Cattaraugus County is in the southwest part of New York State. Eric County bounds it on the north, Allegany to the east, Chautauqua to the west, and the counties of McKean and Warren in Pennsylvania are on the south.
Cattaraugus County was formed from Genesee County on March 11, 1808, but the county did not have a Board of Supervisots and the courts until 1817 when the county had the required 500 voters to elect a member for the New York State Assembly.
Ellicottville is the center of the county, so it became the first county seat. There the first courthouse, jail and county clerk’s office were built in 1817 and 1818. The first meeting of the Board of Supervisors was held October 7, 1818, at the home of Baker Leonard in the town of Ellicottville.
The Mound Builders were the first inhabitants of this county, later to be occupied by the ancestors of the present-day Indians. Cattaraugus County was included in the territory ceded by the Six Nations to the Holland Land Company in 1797. In 1798, the first white settlement was made by Joel Swayne, Halliday Jackson and Henry Simmons, three young Quakers from Chester County in Pennsylvania. They were sent by the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends on a mission to the Seneca Indians.
Adam Hoops bought land from the Holland Land Company in 1803, and his brother Robert Hoops came to Olean Point as his agent. He built a log house on the bank of the Allegany River. There was a good supply of lumber from the primeval forest for their rafts to transport the people, their families, goods, and livestock to Pittsburgh and points west.
In 1806, Joseph McClure settled where the village of Franklinville is located. The first settlement was made in Dayton in 1810 by Silas Nash and Simeon Bunce who came from Otsego County. John Russell from Vermont made a start near the village of Gowandss in 1811 but he left the area when the War of 1812 broke out. Ahaz Allen settled there in 1814. Philip Tome came in 1818 from Pennsylvania to Cold Spring and Nathan Crook came in 1819.
Settlements were started in Yorkshire in 1810, in Portville in 1809, in Otto in 1810, in Lyndon in 1807. John Green, and Judge Benjamin Chamberlain settled in Little Valley in 1807. Abram M. Farwell and his family settled along the Ishua Creek in 1812 while Peter Putnam came to Hinsdale in 1806.
Lumbering was an important industry in the early days. Many settlers made black salts and potash to sell so that they could make payments on their land. Sawmills and shingle mills were built on almost any stream of water large enough to provide materials for the homes of the pioneers. Later large amounts of lumber were rafted down the Allegheny River to Pittsburg and Cincinatti, Ohio.
After some of the land had been cleared, dairy farming became an important industry and cheese factories were built in almost every community to take care of the extra milk. This helped provide some income for the family.
The Allegheny River, the Ishua Creek, the Cattaraugus Creek, and the Conewango Creek were used for transportation. Later, the Chautauqua Road, running through the county from east to west was cleared. There were other so-called roads in the county, carved out of the wilderness to enable settlers to move into the county.
The Genesee Canal was a link in transportation from Rochester to Olean in the middle of the nineteenth century after the Erie Barge Canal had been built across New York State in the early 1800’s.
Then the Erie Railroad came into Cattaraugus County. Because Little Valley had a station on the Erie Railroad and was easier to travel to, the County Seat was moved from Ellicottville to Little Valley in 1868. There have been many attempts to change the site of the county seat to other locations, but so far they have failed.
Other railroads have been built in Cattaraugus County. Because of the railroad industry, Salamanca became a city of some importance. Olean has also been a railroad center and helped to develop the Southern Tier.
Oil was discovered in the southeastern part of Cattaraugus County and thus Olean became an oil center both for storage and refining. This helped Olean’s economy and provided employment and provided employment for a growing labor force.
The pioneers did not forget education and religion. Each community held religious services whenever an iterant minister passed through their community. Some societies were organized and churches were built later when the money and materials were available. Schools were held whenever there was a room or building available. Next schoolhouses were built. St. Bonaventure University is a result of the interest in education and religion.
The recreation industry has increased since World War II and Cattaraugus County provides many opportunities. Allegany State Park has facilities for year round recreation – camping, boating, fishing, hunting, and skiing. Kinzua Reservoir, Line Lake, and many smaller lakes attract tourists and local visitors who want to enjoy the great outdoors. Cattaraugus County is on of the most scenic counties in New York State.