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Way Back When: Olean Point

By Mary Fox

In 1804, Major Adam Hoops, believing that a great city could be created at the confluence of the Allegany River and Olean Creek, purchased 20,000 acres from the Holland Land Company.

Olean Point became the place of embarkation for thousands of settlers seeking a water route to the Ohio Territory and beyond. Moving west from New England, these pioneers followed the rutty trails from Albany to Geneseo, taking weeks by foot, horseback or crude ox-drawn wagon or sledge, then down the Olean Road to Olean Point. Here they gathered through the winter to wait for the spring thaw to open the river for travel down the Allegheny River to the Ohio River and points west. The first raft left in 1807. In the spring of 1818, more than 3,000 people embarked from Olean Point.

From the diary of Tally Buttrick, Jr., “Voyages, Travels and Discoveries”:

At Olean Point in 1815, “There were 40 or 50 shanties, or temporary log houses, built up and completely filled up with men, women, and children, household furniture thrown up in piles; and a great deal of horses, wagons sleighs etc. These people were emigrants … 1,200 of all ages and sexes … from the eastern states. They had a large number of flat bottom boats built for their conveyance; these were boarded up at the sides and roofs over them, chimneys suitable for cooking, and were secure from the weather (known as arks). There were also many rafts of boards and shingles, timber and saw logs, which would find a ready market at different places on the Ohio River. There are many sawmills on the steams about this place where these articles are manufactured from the fine timber that grows in vast quantities in this vicinity.

The river at this time had raised full bank and was frozen over by 10 or 12 inches. Many had been here two months waiting an opportunity to descend the river. On Saturday night, nearly the close of March, I heard some cracking of the ice. By 8:00, the next morning the river was completely cleared. The place now presented a curious sight, the men conveying their goods on board the boats and rafts, the women scolding and children crying, some clothed and some half clothed all in haste, filled with anxiety as if a few minutes were lost their passage would be lost also. By 10 o’clock, the whole river for one mile appeared to be one solid body of boats and rafts. What but just before appeared a considerable village now remained but a few solitary huts with their occupants. Myself with the adventurers now drifted on rapidly with the current and in six days we were in the Ohio River, and should have been much sooner had it been safe to have run in the night.”

There were many, however, who made it to Olean Point but chose to head into the wilderness of Cattaraugus County. One pair of these adventurers, the brothers Chauncey and Pliny Fox, made their way to Ellicottville. The story of their journey west from Connecticut, their survival in the wilderness and their contribution to the history of Ellicottville will be presented at the June 12 meeting of the Ellicottville Historical Society. All are welcome to attend at 7:30 p.m. in the Ellicottville Library Community Room.

 

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