History of Cattaraugus

An Introductory History of

The First Rail Road Boomtown

Cattaraugus Village and Rich Valley

  

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 tribe’s 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 over 600 men under the command of Col. Daniel Brodhead up the Allegany into Western New York from Pittsburgh to test the resolve of the Seneca’s, 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 River 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.    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 enroot from Chief Cornplanter’s braves.

Settlement

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 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 Richs, 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.

 Boomtown

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.   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.   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, and 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 postmaster candidates.     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 and on to Jamestown.   Another stage line went to Otto, East Otto, Plato, West Valley, Springville and Arcade.  Numerous cheese factories were constructed.   Lumber, apples, potash, lath, leather, 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 nations 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 8 trains a day that came through.   Many of the laborers who helped complete this last section of railroad, decided to settle in Cattaraugus.   After 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.   President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited here more than once.    After Mark Twain visited, he named his housecat “Cattaraugus”.

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:

  • Agricultural implements
  • Apples
  • Architect
  • Axe Manufacture
  • Bakery
  • Bank and Private Banks
  • Barbers
  • Blacksmithing
  • Bookbinder
  • Boots and Shoes
  • Brackets and Moldings
  • Broom Maker
  • Building Mover
  • Butter and Cheese Dealer
  • Butter Tub Manufacturer
  • Cabinet Making
  • Carpenter and Joiner
  • Carpet Weaving
  • Carriage, Wagon, and Sleigh
  • Manufacturer
  • Cattle Dealers
  • Cheese Box Manufacturer
  • Cheese Making
  • Chestnut Harvesting
  • Churches
  • Cider Mill
  • Cigars and Tobacco
  • Civil Engineer
  • Clergy
  • Coal
  • Constable
  • Cooperages, Stave Mill
  • Creamery
  • Crockery, China, and Glassware
  • Cutlery — Knife works and Razor Manufacture
  • Dairy Apparatus
  • Dairy Farmer
  • Dentists and Doctors
  • Door, Sash, and Blind Manufacturer
  • Dress and Cloak Making
  • Druggist
  • Dry Goods
  • Eating Houses
  • Engineer
  • Express Agents
  • Fancy Goods
  • Farming
  • Fire Company, Cattaraugus Hook and Ladder Co.
  • Florists
  • Flour, Feed, and Grain Mill
  • Fork, Hoe, and Broom Handles
  • Fur Dealer
  • Furnishings
  • Furniture
  • General Merchant
  • General Store
  • Gent’s Furnishings
  • Glue Manufacturer
  • Grist Mill
  • Groceries and Provisions
  • Gunsmith
  • Hardware
  • Harness Making
  • Hoe manufacturer
  • Hotels (at least 4) and Boarding Houses (several)
  • Insurance
  • Justice of the Peace
  • Ladies Furnishings
  • Lath and Shingle Manufacturer
  • Lawyers
  • Lightning Rods
  • Lime, Plaster, and Cement
  • Liveries and Boarding Stables
  • Livestock Dealer
  • Logging
  • Lumber Mills, Dealers, Roller Mills
  • Marble Works
  • Masonry
  • Meat Market and Butchers
  • Mechanic
  • Medical College
  • Mercantile
  • Milk Pans and Coolers
  • Millinery
  • Millwright
  • Mine Speculators
  • Molding
  • Music and Instruments
  • Newspaper
  • Oil Speculators
  • Opera House
  • Painters
  • Pastor
  • Patent Medicine Manufacturer
  • Patent Right Agent
  • Peddlers
  • Photographers
  • Physician and Surgeon
  • Picture Framing
  • Planeing Mill
  • Postmaster (since 1851)
  • Potash
  • Printing
  • Produce Sales
  • Railroad (Erie – 1851 completed)
  • Railroad Agents
  • Railroad Engineer, Foreman
  • Real Estate Sales
  • Restaurants
  • Saloons
  • Schools
  • Seamstress
  • Sewing Machine Agent
  • Shoe Maker
  • Shoe Repair
  • Sign Painters
  • Stagecoach Proprietors
  • Station Agent
  • Stone Cutting
  • Stump Pulling
  • Surveyor
  • Tailoress
  • Tannery
  • Tavern
  • Tea Rooms
  • Teamster
  • Telegraph Company, Telegrapher (since 1849)
  • Thresher
  • Tinsmith & Sheet Iron Manufactory
  • Town Clerk
  • Town Supervisor
  • Toys
  • Trapping
  • Undertaking and Casket Manufacturer
  • Washing Machine Agent
  • Watches and Jewelry
  • Weaver
  • Well Driving
  • Whiskey Distilleries (2)
  • Wood Turning

 

            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.

 

Patrick J. Cullen

  Cattaraugus, New York

pat@HistoricCattaraugus.org