Olean, New York

—    —
Nickname(s): Enterprising City with the Hometown Touch
[[Image:|250px|Olean is located in ]]
Location within the state of New York
Coordinates: 42°9′31″N 78°42′57″W / 42.15861°N °W / 42.15861; -78.71583
Country United States
State New York
County Cattaraugus
 - Type Mayor-Council
 - Mayor Linda L. Witte (D)
 - Common Council
 - Total  dunams (16.0 km2 / 
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 sq mi)
 - Land
 - Water
Population (2000)
 - Total 15347
 - Urban density
 - Rural density
 - Metro density
 -  Density
 -  Density
Time zone EST (UTC−5)
 - Summer (DST) EDT (UTC−4)
Area code(s) 716, 585
Website Olean, NY

Olean () is a city in Cattaraugus County, New York, United States. Olean is the largest city in Cattaraugus County, and serves as the financial, business, transportation and entertainment center of the county. It is one of the principal cities of the Southern Tier region of New York.

The city is surrounded by the Town of Olean and is located in the southeastern part of the county. The population was 15,347 at the 2000 census. The 2006 population estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau is 14,584.



Olean is located at (42.08264, -78.430965).

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 (15.4 km²) of it is land and 0.2 square miles (0.6 km²) of it (3.73%) is water.

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.


The first European in the area was probably Joseph de La Roche Daillon, a missionary and explorer from Canada. La Roche discovered the presence of oil near Cuba, the first petroleum sighting in North America. The area was first settled around 1765, called by the Indian name Ischua. It remained sparsely populated until 1804, when Major Adam Hoops acquired the land and gave it its modern name, after Olean Shephard, the first white child born here.[1]

Western expansion

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 like 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 Allegany River was a major transportation route. Hoops believed that a great city could be created at the confluence of the Allegany and one of its tributaries, and went looking for the right spot. In 1804, he found one where the Olean Creek meets the river, and received title to 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 claims he created the name Olean from the local Oil Springs and the Latin word oleum. Another claim is that Hoops named by area after one Olean Shepard, one of the first children born to settlers. Regardless of the origin, 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.

Timber and railroads

Adam Hoops's dream of creating a major transportation hub on the Allegany River — at 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 transportation hub for migrants taking the Allegany 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.

Timber was a major industry in New York & Pennsylvania between 1830 and 1850, and Olean was the chief city 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 of town in 1858. Olean was incorporated as a village in 1854, and as a city in 1893.

Oil and rum-running

Oil was first discovered in the region by a French explorer in 1632, but it was rediscovered for commercial use during the Pennsylvanian 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. 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. Local police turned a blind eye to organized crime activity. Olean was nicknamed "Little Chicago" in the press, due to its connection with mobsters and bootleggers, and Al Capone was a frequent visitor.


Olean is the largest city in Cattaraugus County. The city's population peaked at an estimated 24,000 during the 1950s. The current population is around 15,000.


As of the census 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/sq mi (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.

Facts about the City of Olean

Notable natives and residents



The arts


Other notables

  • Richard McMullen, industrialist
  • James Weatherell Sr, industrialist and patent holder
  • Francis Chesner, industrialist and patent holder
  • George G. Lundberg, pilot
  • Louis Zamperini, Olympian and motivational speaker
  • Rachel L. Hutchison, granddaughter of President Abraham Lincoln and an up-and-coming researcher in the study of language.
  • Christopher P. Leichtweis, President and CEO of Safety and Ecology Corporation (SEC), Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

See also


  1. . ePodunk. http://www.epodunk.com/cgi-bin/genInfo.php?locIndex=1339. Retrieved 2010-05-19.