Great Valley Part 1: Early settlers drawn to area by abundant timber

Great Valley Part 1: Early settlers drawn to area by abundant timber

Rick Miller

Olean Times Herald I Posted: Tuesday, September 22, 2009 12:00 am

 Early settlers in the Cattaraugus County town of Great Valley were lumbermen who used water­powered sawmills to saw pine logs into lumber to ship it down the Allegheny, Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

 The town's first permanent settler was James Green, a New Hampshire native who moved to Olean Point, and later to the mouth of Great Valley Creek in 1812. According to Everets' "History of Cattaraugus County," he was the first white inhabitant to locate west of Olean on the Allegheny River. His brothers, Francis and Richard, later settled at the mouth of Wright's Creek. They were lumbermen and built sawmills.

Among the "firsts" recorded in the town were the first birth, that of Ira Green in 1813, and the first death, that of Mrs. Hibbard in the same year. The home of James Green was used for the first school, taught by Joel Fairbanks in 1817. The first recorded marriage was of Matthew Gibson to Esther Markham at the Double Mill in 1818.

Early settlers found an Indian settlement, which existed around the wigwam of Kill Buck, their chief.  Others were known as John Logan, John Halfwhite, David Snow, Jonathan Titus, William Halftown, Daniel Halftown, William Johnson, John Hutchinson and Daniel Kill Buck. According to Everets, the Indians "subsisted by hunting, fishing and a small annual annuity" they received from the federal government. "They derived a considerable income from lands rented to white people" as well.


Another early settler was Col. William Baker, who in 1816 built a house at the mouth of Great Valley Creek, where he ran an inn on the east side of the creek. The tavern was frequented by raftsmen and other pioneers near the river. Soon afterward, Marcus Leonard built an inn on the west side of the creek.

In 1816, Ira Norton moved from Franklinville to Peth, in the center of the town. Great Valley was formally established April 15, 1818, as the state Legislature carved it from Olean. Later, in 1831, the town of Barton (now Allegany) was created from Great Valley, and in 1842, the town of Carrollton was formed out of another portion of the town.

Lumber from the mills was piled on the banks of Great Valley and Wright's Creek, waiting for spring floods in March to run rafts down to the Allegheny River, where the lumber was stacked in Warren rafts, a string of four or five platforms. At Warren, Pa., the platforms were further strung together three abreast and as long as 20 lengths for the trip downriver to Pittsburgh.

As the town's supply of pines, beech, maple, hemlock and other trees were exhausted, "the occupation of the people has greatly changed, from the lumbering business to the less exciting but more reliable occupation of farming, stock raising and dairying," Everets wrote. Grist mills for milling grain followed using the same water power as the sawmills. In 1850, the first steam­powered sawmill was built in Kill Buck by C. Burnside and Co.

Agriculture, particularly dairy farming, did not flourish as it did in other towns in the county because of the forest-covered hills and the fact that much of the good, quality tillable land was located on the reservation, which was largely uncultivated, In 1858, the first of three cheese factories were built in the town near the Willoughby school house. The factories consumed the mill from about 800 cows.

Among the first roads in the town was a stage road between Buffalo and Olean. It was first marked out and underbrush and logs cleared so oxen-drawn carts could pass, followed by the cutting of trees, rough grading and bridge building. A rough road on the south side of the river ran to Warren, used mainly by lumbermen returning from their raft trips down the river. A better road was built on the north side of the river in 1841 at the direction of the state Legislature. When the Erie Railroad was built through the town in 1852, a 10-mile plank road was built from the river to Ellicottville.

No records of town government prior to 1841 were found, having been lost or destroyed. The first supervisor, however, was Henry Wooster, appointed in 1819 when Great Valley included what would later become the towns of Allegany, Carrollton and Humphrey.

A post office was established in Peth in 1830, where it remained for more than 40 years. Another post office was established in the town of Kill Buck in 1836. The town's early villages included Great Valley Station on the Erie Railroad, Peth and Plank Road, or Halfway House, which would later become the hamlet of Great Valley.

As many as seven school districts were established in the town's early years. An Indian school house was also built on the Allegany Reservation in the town where Indian children as well as the children of white settlers in the areas were educated.

The town's first store was built at Kill Buck in 1834 on the west side of Great Valley Creek by Daniel and Horace Howe. It was later operated by Marcus Leonard, Hiram Smith from Chautauqua County, and Cross & Ellsworth in 1846. Andrew Merkt bought it in 1857 and included a tavern and brewery. After his death in 1860, Lewis Brewer became the proprietor. The brewery and hotel burned in 1865 and were rebuilt by John Spraker in 1874, and bought by Lewis Torge in 1876.

With a new settlement, churches were not far behind. Great valley was home to five early churches. Since a large number of the new settlers came from New England, religious meeting.  One of the first churches was the Presbyterian Church in Peth. The first meetings were held in the early 1820s at the home ofIra Norton. By 1835, the Presbyterians and Methodists. By 1878, this church was down to one member, Mrs. Sybil Hollister of neighboring Mansfield.

The Baptist Church was first organized in November 1831 at the home of Charles Ward. They often met at the District 2 schoolhouse. During the winter of 1877-78, they held several revival meetings. Also during this time, at Wright's Creek, the United Brethren congregation met at an area school. The Methodist Episcopal Church was formed in 1845. Later, a Methodist Society formed in Great Valley. Free Methodists, although few in number, held their services part of the time at the Methodist Church in Kill Buck.

In 1872, "a small but neat church edifice was built by the united efforts of persons who were desirous of having a suitable house of public worship in town," Everets wrote. "The Rev. Walter Gordon devoted considerable time and took a deep interest in the building of the church. Meetings continue to be held by preachers of various denominations."

A Catholic church, St. John's, was built in 1872 on the west side of the creek in Kill Buck. It seated 400, and was built at a cost of ,1,300. Its membership numbered 200, and was part of the Salamanca parish.

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