A Glimpse at the History of Olean

The Town of Olean

An area which included Olean, the 29th largest town in Cattaraugus County, was purchased from the Indians by the Holland Land Company in 1787.  In 1804, Adam Hoops, an agent of the Holland Land Company, purchased the acreage of Cattaraugus County which today encompasses both the Town and City of Olean, originally known as "Hamilton" and "Olean Point".  His settlement (followed by a sawmill (1807), a tavern (1808), grist mill (1809), store (1811), post office (1816), 1st session of court (1817), paper (Hamilton Recorder - 1919)) was not only the first in Olean but also the first in Cattaraugus County.

The Town of Olean was formed in 1808, originally embraced all the territory of todays Cattaraugus County.  Olean remained as originally formed until 1812, when it was split to create the Town of Ischua.  Following several splits which created other towns within the County, Olean Town and City as we know them today were formed in 1837.  The Town and City of Olean are located in the southeast portion of Cattaraugus County.  The surface of the Town is hilly upland, separated by the valley of the Allegheny River.

Being situated on the Allegheny River, which in 1807 was declared a public highway, Olean was afforded cheap transportation to float lumber and field crops to market.  Sawmills and tanneries sprang up.  With the exhaustion of the timber, attention was given to agricultural activities.

In 1837, the Williams Register stated that the "village (meaning city) of Olean is situated at the point formed by the union of the Olean Creek and the Allegheny River, and contains at present about 70 dwelling-houses, 5 stores, and 3 public houses... several mills, 1 tannery (Root & Keating), 1 iron foundry."

A road was opened in 1828 which led from Olean to Buffalo by way of Chapell Hill and Ellicottville.  Construction of the Genesee Canal, built to provide transportation from Rochester to Olean, was halted in 1842 by the "Stop Law", for 10 years.  The completion of the Canal in 1856, and the New York & Lake Erie Railroad in 1851, gave a great boost to the commercial and manufacturing enterprises of the Town.  The New York & Lake Erie Railroad bordered the Allegheny River and ran parallel to the Back Hinsdale Road.  The Buffalo, New York & Philadelphia Railroad opened in 1872, and ran from Buffalo to Emporium (121 Miles). The Olean, Bradford & Warren Railroad, in 1877 opened communication for the oil enterprise between Olean and Bradford.  In the 1890's, a trolley ran from the City of Olean up Mt. Herman to Flat Iron Rock (a geological formation resembling a flat iron).  Olean Street Railway Company, with electric cars, opened with the Union Street line, followed by the opening in 1891 of the State Street line. Once completed, the line ran from the Erie Depot down Union Street to State Street to the Village of Allegany.

Olean was incorporated as a Village in 1854, followed by the Village being incorporated as the City of Olean in 1893.  The City was the manufacturing center. Developments established included Conklin Wagon Works, Olean Tannery (1866), the Tannery (Kelley & Lenham, 1859), Olean Machine Shop and Foundry (1854), Chamberlin Manufacturing (stump pullers & ditching plows 1848), Olean Handle Manufactory (Jacob Coss & Sons 1868), Olean Hub Factory (1874), Olean Sash Factory (Gillingham & Bagnall 1866), Planing Mill (Brickell Bros. & Co. 1878), Olean Brewery (1856), Olean Pottery (1852), Olean Flouring & Grist Mill (1851), Dotterweich Brewing Co. (1856), Olean Cart Company (1888), Olean Glass Company (1887), Olean Heading Company, Olean Hardwood Company (1893), Sole Leather Pad Company (1875), Carley Heating Company (1889), International Steam Power Company (1891), Hollis Spring Company (1886), and Acme Milling Company (1882).

Other commercial entities and community services that opened in Olean included hardware merchants, general mercantile shops, physicians, oil speculators, lawyers, hotel, carriage makers, grocery, bakers, Old Boat House (1815), Olean House (1819), Butchers and Drovers Bank (1848), library, druggist (1858), Stowell, Chamberlain & Company (bank 1860), Western Insurance Company (1853), Pioneer Hook & Ladder Company (1856), Eagle Engine Company, No 1 (1857), Fountain Hose Company, No. 1 (1857), Olean Union Free School & Academy (1868), Exchange National Bank (1870), First National Bank (1871) Keystone Gas Co . (1880), Westbrook Commercial College (1886), and Olean Electric Light & Power Co. (1888).

The discovery of oil properly dates back to when the Seneca Indians gathered it by means of hemlock boughs from springs, upon which the oil appeared.  It was called Seneca oil and was used by the Indians for medicinal purposes.  Up until 1874, oil development in Olean was limited.  A few wells in the State Line area were producing small quantities of what was known as "slush oil" (heavy lubricating purposes).  In 1874, J.H. Dills organized the Olean Petroleum Company, (succeeded by Standard Oil Company in 1877), and constructed a pipeline which pumped oil from the Olean wells to New York City.

Numerous oil wells appeared in southern Olean.  In 1877, Wing, Wilbur & Company constructed an oil refinery at Olean, which in 1877 was sold to Acme Oil Company of Pennsylvania.  In 1876, the Allegany Oil Company organized by oil speculators from Olean, Allegany and Bradford, and began testing lands in Olean and Allegany, which proved to be very successful.

Progress in Olean was hampered by fires which occured in 1866 and 1868, causing considerable loss to the business portion of the City .

Some interesting facts about Olean include:

1) In 1807, a terrible illness plagued the City, causing the death of both whites and indians.  An indian squaw, absent from the area for some time, upon returning to visit friends who had become ill, made the statement that her friends would die.  Because of her"prediction", as her native family called it, she was denounced as a witch and tortured to death by fire.

2 ) In 1834 a "great tornado" passed through the Citydemolishing everything in its path.  A path made in the forest, which was visible for years, was known as "fallen timber".

3) Olean Creek was originally known by the Indian name of Ischue or Ischua.  Because of the confusion, thevarious spellings may have caused, the name was changed to "Olean"(latin foroil).

4) The Ice Age glaciers ended at the Allegheny River dividing the Town of Olean in half.

Source: Cattaraugus County Book 1808-1995/96

**For more information on the town of Machias and surrounding areas, including local legends and history, please visit https://HistoricPath.com/municipality/towns/olean