HISTORY OF OLEAN,
CATTARAUGUS CO., NY
The lands along the southern tier of Western New York were covered with forests and unbroken wilderness. The only marks that gave any evidence that civilized man was about was a blazed tree, marking an indefinite path. Such was the land when a very young Benjamin Van Campen was delegated in the service of Adam Hoops to survey the lands at and about what was later known as Olean Point. It was in November 1802. As a result of this survey 20,000 acres of land was purchased by Messrs. Hoops and Heuston from the Holland Land Company.
In 1804 Robert Hoops, a brother of Adam, came to Olean Point as an agent for the lands. He built a double log house on the riverbank where the Forness Athletic Park is now located. It was destroyed by time and vandalism before anyone realized it could have been preserved as a historic monument.
At that time the stream on the bank of which the cabin was located was known by the Indian name Ishua, or Ischue. A letter from Adam Hoops to Joseph Ellicott, ESQ., at Canandaigua, N.Y. requested the name be changed to Olean, it being near the oil spring at Cuba, N.Y. where the Indians had discovered oil.
When the village was first laid out, it was called Hamilton, after Alexander Hamilton, the popular statesman of that time. The name was never used by the Post Office Department and was designated Olean Point. It later was changed to Olean around 1823.
Adam Hoops dream for Olean was to establish a commercial depot connecting the state of New York with the southwest because of its location on the Allegany River. It did not materialize but the river was navigable and transported people on long rafts to Pittsburgh, the first leg of their journey west.
Major Hoops was unable to complete payments on the mortgage and the greater part of the tract of land reverted to the ownership of Ebenezer F. Norton. Consequently, Adam Hoop’s dream did not come to life as he had hoped.
The settlement of Olean began in 1808 when several men, who later became prominent citizens, came to Olean to make their home. According to the Cattaraugus County History of 1879 three of these men were James g. Johnson of Canandaigua, N.Y., Sylvanus Russell of Angelica, N.Y., and Bibbin Follet. They brought their families and built homes for them here. Judge F.S. Martin came form Rutland, Vt. In 1819. He became active in politics and was appointed post master, judge of the county as well by Gov. Seward in 1840. Hon. Timothy H. Porter, another prominent politician, became a judge and later a member of Congress. James G. Johnson died in 1811 and his son, named after him, became active in the political life of Olean and was a well known merchant, as well. He wrote much of the history of the vicinity for the County History. Judge James Brooks was the father of Cornelius Brooks and the grandfather of Maude Brooks, the first Olean Historian and librarian at the Olean Public Library. His home was in Pleasant Valley and still stands. C.V.B. Barse was the first president of the Exchange National Bank and was active in many businesses.
The first grocery store was opened in 1811 where the Baptist Church formerly stood on South Street. The first tavern was kept by Sylanus Russell and following him in the business was Ebenezer Reed, Luman Rice, Jacob Downing and Jebiel Boardman. These taverns were important to the village for people traveling west as they afforded overnight lodging for people waiting for transportation to the Middle West.
In 1837 the Village of Olean contained 70 dwellings, 5 stores and 3 public houses. There were several mills, 1 tannery and 1 iron foundry. The village was incorporated in 1854 and four trustees conducted the business of the village. By a special act of the legislature a corporation government was formed and the first meeting was held in May 1858 to elect officers. This government continued until the city government was formed and a mayor elected. Luther 34, Turner #6, Barse Town Hall, and later in the Olean City Building. It is now on display in Lincoln Park.
The village was incorporated on January 6, 1855, population 954 and the first election was on May 19, 1855. Officers were chosen to run the government. The Post Office was located in the first town hall with henry Fish as postmaster.
After the first of January 16, 1966, the trustees passed a resolution that there be no wooden buildings erected on, or removed to any lot on the west side of union Street between State and Laurens. The first Town hall was destroyed by fire on April 17, 1884 at 3 o'clock in the morning. The rope to the fire bell was burning so the alarm could not be sounded. There have been two city buildings erected, the present one built in 1959. May changes have taken place as the city has grown and it would take more time and many pages to bring the history of Olean up to date.
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Last Update February 2, 2020