By Mary Fox
The Ellicottville Historical Museum, located on the Town Square in front of the post office, opened on June 1 for the 2014 season.
The museum is open from June to September on Saturday and Sunday afternoons from 1 to 4 p.m., with earlier hours during special weekends. Town Historian Mary Elizabeth Dunbar and members of the Ellicottville Historical Society and community serve as hosts to answer questions about the history of Ellicottville.
This year’s displays are centered around businesses on Monroe Street shown in pictures and interesting information compiled by Cathy Lacy, vice-president of the Ellicottville Historical Society. Displays of pictures of homes, businesses and industry help to explain Ellicottville’s past.
The lumber business was the major industry in Ellicottville and still thrives today with the Fitzpatrick & Weller lumber mill. There is a shoe last blocks display of wooden forms for making shoes, which was an exclusive business in Ellicottville until plastic replaced wood. The Louisville Sluggers billets were made here and the basket factory made ammunition boxes during the war. And there is the story of Abe Maybe, a runaway slave boy, who was taken in by the Coit family. Toys from the past, the oil chandelier from the courthouse ballroom, and human and ox yokes are a few of the artifacts on display.
What more fitting a place for a museum than a historic building that has served many different needs through the years since it was built in 1853 as the County Clerk’s Office.
Ellicottville had the distinction of being the county seat long before settlement in Ellicottville began. In 1808, surveyors of the Holland Land Company determined the site where Ellicottville stands today to be the central location of the county, and it was so marked with an iron stake to become the place of the Cattaraugus County Seat. When the Holland Land Company laid out the town, they designated the four corners of the town square for a church, a school and two for county use.
A log courthouse and jail were built in 1820 on the northwest corner of the Public Square. The lower floor was used as a jail; the upper floor was the courtroom. It was destroyed by fire in the winter of 1829.
By 1831, a brick building was built in its place, and a separate brick jail was built on the northeast corner of the Town Square where the post office stands today.
In 1868, county business was moved to Little Valley because of accessibility to railroad transportation, which Ellicottville at that time did not yet have.
The County Court Building became the Town Hall, and the County Clerk’s Office has been used as a bank, a millinery shop, a church, the Hose Company, a high school annex, a library and presently the Ellicottville Historical Museum.
In 1887, the jail was dismantled and used for the foundation of the school across the street on the southeast corner of the Town Square, now known as the 1887 Building.
In 1894, the volunteer Hose Company took over the old County Clerk’s Office. The firehouse was used by the fire department for meeting rooms and storage of equipment. Vehicles were housed in a building in back of it.
A peaked roof was added to the building to hold a belfry, where a bell hung to summon the firefighters. At the sound of the alarm bell, school boys ran across the street from the school and pulled the hand drawn pumper to the fire, often arriving at the scene before the firemen.
In 1947, a dispute that lasted several years erupted over the location of a new school. The shortage of class rooms in the 1887 Building forced the school to move some classes out of the building into various places in town. Lucille Harris spent most of her teaching career teaching high school home economics in the old County Clerk’s Office classroom.
The Ellicottville Historical Society took residence in the building in 1969, after a fire destroyed the museum in the Town Hall.
Stop in and check out this historic building and its many displays of Ellicottville’s past any Saturday or Sunday this summer. You will be welcomed by friendly hosts who will guide you through the displays or you may browse around by yourself. Either way, enjoy looking into Ellicottville’s past!