Olean, New York

Olean (/ˈliæn/ OH-lee-ann) is a city in Cattaraugus County, New York, United States. Olean is the largest city in Cattaraugus County and serves as its financial, business, transportation and entertainment center. It is one of the principal cities of the Southern Tier region of Upstate New York.

Oak Hill Park Historic District in Olean
Oak Hill Park Historic District in Olean
Olean is located in New York
Location within the state of New York
Olean is located in the United States
Olean (the United States)
Coordinates: 42°4′57″N 78°25′51″W / 42.08250°N 78.43083°W / 42.08250; -78.43083Coordinates: 42°4′57″N 78°25′51″W / 42.08250°N 78.43083°W / 42.08250; -78.43083
CountryUnited States
StateNew York
 • TypeMayor-Council
 • MayorWilliam Aiello (R)
 • Common Council
Members' List
 • Total6.17 sq mi (15.97 km2)
 • Land5.90 sq mi (15.28 km2)
 • Water0.27 sq mi (0.69 km2)
 • Total13,437
 • Density2,178/sq mi (841/km2)
Time zoneUTC−5 (EST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC−4 (EDT)
Zip Code
Area code(s)716, 585
FIPS code36-009-54716

The city is surrounded by the town of Olean and is located in the southeastern part of the county. The population was 14,452 at the 2010 census.[2]


The first European in the area was possibly Joseph de La Roche Daillon, a missionary and explorer from Canada. La Roche reported on the presence of oil near Cuba, the first petroleum sighting in North America. At that time the area was a part of the territory of the Wenrohronon or Wenro Indians, an Iroquois speaking people. In 1643, the Wenro tribes became the first victims of a series of brutal conflicts known as the Second Beaver War.

The area was first settled by Europeans around 1765, called by the Indian name Ischua. Officially, this was illegal, as the British had declared the land in the Allegheny River watershed to be part of the Indian Reserve after conquering the territory in the French and Indian War two years prior. The surface is a hilly upland, separated into two distinct parts by the valley of the Allegheny. The highest points are 500 to 600 feet (150 to 180 m) above the valley. During the American Revolutionary War, the 1779 Sullivan Expedition established the first road to what would become Olean, blazing a trail to what is now Kittanning, Pennsylvania along the path of what is now New York State Route 16.

Originally the entire territory of the county of Cattaraugus was called the Town of Olean, formed March 11, 1808. As population allowed, the county was split in half and the top half was called "Hebe", and was taken off in 1812, a part of Perrysburgh in 1814, then Great Valley in 1818. Hinsdale formed in 1820, and Portville in 1837, leaving the current boundary of Olean that lies upon the south line of the county, near the southeast corner. The area remained sparsely populated until 1804, when Major Adam Hoops acquired the land and gave it its modern name. Hoops was a surveyor and Revolutionary War veteran, and was politically connected with Robert Morris, the financier of the Revolution. Along with Morris, Hoops became involved with the Holland Land Company, which was settling western New York.

This was a time of great western expansion into places such as Ohio and Indiana. Since neither canals nor railroads had become widespread by this point, the main means of travel were either by cart or by small-boat travel. The Allegheny River was a major transportation route. Hoops believed that a great city could be created at the confluence of the Allegheny and one of its tributaries, and went looking for the right spot. In 1804, he found one where Olean Creek meets the river; the confluence was important, as it was the farthest point downstream in the state before hitting the Seneca Reservation that surrounded most of New York's piece of the river. Hoops received title to 20,000 acres (81 km2) from the Holland Land Company in 1804. Hoops' brother Robert came to the site and built the first permanent structure near today's Forness Park, calling the area Hamilton in honor of Alexander Hamilton.

In a letter to Joseph Ellicott in 1804, Hoops discusses the name Olean from the local Oil Springs and the Latin word oleum:

Canandaigua, N.Y., April 15, 1804 "To Joseph ELLICOTT, Esq., Batavia, New York. Dear Sir,―It was proposed to me at New York to drop the Indian name of Ischue or Ischua (it is also spelt other ways). Confusion might arise from the various spellings, of which to obviate all risk I have concluded so to do as proposed. The neighborhood of the oil spring suggests a name different in sound, though perhaps not different in meaning, which I wish to adopt,―it is "Olean." You will do me a favor by assisting me to establish this name. It may easily be done now by your concurrence. The purpose will be most effectually answered by employing the term, when occasion requires, without saying anything of an intended change of name. To begin, you will greatly oblige me by addressing the first letter you may have occasion to write to me, after I receive the survey, to the Mouth of Olean. The bearer being properly instructed, there will be thereafter no difficulty. Your co-operation in the matter (the effect of which, though not important in itself, may be so on account of precision) will oblige. Your servant, A. HOOPS

The Post Office recognized the new town as "Olean Point". The site was surveyed by 1808, and a map from that year shows a basic street pattern that still survives, along with most of the modern street names. In 1823, the city is called Olean, without the "Point", on county maps.

In 1854 Olean was formally incorporated by the New York State Legislature, and the trustees elected at the first subsequent town meeting were Dr. Lambert Thithney, C.B.B. Barse, Charles Thing, and John K. Comstock. Enos C. Brooks, descendant of Judge James Brooks and of Cornelius Brooks (one of the earliest settlers of Olean (1808)), was appointed Clerk of Olean.[3]

Timber and railroadsEdit

Adam Hoops's dream of creating a major transportation hub on the Allegheny River — on the scale of a Buffalo or a Pittsburgh — was never realized, and he himself died in poverty. Nonetheless, Olean prospered and was soon the central town of the region. Olean grew quickly as a transportation hub for migrants taking the Allegheny River into Ohio. For much of this era, Olean was larger and better known than its northern competitor, Buffalo. This period ended with the creation of the great canals, especially the Erie Canal in 1825. The Allegheny River was usually too shallow for the larger steamboats to navigate except in the spring, and only two steamboats—the Allegheny in 1830 and the New Castle of 1837—reached the city.[4] A Genesee Valley Canal was extended to Olean and the Allegheny River in 1862, but the Allegheny's shallowness and the rise of the railroads rendered it obsolete before it even opened.

Timber was a major industry in New York and Pennsylvania between 1830 and 1850, and Olean was the chief timber town in the region during those times. After river travel declined, Olean became the regional railroad hub. The town was the crossroads of several railroads, a situation which endures into today with the WNYP.

Olean was the home of several corporations. During the late 19th century, Olean had a few mills, a bicycle company, a manufacturer of mechanical pumps, and a glass works, among other factories. St. Bonaventure University was founded just outside town in 1858. Olean was incorporated as a village in 1854, and as a city in 1893. Olean was rivals with the comparably populated, but much newer, city of Salamanca (city), New York at the turn of the 20th century, but the decline of the timber industry in southwestern Cattaraugus County and complications with Salamanca being situated on borrowed Seneca Nation land allowed Olean to continue growing while Salamanca declined.

Oil and rum-runningEdit

Oil was first discovered in the region by a French explorer in 1632, but it was rediscovered for commercial use during the Pennsylvania oil rush. Oil became the city's claim to fame for fifty years.

Olean was the railroad and pipeline hub for the surrounding oil region. The operations HQ of Standard Oil's New York affiliate, Socony, was based in the city. Oil produced on both sides of the state line (e.g. in Bradford, Pennsylvania) would be transported to Olean for rail travel. For a short time, Olean was the world's largest oil depot, complete with a "tank city" on the edge of town.[5] A pipeline was also built linking the city to Standard Oil refineries in Bayonne, New Jersey. The oil industry maintained a presence in the city until 1954, the same year in which Olean's population peaked.

Oil also produced Olean's highest-ranking politician. Oil executive Frank W. Higgins was governor of New York in 1905–1907. Higgins' family owned grocery stores in the area, and Higgins also ran this business before his political career. To this day, Olean is one of the few smaller cities in New York State to be home to a governor.

Olean garnered notoriety as a major stop on bootlegging routes during Prohibition in 1920s. Dempsey, the Chief of Police, did not condone these thugs or their illegal activities. He did not aggressively pursue arrests, however, unless he had evidence the violator was responsible for a crime committed in his jurisdiction. As long as you kept your nose clean in the Olean City limits, it was a "safe haven". Local stories relating to this period are numerous. Some are documented and some are legends. Olean, located on a back road route between Chicago and New York City, was often frequented by famous mobsters of the era. Al Capone of Chicago, probably the most famous gang leader of the time, visited Olean in pursuance of his illegal endeavors. Olean was nicknamed "Little Chicago" in the press, due to its connection with mobsters and bootleggers, and Capone was a frequent visitor.[6]


Olean is the largest city in Cattaraugus County. The city's population peaked at an estimated 25,000 during the mid-1950s. The current population of the city is around 15,000.


Olean is located in southeastern Cattaraugus County at 42°4′57″N 78°25′51″W / 42.08250°N 78.43083°W / 42.08250; -78.43083 (42.08264, -78.430965).[7]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.2 square miles (16.0 km2), of which 5.9 square miles (15.3 km2) is land and 0.27 square miles (0.7 km2), or 4.19%, is water.[2]

The city is located where Olean Creek flows into the Allegheny River and by the Southern Tier Expressway (Interstate 86 and New York State Route 17). New York State Route 417 passes east–west through the city and intersects New York State Route 16, a north–south highway.


Climate data for Olean, New York
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 62
Average high °F (°C) 31
Average low °F (°C) 11
Record low °F (°C) −34
Average precipitation inches (mm) 2.31
Source: The Weather Channel[8]


Historical population
Census Pop.
U.S. Decennial Census[9]

As of the census[10] of 2000, there were 15,347 people, 6,446 households, and 3,803 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,588.0 people per square mile (999.2/km2). There were 7,121 housing units at an average density of 1,200.8 per square mile (463.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 93.31% White, 3.47% Black or African American, 0.43% Native American, 0.89% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.43% from other races, and 1.45% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.24% of the population.

There were 6,446 households, out of which 29.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.0% were married couples living together, 13.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 41.0% were non-families. 35.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29 and the average family size was 2.97.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 24.6% under the age of 18, 8.0% from 18 to 24, 27.2% from 25 to 44, 22.3% from 45 to 64, and 17.9% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females, there were 88.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.3 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $30,400, and the median income for a family was $38,355. Males had a median income of $32,341 versus $22,469 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,169. About 13.9% of families and 15.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.5% of those under age 18 and 10.2% of those age 65 or over.


  • Cutco Cutlery Corp. is headquartered in Olean and manufactures all of its knives in the city.
  • Dresser-Rand Group's North American headquarters was in Olean.
  • Hysol Corporation, later bought by Dexter Corporation and then Henkel was one of Olean's largest employers. Henkel sold the company to SolEpoxy in 2010.
  • Colonial Radio Group was headquartered in Olean from 2009 to 2018. It has since exited the region and moved to the Carolinas.
  • Olean General Hospital, is part of Upper Allegheny Health System (UAHS), which includes Bradford Regional Medical Center (BRMC) in Bradford, PA. UAHS provides care to a service area with more than 160,000 individuals in Southwestern New York and Northwestern Pennsylvania.
  • Olean Wholesale Grocery Cooperative, a regional grocery wholesaler, was located just east of the city. It was bought out by C&S Wholesale Grocers with intent to close the facility in 2019.


Olean has two elementary schools — East View Elementary and Washington West Elementary; a middle school — Olean Intermediate Middle School; and Olean High School is the city's public high school. It was the site of the Olean High School shooting in 1974.

Archbishop Walsh Academy is Olean's Roman Catholic school for grades K-12.

A branch of Jamestown Community College is within the city. St. Bonaventure University is a few miles to the west in the town of Allegany.


Bradner Stadium, originally built in the 1920s, is a multi-purpose stadium which for years was once the home to the minor-league baseball teams the Olean Oilers. However, in 2012 the Olean Oilers were recreated. The Oilers currently play in the NYCBL League and won the League Championship in 2015 and 2016.

Olean is also the home of the Southern Tier Diesel adult amateur football team.[11]

Bradner Stadium also hosts the Olean High School football team. The Huskies play all of their home games in the stadium located in East Olean.

Historic sitesEdit

The following are listed on the National Register of Historic Places: Beardsley-Oliver House, Conklin Mountain House, Oak Hill Park Historic District, Olean Armory, Olean Public Library, Olean School No. 10, St. Stephen's Episcopal Church Complex, Temple B'Nai Israel, Union and State Streets Historic District, and the United States Post Office.[12][13][14] The Church of St Mary of the Angels on Henley Street was built in 1915 and was designated by Pope Francis as a basilica in 2017.


Interstate 86 spans east–west and is to the northern edge of Olean. New York Route 16 heads north from Olean to Buffalo. New York Route 417 heads east from Olean.

Until 1968 the Pennsylvania Railroad operated the Buffalo Day Express heading north from Washington, D.C. through Olean to Buffalo (the Baltimore Day Express operated on the southbound version of the route).[15] The Penn Central railroad operated an unnamed successor train through Olean from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to Buffalo until 1971 when passenger train service in the region ended.[16][17]

Until 1970 the Erie Lackawanna Railroad operated through Olean the Chicago - Hoboken, New Jersey Lake Cities; which was the last passenger train to span the entire Southern Tier.[18] The Erie and the PRR train stations were about one mile apart.[19]

The nearest general commercial airports with scheduled flights for the public are in Erie, Buffalo and the Elmira area.

Notable peopleEdit




Other notables

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 27, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Olean city, New York". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Archived from the original on February 12, 2020. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
  3. ^ HISTORY OF CATTARAUGUS COUNTY, NEW YORK, Town of Olean, L.H. Everts, 1879, Edited by Franklin Ellis Transcribed from pages 153-185 http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nycattar/1879history/olean.html
  4. ^ State and Union: River-traffic dreams never realized at Olean Point. Olean Times Herald (May 22, 2016). Retrieved May 22, 2016.
  5. ^ "Photo".
  6. ^ "Web Page". City of Olean. 2012-12-12.
  7. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  8. ^ "Olean, NY Monthly Weather". Weather.com. 2018. Retrieved 2018-12-07.
  9. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". Census.gov. Retrieved June 4, 2015.
  10. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  11. ^ Wilson, Sam (16 September 2014). "An extra-long season ends for So. Tier Diesel". Olean Times Herald. Archived from the original on 8 July 2019.
  12. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  13. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Listings". Weekly List of Actions Taken on Properties: 1/03/12 through 1/06/12. National Park Service. 2012-01-13.
  14. ^ "National Register of Historic Places Listings". Weekly List of Actions Taken on Properties: 6/01/15 through 6/05/15. National Park Service. 2015-06-12.
  15. ^ "Pennsylvania Railroad, Table 82". Official Guide of the Railways. National Railway Publication Company. 92 (7). December 1959.
  16. ^ "Penn Central, Table 42". Official Guide of the Railways. National Railway Publication Company. 101 (1). June 1968.
  17. ^ Trains magazine, 'Passenger trains operating on the eve of Amtrak' https://ctr.trains.com/~/media/import/files/pdf/f/7/7/passenger_trains_operating_on_the_eve_of_amtrak.pdf
  18. ^ Sanders, Craig (2003). Limiteds, Locals, and Expresses in Indiana, 1838–1971. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34216-4.?
  19. ^ "Index of Railroad Stations, 1413". Official Guide of the Railways. National Railway Publication Company. 82 (3). August 1949.

External linksEdit