By Mary Fox
The first Ellicottville Historical Society meeting for 2012 was held May 8 at the Ellicottville Memorial Library. Bill Burrell, John Burrell and Pam Litchfield launched the society’s speaker series on Ellicottville pioneers.
A presentation by Bill and John Burrell was given on their ancestral home next to St. John’s Episcopal Church. Pam Litchfield talked about her ancestor, Beals Litchfield.
The first frame house in Ellicottville was built in 1817. It has been in the same family line for almost 200 years. The house is located next to St. John’s Episcopal Church on the town square.
Because of Ellicottville’s geographic location in the center of Cattaraugus County, Leonard Baker, a builder, was sent by Joseph Ellicott, chief surveyor and agent for the Holland Land Company, to Ellicottville to build an inn for the convenience of prospective land buyers traveling this way through the valley of the Great Valley Creek.
Because there was no sawmill in Ellicottville at that time, lumber was brought from the sawmill of James Green, 11 miles away in Killbuck. The trail through the forest and over the hills to Killbuck was marked only by blazed trees. There were no bridges and the way was obstructed with fallen trees, swampland and rough ground making it extremely difficult for wagons with teams of oxen to pass through.
Because of the long distance the lumber had to be brought, the construction costs were extremely high and the Holland Land Company refused to take ownership. Another smaller house, the little house, was built next to the town hall for use as the HLC office.
Consequently, Mr. Leonard moved into the house and opened an inn and tavern. It was the first post office with Leonard as postmaster and was used as a school by Ursula Maltby.
The house was the principal trading post for the Indians of the Seneca Nation living on the Allegany Reservation. It was not unusual to see Indians rolled up in their blankets sleeping on the floor of the trading post, now the dining room.
As the county seat of Cattaraugus County, all official activities of the county were conducted in Ellicottville. County business was done at the Baker Leonard House from 1818 until 1820 when the courthouse was completed. The Town of Ellicottville was organized in 1821 and the first town meeting was held in the Baker Leonard house.
Bill and John’s Burrell’s grandfather, John Ellis, was an attorney in Ellicottville, who was born in the house and died in the same room 95 years later. Bill Burrell and Donna Brooks are the current caretakers of the house. They are looking forward to opening it for tours when, in five years, they celebrate its the 200th anniversary.