Genessee River Canal

The following article was found written by someone in the Portville Historical Society.  Content of the article indicates that it was written in the year 2011.

Every so often, we get an inquiry about the Genesee Valley Canal and its location in Portville.  Many people may not even know that there was a canal in Portville, but it seems appropriate that we revisit the history of the Genesee Valley Canal since 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of the canal's extension from Olean to Millgrove, way back in 1861.  This is not something that is taught in our local schools, however, we think it is pretty interesting that something as important as a canal was brought to Portville and many articles have been written over the years that tell of its unique role in our history.

Initially, the State of New York had decided that the canal would end in Olean at a pond near Bradner Stadium.  But some very influential Portville men, namely John G. Mersereau, pursued the extension of the canal to Millgrove, in order to provide a means of transporting the lumber and other goods shipped from Portville.  At that time, there were lumber interests near the River Road in Millgrove, Mersereau Mills at Pine Street, Wheeler Dusenbury Mills at Dodge Creek/Mayville, Gordon's Mills at Steam Valley, and Weston's Mills at Westons, not to mention several smaller mills along the Haskell Creek.  The Dusenburys ran a well-stocked general store and Smith Parish also had a large shingle business that could benefit greatly from the upstate markets.

Before the canal was opened in 1861, merchants only had the Allegheny River to reach the markets down river, to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and points even further south to the Mississippi, if they wanted to go that far.  They usually stopped in Pittsburgh because it was a long walk home!  The heyday of the canal would not last though.  Also at this time, railroads were fast becoming the popular means of transport and were connecting all places that could not be reached by the waterways.  The popularity of the railroad would eventually lead to the canal's demise in 1878.

A few years before the 100th anniversary of the Millgrove extension, Maud D. Brooks, Olean City Historian, wrote several interesting articles about the canal for the Olean Times Herald.  They appeared in the paper in January 1952 and another in 1956 and tell of the early days of the canal and how it came to Olean and later, Portville.  On October 6, 1856, the canal opened in Olean, the terminal depot being located at the present site of the Olean Center Mall parking lot, across from the old PRR depot near JCC.  We have collected three of her articles and present them for you at the link below.

Maud D. Brooks, Genesee Canal, Born Back In '36, United Olean and Rochester. Olean Times Herald, Jan 28, 1952

The newspaper articles written by the Olean City Historian, Maud D. Brooks during the 1950 era are very interesting.

View the full article on

NOTE: I have found this link may not work from this website due to security reasons, I believe. Copy the link, move out of  historic path and then paste in browser. I had success in reaching the site. Let me know in feedback below if this does not work. - Sue Cross

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