An Introductory History of CATTARAUGUS VILLAGE
New York State's Most Historic, Unique, Well-Preserved
Westward Expansion Community
The Battle of Cattaraugus
During the American Revolutionary War, in 1779, General George Washington adopted a strategy of reducing the assets of the British by attacking the American Indian tribes' villages who sided with them. Nearly all of New York State's Iroquois Indian Tribes fell into that category. Washington sent two of his most trusted soldiers through Pennsylvania into New York State with significant forces, to punish the Seneca Indians both in the Genesee River Valley and also along the Allegany River. General Sullivan campaigned against the Seneca Indians in the Genesee Valley totally destroying many Indian villages and crops. The Seneca Indians fled to the Zoar Valley area between Springville and Lake Erie in northern Cattaraugus County just east of Chautauqua, and to Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario; both under British protection. What is less well known is that at the same time as Sullivan’s expedition, General Washington sent a force of 605 men under the command of Col. Daniel Brodhead up the Allegany into Western New York from Pittsburgh to test the resolve of the Senecas, as well as the western defenses of the British. The soldiers destroyed many Indian villages and all crops of those tribes loyal to the British as they encountered them. Sullivan and Docksteder had a plan of joining forces and capturing Fort Niagara from the British. A British force was encamped at the mouth of the Cattaraugus Creek at present day Sunset Bay under the command of John Docksteder. A Seneca Scout from Chief Cornplanter’s Town in Pennsylvania arrived at Docksteder’s outpost to alert the British of Brodhead's advance. Seneca Indians were well known for their long distance running skills. One or more runners covered this distance of nearly 75 miles in a matter of hours! The British Army force-marched to present day Cattaraugus Village to engage the advancing American Soldiers. Imagine the sight of British Red-Coats marching through the Cattaraugus wilderness! Seneca Scouts were key in leading the British force against Revolutionary Soldiers and their Delaware Indian scouts within, and just south of, present day Cattaraugus Village. The British followed up their victory by pursuing and further engaging the Revolutionaries at the mouth of Bucktooth Creek where there were many casualties, all thought to be Delaware. Cattaraugus Village was the northernmost incursion of Brodhead's force into New York. His defeat at Cattaraugus Village dashed the possibility of joining forces with General Sullivan and attacking Fort Niagara. Col. Daniel Brodhead escaped with the remainder of his force back to Pittsburgh, but not without losses enrout from Chief Cornplanter's braves.
After the American Revolution, many soldiers were granted tracts of land in the Westfield, Chautauqua County, New York area. This Chautauqua area was of strategic importance in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Travelers on the Great Lakes could portage to Chautauqua Lake and then easily travel on to the Allegheny River, the Ohio River, the Mississippi and beyond. It wasn’t until during the War of 1812 that adventuresome pioneers ventured into the region just east of Chautauqua that was known by the Senecas as Cattaraugus
(“Cattaraugus” is a Seneca word for “Burning Springs” due to ancient lightning strikes in the natural gas rich banks of the river of the same name. The Seneca language often has several meanings to the same word. The Iroquois Gas Company has, even today, hundreds of easements and leases on acreage north of the Cattaraugus Creek which they use for underground storage of surplus natural gas. Yes, they actually pump gas into the ground! The man made odor which is added to the odorless natural gas has been readily apparent to the numerous visitors to the Zoar Valley region which the stream courses through. Thus, the word "Cattaraugus" has come to be also known as meaning "foul smelling banks". An English map printed in 1728 refers to Lake Ontario as "Catarauqui"... and etc.).
The earliest recorded death in the Cattaraugus Village area was in 1810 when Captain Rosecrantz, an Indian trader, was found dead of mysterious causes. Then, William Dutton another merchant from neighboring Lodi (now Gowanda) traded too much alcohol to the Indians. Local merchants were incensed and bought him out, paying him in gold. As he left Lodi traveling though the northern Cattaraugus wilderness, he was never again seen alive. His body was found the next spring, without his gold or his fancy watch. In 1828, Brothers Calvin and Arad Rich courageously relocated their families to the valley and surrounding hills around what is now Cattaraugus Village. The area became well known as Rich Valley, not just for the prolific Rich's, but also because of the fertile soil and the year round stream of water that coursed through the valley. The stream dropped well over 100 feet in elevation within a short distance, providing ideal conditions for future water-powered mills.
With the impending completion of the Erie Canal, President Andrew Jackson championed the effort to develop the country’s interior with legislation that he supported. This effort led directly to the planning of a railroad to connect the Hudson River with Lake Erie, traversing through the southern-tier of New York State. When this New York and Lake Erie Railroad was completed in 1851, it wasn’t merely a new railroad. It was the longest rail line in the entire world! It connected Piermont on the Hudson, with Dunkirk on Lake Erie. In a last minute change in course, this railroad came through Rich Valley. The new rail town was not planned as other communities were along the line. It was not settled. It was not founded. It just happened!! The new village was quickly carved out of thick virgin forest. Three large crews of men were needed to cut trees, pull stumps, cut rails, construct massive stone culverts and excavate hillsides throughout the area. This involved intense manual labor and skilled stone masons many of whom apprenticed on the Erie Canal construction. Hard drinking Irishmen from County Cork, Ireland dominated the three work crews who were uprooted from other areas and suddenly and unexpectedly sent to set up housekeeping and small businesses next to the railroad tracks being constructed. The “Corkonians” set up their community in an area they called the “Patch” (as in “potato patch”) on the north side of the tracks in the midst of what is now Cattaraugus Village. Some of their names were Carroll, Kelley, Crowley, Sweeney, and McCarthy. "Far Downers" were another separate Irish work crew that came from the southwest of Ireland and who spoke Gaelic. And then there was the German work crew. They kept to themselves and avoided the Irish fighting each other. The first telegraph line was installed in 1849 to provide communication facilities between construction crews.
In 1851, when the first train came through carrying President Millard Fillmore, his entire cabinet, the Governor of New York and all living past Governors, and the Chief of the Seneca Nation; there were few communities in this country more proud than this new Village without a name. (It was referred to as “Albion” on President Fillmore’s rail ticket.) The Village was named “Cattaraugus” by President Millard Fillmore himself, in honor of the name of the County and the fact that the upstart village was already a center of commerce and needed its own post office and depot to serve the most burgeoning economy in the State at that time. The Postmaster General himself was on hand to interview the recommended postmaster candidate. Economic growth intensified due to the new train depot and railroad sidings. Stage lines sprang up connecting Cattaraugus to areas with no rail service. One stage line went to New Albion, Leon, Conewango with connections to Jamestown and west. Another stage line went to Otto, East Otto, Plato, West Valley, Springville with connections to Arcade and east. Numerous cheese factories were constructed. Lumber, apples, potash, lath, leather, beer and whiskey (not necessarily in this order) were just a few of several dozen industries. Hotels, boarding houses, livery stables, and schools opened their doors. The town boasted a hospital, doctors, veterinarians, architects, and even a medical college. An important influence on the local economy was due to the fact that the railroad completion made the Erie Canal obsolete. For many years most of our nation's western commerce coursed through Cattaraugus Village. Locally produced goods could be available for sale on the streets of New York City, 450 miles away, within 24 hours on any one of the 4 trains a day that headed in that direction. Many of the laborers who helped complete this last section of railroad, decided to settle in Cattaraugus. After the last spike was driven and the construction crews moved on, over 1500 persons lived in the area. By 1860 the township boasted 305 dwellings, 1557 oxen, 383 horses, and 8 school districts with 649 children in school. Cattaraugus Village truly was a railroad boomtown on the way west, and most likely was the very first to fit that description.
Several fires swept through the village over the years. The most damaging was in September 1888. It destroyed nearly the entire business district. Almost all of the buildings in the Village were wood frame prior to 1888. After the fire, the buildings were reconstructed out of brick to reduce the possibility of a recurrence. Today, visitors can attest to the unique feeling that they experience when discovering Cattaraugus Village. The Village does not have a crossroads. It has a “T”. At the head of that “T” is the old Crawford Hotel (1890). Once the center of activity in the Village and the destination of thousands of salesmen and merchants, this hotel awaits rediscovery as if in suspended animation… still with the original light fixtures, tin ceilings and wall paper.
It is well documented that Abraham Lincoln visited Cattaraugus in 1860. Teddy Roosevelt gave his last speech prior to being elected Governor of New York here in the “Patch” from the back of his Rough Rider Railcar. TR visited again as President. Daniel Webster and Commodore Perry were visitors. After Mark Twain visited, he named his house cat “Cattaraugus”. President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited here more than once. He was seen touring the Village with his good friend Judge Thomas H. Dowd of Salamanca. Henry Ford himself visited here to not only place flowers on his family graves, but to also visit our 1915 Ford Dealership. Oral history maintains that he financed this beautiful and unique dealership building personally because of his local family connection.
If you squint your eyes in the evening sunset, you can almost see them all conversing, beverage in hand, on the Hotel porches.
By 1874 the following businesses and trades were long established in Cattaraugus Village:
Bank and Private Banks
Beer, home brewing
Boots and Shoes
Brackets and Moldings
Butter and Cheese Dealer
Butter Tub Manufacturer
Carpenter and Joiner
Carriage, Wagon, and Sleigh
Cheese Box Manufacturer
Cigars and Tobacco
Cooperages, Stave Mill
Crockery, China, and Glassware
Cutlery -- Knife works and Razor Manufacture
Dairy Apparatus Manufacture
Dentists and Doctors
Door, Sash, and Blind Manufacturer
Dress and Cloak Making
Cattaraugus Fire Company, Cattaraugus Hook and Ladder Co.
Flour, Feed, and Grain Mill
Fork, Hoe, and Broom Handles
Groceries and Provisions
Hotels (at least 4) and Boarding Houses (several)
Justice of the Peace
Lath and Shingle Manufacturer
Lime, Plaster, and Cement
Liveries and Boarding Stables
Lumber Mills, Dealers, Roller Mills
Meat Market and Butchers
Milk Pans and Coolers
Music and Instruments
Patent Medicine Manufacturer
Patent Right Agent
Physician and Surgeon
Postmaster (since 1851)
Railroad (Erie - 1851 completed)
Railroad Engineer, Foreman
Real Estate Sales
Sewing Machine Agent
Telegraph Company, Telegrapher (since 1849)
Tinsmith & Sheet Iron Manufactory
Undertaking and Casket Manufacturer
Washing Machine Agent
Watches and Jewelry
Whiskey Distilleries (2)
Cattaraugus Village from 1849 to World War One, was one of the most vibrant and exciting communities in America. Pioneer adventurers transformed a wilderness company town from its beginnings, well into the industrial age. The study of Cattaraugus Village is an object lesson as to what life experiences were involved in developing the character and common fabric of what it meant to be an American. Generous individuals, businesses and governments separately and collectively gave of their fortunes and their time to create an American Dream that remains today as a prime example of what is right with America.