Local History

2017 promises to be an exciting year for the Ellicottville Historical Society & Museum (EHSM), as several historic anniversaries will be celebrated, including the 200th anniversary of the village’s first frame house and the 180th anniversary of the incorporation of the village of Ellicottville. Each year, the EHSM embraces a new theme, and President Dawn Westfall invites visitors to explore this year’s appropriate pioneer theme that celebrates Ellicottville’s earliest settlers whose influence you just can’t help but notice throughout the village. 
 
200 years ago, the future site of the village of Ellicottville was chosen to be the county seat. During this time, the land that would be the village was owned by the Holland Land Company, which owned over three million acres of land west of the Genesee River. The village of Ellicottville was named for Joseph Ellicott, who was in charge of the survey of the Holland Land Company lands in Western New York. Traces of the Holland Land Company’s influence can still be seen today, as the company, which opened an office in Ellicottville in 1818, laid out the village, including the lots, street, and village square, to allow for the expansion of the village - something that wasn’t often planned for in the early years of most villages. Lots were designated to the county for the Courthouse and Clerk’s office, the school district, and a church, where St. John’s Episcopal Church now stands. 
 
In fact, the influence of the Holland Land Company played a key part in the construction of the village’s first frame house, which still stands at 8 West Washington Street. Baker Leonard was contracted by the company to build an inn to accommodate prospective land purchasers traveling through the area. Leonard’s large frame house was constructed in the federal style, which was popular in the United States between 1780 and 1830. Marked by plain surfaces, symmetry, and a neoclassical look, federal-style architecture purposefully associated the early American republic with the ancient democracies of Greece and the republican system of Rome.  
 
The smooth clapboards of Leonard’s building were perfectly suited to this particular style of architecture; however, it was this feature of the house that caused it to be rejected by the Holland Land Company! The planed lumber used in construction had to be transported from a saw mill eleven miles away in Kill Buck. Unlike today, this was no short trip on smooth roads, but a harrowing journey across a primitive trail of fallen trees, swamps, rough ground and no bridges. This made the lumber quite expensive; the Holland Land Company refused to accept the building, as it turned out to be far more costly than they originally budgeted.
 
Instead, Leonard and his family lived in the beautiful home, which he also operated as a tavern and trading post. Before the County Courthouse was completed in the Village Square, the house was used for County Board of Supervisors meetings, and court was held there from 1818 to 1820. The first town meeting took place there in March of 1821. In later years, Leonard’s building served as the village’s post office and store, and it witnessed a few notable “firsts” in Ellicottville including the first wedding and the first male death in the village. The house has stayed in the same family line since its construction in 1817 and it is now a privately owned residence. Interestingly, Ellicottville’s current mayor, John Burrell, is a descendant of the home’s original owners!
 
In 1837, the village of Ellicottville was incorporated, and it remained the county seat until 1868 when it was moved to the village of Little Valley, which had become an important rail station on the Erie Railroad. Over the years, many more significant historical events took place in Ellicottville, which the EHSM will be celebrating this year. 2017 is the 140th anniversary of the first locomotive, the “Salamanca,” to arrive in the village (1877) and the 130th anniversary of the construction of the brick schoolhouse (1887). Ninety years ago, the new brick building was constructed for the Ellicottville bank (1927) and 60 years ago, Mayor Burrell, was confirmed at St. John’s Episcopal Church. 
 
Westfall explained that each year, the EHSM hosts a volunteer appreciation event, and this year’s event will be centered around the first frame house and St. John’s Episcopal Church next door, which was the first Episcopalian church built in Cattaraugus County. The event takes place every year in September to honor members and volunteers who make the EHSM’s mission their mission year ‘round. Past themes have included a 1950s ice cream social in 2015 and a 1920s flapper theme in 2016, complete with cocktails provided by the Ellicottville Brewing Company. 
 
Every two years, the museum has new temporary displays for visitors to enjoy. “Last year, displays were revamped to tell the story of the town and village following more of a historical timeline,” Westfall explained. She encourages visitors to explore the audio tour made possible through the Cattaraugus County Department of Economic Development, Planning and Tourism. While visiting the museum, visitors can dial 716-246-1999 and enter the exhibit numbers associated with the museum, followed by the pound (#) key to hear each of the eight series currently available. Visitors can also use a smart phone to scan a QR code available at each of those displays in the museum. 
 
According to Westfall, there are many ways for individuals to get involved with the EHSM. The historical society is one of the few local ones that continues to host a monthly lecture series, which the public is invited to attend. These lectures on a variety of topics take place at 7pm on the second Wednesday of the month from May through October at the Ellicottville Memorial Library on Maples Road. To see the lecture series schedule, visit the “Ellicottville Historical Society” Facebook page or contact Dawn Westfall at 716-699-6201.
 
Of course, individuals are encouraged to visit the museum to get the full experience of the EHSM. The museum reopens for the season on Saturday, June 3. Normal hours are Saturdays and Sundays from 1pm-4pm, although it is open for additional hours beginning at 10am during village festival weekends. The last day of the season is Saturday, Sept. 30. In addition to exploring the museum’s exhibits, visitors can also access historical information in the archives with the assistance of Mary Elizabeth Dunbar, who is the town and village historian and coordinator of the museum volunteer schedule. 
 
“We are always seeking help with museum tasks and events! It is only successful with the help of many individuals who are willing to help fulfill EHSM’s goals of seeking to inform, inspire, collect and connect to local history,” said Westfall. No experience is necessary, and Dunbar works hard to accommodate individuals’ schedules so that the museum can be open on weekends. Volunteering is rewarding in more ways than one, as Westfall explained: “Many who think they know a lot about the local history find themselves learning something new every day by being more involved with the society and museum’s activities.” Those interested in volunteering can contact Mary Elizabeth Dunbar at 716-699-2162.
 
For more information about the EHSM, call Westfall at 716-699-6201. Stay up-to-date on EHSM events and lectures by following them on Facebook by searching “Ellicottville Historical Society.”
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