"Mother of all the
Towns in Cattaraugus County"
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
The Town of Olean was formed in 1808, originally embraced all the
territory of today's 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 town within
the County, Olean Town and City we know 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 1870 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 timer, attention was given to agricultural
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 Rail road in 1851m gave a great
boost to the commercial and manufacturing enterprises of the Town.
The New York and 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 fo rthe oil enterprise between Olean and Bradford.
In the 1980'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 this 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 incorporatedas 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
puller and ditching plows 1848), Olean Hinsdale 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 (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 Drover Bank (1848),
library, druggist (1858), Stowell Chamberlain & Company (bank 1860),
Western Insurance Company (1853), Pioneer Hook & Ladder Company (1856),
Eagle Engine Company, No 1 (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, (succeded 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 Allegany, Olean and
Bradford, and began testing lands in Olean and Allegany, which proved to
be very successful.
Progress in Olean was hampered by fires which occurred in 1866 and 1868,
causing considerable loss to the business portion of the City.
Some interesting facts about Olean include: 1) In 1807m 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 "prediction", as her native family called
it, when was denounced as a witch and tortured to death by fire.
2) In 1834 a "great tornado" passed through the City demolishing
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, the various spellings may have caused, the name was
changed to "Olean" (Latin for oil). 4) The Ice Age glaciers ended
at the Allegheny River diving the Town of Olean in half.
Population in the City of Olean in 1893 was 8131. Today, with a
1990 Census population of 16946, the City of Olean (3844 acres) is still
the industrial center of the County. The largest major employer in
the County, Dresser Rand, is located in Olean. Other
business/industry/manufacturing entities include Olean Conap, Inc.,
SubCon Industries, Dexter Electronics Materials, Olean Advanced
Products, and Olean Wholesale Grocery Co-op. Within the bounds of
the City, higher educational opportunities are offered at Jamestown
Community College, and Olean Business Institute.
|LAND USE TRENDS
Total Municipal Acreage
|* Absentee Ownership: Owns
land in the municipality indicated, but has permanent year-round
residence in another municipality, town, county, state, country,
|** Projection: data
obtained from Cattaraugus County Real Property Tax Rolls for
respective years. 1970 - 1990 population figures based on
data obtained from US Census Bureau. Population projection
based on data obtained from US Department of Commerce