History Showcase

When we look back at American history, it is oft times strife with ugly moments. But instead of focusing on the bad, the African American Center for Cultural Development in Olean, NY aims to highlight the remarkable lives and sacrifices of those who strived to make the country a better place. 

Founded in 2009, the Center resides in the old Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church at 3rd and Green Street in Olean. Bringing together five very unique individuals who all shared the same goal, it has grown to become a substantial and established cultural center where people can gather and reflect. 

The Center boasts over 100 years of historical artifacts centric to African American history in the Southern Tier. Photographs, paintings, newspaper clippings (among other things) paint a vivid picture of key figures involved. 

Della Moore, Ola Mae Gayton, Beverly Twitten-Terrien and the rest of the Board of Directors played a pivotal role in the founding of the Center and the operations behind it. Over the past several years, the Center has grown into something much more than a place to celebrate both African American and local history - it’s a community outreach center where people can gather to discuss history, faith, art, music and much more. 

While you can go to the Center every 1st and 3rd Friday of every month to enjoy coffee and some performance art, one of the coolest things the Center offers is the Walking Tour of African American Heritage that stretches throughout the city of Olean. 

At just 2 miles, you can experience the vast and rich history the region boasts. Stop by the Center and get some information and take the walk yourself, or schedule a guided tour and pick the brain of whomever leads you. 

A major topic of the Walk focuses on some of the people who helped runaway slaves evade bounty hunters and continue the trek to Canada (and freedom). The Underground Railroad, started by abolitionists who harbored said slaves in hidden parts of the house, had multiple locations in the Olean area. 

You can find plenty of stories about the Underground Railroad around our area, but the one of Sarah Johnson might be the most intriguing. With the help of many courageous people, Johnson evaded capture from slave hunters well before the Civil War. Her history in the city remains one of the most remarkable, as she was a living testament to the morality of local abolitionists. 

After learning to be a mid-wife from Dr. James Mead, Johnson would soon become one of Olean’s most beloved and well-respected people. So much, in fact, that she was the first African American woman to be issued a deed in the city. Her old home, residing at 607 Irving Street, is perhaps the coolest part of the tour. 

The tour also takes you to other historical sites, like the Mount View Cemetery, which has two graves of soldiers from the famous United States Colored Troop. There’s a stop at West Green Street at the house of Kathryn Kenney, the first (and for a while, the only) African American teacher in Olean. And by appointment, your group can become privy to the history behind Olean’s Bartlett House with a tour from the director, Dave Deckman. 

For more information on the African American Center for Cultural Development in Olean, head to their website at http://africanamericancenterforculturaldevelopment.org/olean/. For information on guided tour costs, appointments and other events or activities, email them at aaccdofolean@gmail.com

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