The Collegiate Gothic style church built of buff colored brick, is the third edifice erected on this corner lot by the congregation for an ever-increasing German population in Olean.
In addition to the two churches, the Oak Hill Park Historic District retains a public educational building at 410 West Sullivan Street. Olean Academy first occupied the present site of Olean High School, which was built between 1935 and 1937 with financial assistance from the Public Works Administration. Olean High School is a representative example of early twentieth century Art Deco inspired school architecture, which is less common than other stylistic references of the period such as Colonial Revival. The school, a strong visual landmark within the Oak Hill Park Historic District, was designed by A.W.E. Schoenberg along with consulting architect Carl W. Clark of Cortland, New York, who followed the period educational standards for a high school of the 1930's. With its prominent location, landscaped set-back and size, the three and one-half story brick, and limestone building sets on a raised concrete basement. The main facade contains a central projecting limestone pavilion, on the long side of a modified E-shaped high school plan. In 1948, a school bus garage addition was appended across the rear of the facility. The Art Deco features are applied to the projecting pavilion surrounding the entrance. The fluted pilasters support a limestone frieze inscribed with the name "OLEAN HIGH SCHOOL," while the spandrels have stylized geometric Art Deco detail. The metal entrance doors are flanked by the original Art Deco lamps, while the lobby exhibits similar lighting fixtures. Although the original windows have been replaced, Olean High School is, nonetheless, a remarkable intact example of 1930's public architecture in Olean and is currently used as an educational facility.
In addition to the Oak Hill Park Historic District's principal buildings, a public neighborhood park is located within the historic district. Oak Hill Park, originally donated by Adam Hoops in 1805 as a public cemetery, is an approximately three square acre park, whose formal entrance stairway is located on North Fourth Street, across from the intersection with Laurens Street. The first burial at Oak Lawn Cemetery occurred in 1811 and continued through the nineteenth century. By 1900, the cemetery had become overgrown and neglected. In 1906 Olean officials ordered burials to cease and the interred removed to Mount View Cemetery. The land was converted to recreational purposes and renamed Oak Hill Park. This land use change reflected a commitment to a new type of municipal park, which had emerged in American cities at the turn of the twentieth century. Progressive reformers agitated for children's playgrounds and believed that recreational needs were best served at the neighborhood level. Users of the typical neighborhood park often referred to this model as the "play ground," because it had outdoor play equipment for the children.
The Oak Hill Park Historic District reflects a diverse mixture of architectural styles common during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Together, the buildings are distinguished by a high degree of integrity of design, materials, setting and craftsmanship. Several important landscape features (Oak Hill Park), objects and structures contribute to the integrity of the setting including mature deciduous trees, wrought iron fence with stone piers, stone curbing, slate sidewalks and brick street pavers on North Third Street. The group remains one of the finest collections of intact religious, public and residential architecture on the western Southern Tier of New York State.
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