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Bank of Cattaraugus
History Page


 

 HISTORY OF BANK OF CATTARAUGUS

 

            Bank of Cattaraugus, located in Historic Cattaraugus Village, was founded in 1882.  At that time, the growing village needed a larger bank to succeed the two private banks that were in operation since 1849.  A group of twenty prominent citizens from Cattaraugus and neighboring villages formed a partnership to establish a new bank on July 13, 1882 .  Among its founders were Cattaraugus residents Herbert C. Rich, hardware store owner and prominent lumberman; general store owners Jerome Higbee, Nathaniel Christie;  S.L. and E.L. Johnson, who owned flour and saw mills; Christopher Moench, owner of the tannery; blacksmith Asa Ross and A.B. Rush, owner of the cheese factory. 

            These influential men met at the office of A.B. Rush in Cattaraugus, chose the name of the partnership to be “Bank of Cattaraugus”, and elected officers with Oscar F. Beach, a pioneer settler from East Otto, as President.  Plans were immediately made for the construction of a building, which was occupied in 1883.  This building, now used by the Cattaraugus Area Historical Society, was the home of the bank for 30 years. 

            In 1887, Solon S. Laing, a hardware store owner and State Assemblyman from East Otto, became president.  In 1894, Herbert C. Rich became the bank’s third president.  In 1913, the bank built its current building on the corner across the street.  Fred E. Johnson was elected the bank’s first “full time” President in 1930.  Beginning in 1940, J.J. McCarthy served as President for 17 years. L. Edgar Cullen joined the bank in 1940 and served as president from 1957 until 1982. 

           
In 1957,  the bank was remodeled eliminating bars on teller windows.   In 1971 the Bank was again renovated, doubling its former size.  Patrick J. Cullen joined the bank in 1971 and was elected President in 1982, a position he holds today.  In 1992 a Directors Community Room was constructed at 9 Main Street , utilizing the talents of area workmen, in order to create a quality place for local meetings. 

            Determined to place the needs of the local community first and foremost, this bank has remained with local ownership and today is one of the oldest banks in New York State .  In the cooperative spirit of it founders, Bank of Cattaraugus focuses its investment activity in the local community.  Over the years it helped finance the establishment and growth of hundreds of homes and numerous industries and business such as Cattaraugus Cutlery, Case Brothers Cutlery, TenEyck Edge Tool Company, Setter Brothers, Oakes & Burger, Borden Foods, Harvey & Carey Drug Store Chain, Rich Dairy and many, many others. 

            Today, Bank of Cattaraugus continues to operate with the same belief that the needs of the local community and its residents are its business.  Local deposits must remain available for local loans to sustain a vibrant community.  The stockholders, directors, officers, and staff extend a “thank you” to all whom have supported this American Ideal during the past three centuries.

   

 

A Brief History of Cattaraugus Village and Rich Valley

 

            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 of the Great Lakes could portage to Chautauqua Lake and then easily on to the Allegheny River, the Ohio River , the Mississippi and beyond.

            When General Sullivan campaigned against the Iroquois in the Genesee Valley, many Seneca Indians fled to the Zoar Valley area between Springville and Lake Erie in northern Cattaraugus County .  They also retired to the area west of Salamanca that is now occupied by the Kinzua Reservoir.  This is the same area once well lived by Seneca Chief Cornplanter in southern Cattaraugus County .
 

            It wasn’t until after the War of 1812 that adventuresome pioneers ventured into the area that was known by the Senecas as Cattaraugus, just east of Chautauqua County . 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) was found dead.  He had 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 the village providing ideal conditions for numerous water powered mills.

            With the impending completion of the Erie Canal , President Andrew Jackson championed the effort to develop the interior with legislation that he supported.  This effort led directly to the planning of a railroad to connect the Hudson River with Lake Erie , coursing through the southern-tier of New York State .  When this New York and Lake Erie Railway was completed in 1851, it wasn’t merely a new railroad.  It was the longest rail line in the entire world!  It connected Piermont , New York with Dunkirk, New York . This railroad came through Rich Valley .  The new depot was named Cattaraugus, in honor of the name of the County and the fact the upstart village was already a center of commerce and needed its own depot to serve the most burgeoning economy in the county at that time.  The first telegraph came through in 1849 to provide communication facilities between construction crews.  When 1851 rolled around and the railroad was completed, over 1500 persons lived in the area.  Cattaraugus that year had its first post office, train depot and telegraph office.

            Cattaraugus Village truly was a boomtown on the way west.  When the first train came through carrying President Filmore, his entire cabinet, and the Chief of the Seneca Nation, there were few communities in this country more proud than Cattaraugus.  Future economic growth intensified due to our train depot and railroad siding.  Stage lines sprang up connecting Cattaraugus with New Albion and Leon and another went to Otto and East Otto.  Another influence on our local economy is due to the fact that the railroad completion made the Erie Canal obsolete.  Local goods could be available for sale on the streets of New York City 450 miles away within 24 hours.

            Numerous cheese factories sprang up.  Lumber, apples, potash, lath, leather, whiskey (not necessarily in this order) were just a few of several dozen industries.  Hotels, livery stables, and schools opened their doors.  We had a hospital, doctors, veterinarians and architects and even a medical college.  Many of the laborers who helped build the railroad decided to settle in Cattaraugus.  Large crews of men were needed to construct culverts and excavate hillsides in the area around Cattaraugus.  This involved intense manual labor and skilled stone masons, many of whom apprenticed on the Erie Canal construction. 

           
By 1860 the town boasted 305 dwellings, 8 school districts with 649 children in school, 1557 oxen and 383 horses.  Several fires swept through the village over the years.  The most damaging was in September 1888.  It took away 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.  Thus, while historic Cattaraugus Village dates prior to 1818; the current business district was largely constructed after that fire of 1888.

            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 brick Hotel.  Once the center of activity in the Village and the destination of thousands of salesmen and merchants, this hotel awaits a developer as if in suspended animation… still with the original light fixtures, tin ceilings and wallpaper.
 

            It is well documented that Abraham Lincoln visited Cattaraugus twice in 1860.  Teddy Roosevelt campaigned for President here in 1898.  Daniel Webster was a visitor and Franklin D. Roosevelt was here on several occasions.  With very little imagination you can see them rocking on the Hotel porches.