The Allegheny River, a Public Highway

In 1807, the Allegheny River, by law, was made a public highway. The first raft ran from Olean Point down river to Pittsburg, PA. This momentous event led ironically to both the development and underdevelopment of the southern portion of Cattaraugus County.


   Immigrants from the east came to Olean Point to embark to greener pastures in the Ohio Valley, Kentucky and elsewhere to the south and west. The river provided the cheapest and fastest mode of travel. These travelers attempted to time their arrival at the landing in Olean Point to coincide with the melting ice and the river flow. If the water was too high, the channels would be elevated and the rafts or flat boats were in danger of sliding right out of the channel and ending their journey in a meadow along the way. When the water leveled they could shoot a straight course. 


   Often times the travelers had a lengthy wait before embarking on their journey, living in crude encampments at the river landing. During those long waits food supplies ran out. They were faced with high prices for replacements. Flour sold for $25 a barrel and pork for $50 at Olean Point. The price of food at Olean Point reflected the cost of bringing in supplies against the current from Pittsburg. The cost was $1.25 per hundred pounds for shipping in supplies while it cost only $.12 ½ per hundred pounds to ship downstream. Many settlers who had what they considered sufficient funds to carry them safely to their destinations often found themselves destitute and had to remain in the area. Fortunately the Holland Land Company was liberal in their allotments and people could at least have something to work for.


   Conversely, the river was also the reason for under developing the area. People with money passed through the area to settle where more conveniences were available. When the discouragements incident to a new country overtook the settlers, they had only to get on a raft or flat boat and glide with the current away from the scene of hardship to new disappointments elsewhere.


   After the first settlement in 1803, the entire population of the territory of Cattaraugus County was 458. Everts writes a statement that does have every appearance of authenticity, is to the effect that during a single season (that of 1818) more than three thousand emigrants came to Olean Point, and there embarked upon the Allegany for the different points of their destination.  There was nearly equal travel in several of other single years. Those who had the energy and courage to stay and some who couldn’t leave because of extreme poverty had reason to be proud of themselves later because they stayed and were prosperous.


Information from The History of Cattaraugus County 1879

Submitted by Roberta P. Stone, former Town of Great Valley Historian  

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