CATTARAUGUS County, NY
Cattaraugus County (locally known as Catt County) is a county in western New York, with one side bordering Pennsylvania. As of the United States 2020 census, the population was 77,042. The county seat is Little Valley. The county was created in 1808 and later organized in 1817.
Cattaraugus County comprises the Olean, NY Micropolitan Statistical Area, which is included in the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Olean, NY Combined Statistical Area. Within its boundaries are the Allegany Indian Reservation of the Seneca Nation of New York, and the Allegany State Park. The Allegheny River runs through the county.
In ancient times, the largely unsettled territory was the traditional homeland of the now-extinct Wenrohronon Indians. It later became the territory of the Seneca people, one of the five Nations of the Haudenosaunee.
During the colonial era, it was claimed by at least three Territories of the United States: New York Colony, Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Pennsylvania Colony, each of which extended their colonial claims to the west until after the Revolutionary War.
When counties were established in the Province of New York in 1683, the territory of Cattaraugus County was included within Albany County. This was an enormous county, including the northern part of New York as well as all of the modern-day state of Vermont and, in theory, extending westward to the Pacific Ocean. As additional areas were settled, the county was reduced on July 3, 1766 by the creation of Cumberland County, and on March 16, 1770 by the creation of Gloucester County, both containing territory now in Vermont.
On March 12, 1772, what was left of Albany County was split into three parts, one remaining under the name Albany County. One of the other pieces, Tryon County, contained the western portion (and thus, since no western boundary was specified, theoretically still extended west to the Pacific). The eastern boundary of Tryon County was approximately five miles west of the present city of Schenectady. The county included the western part of the Adirondack Mountains and the area west of the West Branch of the Delaware River. The area then designated as Tryon County is represented in the 21st century by 37 counties of New York. The county was named for William Tryon, colonial governor of New York.
In the years before 1776, most of the Loyalists in Tryon County fled across the Niagara Frontier into modern day Ontario, Canada. In 1784, following the peace treaty that ended the Revolutionary War (and a treaty with Massachusetts that finally settled who owned Western New York), the name of Tryon County was changed to Montgomery County in honor of the general, Richard Montgomery, who had captured several places in Canada and died attempting to capture the city of Quebec. This replaced the name of the hated British governor.
In practice, however, these counties did not cover modern Cattaraugus County or Western New York. Most of that area lay within the Indian Reserve established in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix by the British; it was intended to be reserved for Native Americans and was ruled off-limits to European settlement.
The newly independent United States sought to extinguish Native reserves after the British ceded their territory east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes to the United States. This included Iroquois territory in New York; the four nations that had been allies of the British mostly relocated to Ontario, Canada where the Crown gave them land grants in some compensation for losses. The Treaty of Canandaigua, in 1794, extinguished what was left of native title, with the exception of several reservations, three of which were at least partially located in what is now Cattaraugus County.
Ontario County was split from Montgomery County in 1789 as a result of the establishment of the Morris Reserve. In turn, Genesee County was split from Ontario County in 1802 as a result of the Holland Purchase. This period was the beginning of more significant European-American settlement of this western territory. Shortly afterward, Genesee County was reduced in 1806 by the creation of Allegany County.
Cattaraugus County was formed in 1808, split off from Genesee County. At first there was no county government due to the sparse population. From 1812 to 1814, Cattaraugus County was incorporated in Allegany County; from 1814 to 1817, records of the county were divided between Belmont (Allegany County) and Buffalo (then in Niagara County).
The name "Cattaraugus" derives from a Seneca word for "bad smelling banks," in reference to the odor of natural gas leaking from rock seams. In 1817, a county government was established for Cattaraugus County in the southwestern corner of the town of Hebe, now Ellicottville.
Numerous towns in the county are named after agents of the Holland Land Company, including Ellicottville (Joseph Ellicott), Franklinville (William Temple Franklin, a speculator and grandson of Benjamin Franklin), and Otto and East Otto (Jacob Otto).
The first settlement in the county was in Olean. After 1860, in response to the construction of a railroad (where the Pat McGee Trail is now), the county seat was moved to Little Valley.
The Allegany Indian Reservation is within the county boundaries and is one of two controlled by the federally recognized Seneca Nation of New York in the western part of the state; the Seneca's other territories, Cattaraugus Reservation and Oil Springs Reservation, are both partially within county boundaries. South of Salamanca, New York, a small city located within the reservation, is Allegany State Park, which is contiguous with the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of , of which is land and (1.1%) is water.
Cattaraugus County is in the southwestern part of the state, immediately north of the Pennsylvania border. The southern part of Cattaraugus County is the only area of western New York that was not covered by the last ice age glaciation . It is noticeably more rugged than neighboring areas that had peaks rounded and valleys filled by the glacier. The entire area is a dissected plateau of Pennsylvanian and Mississippian age, but appears mountainous to the casual observer. It is this string of mountain-like peaks that gives the county its promotional name, the Enchanted Mountains.
The plateau is an extension of the Allegany Plateau from nearby Pennsylvania. Southern Cattaraugus County is part of the same oil field, and petroleum was formerly a resource of the area. It is now mostly played out, but natural gas continues to be extracted.
A continental divide between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes watersheds runs through Cattaraugus County.
The northern border of the county is formed by Cattaraugus Creek and the Allegheny River flows through the county.
Notable geographic features
Rivers and streams
Great Valley Airport is located in Cattaraugus County, one nautical mile (1.85 km) southeast of the central business district of Great Valley.
Cattaraugus County-Olean Airport is located outside of Olean located in the Town of Ischua.
Intercity bus service is provided through Coach USA, which runs through the county on its twice-daily Jamestown to Olean route (with connections to Buffalo and New York City). Trailways offers a once-daily north-to-south run between Buffalo and points south in Pennsylvania.
The county does not have a unified public transit system. The Seneca Nation serves much of the county through its own bus line, which connects its reservations; another service, the Olean Area Transit System, connects the cities of Salamanca and Olean.
There is no regular passenger rail service in Cattaraugus County; Amtrak does not serve the county. The WNY & PA Railroad, based in Olean, provides freight service on most of the rail routes in Cattaraugus County; the New York and Lake Erie Railroad serves the northwest corner and the Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railroad runs a north-to-south route.
As of the census of 2000, there were 83,955 people, 32,023 households, and 21,647 families residing in the county. The population density was 64 people per square mile (25/km2). There were 39,839 housing units at an average density of 30 per square mile (12/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 94.63% White, 1.06% Black or African American, 2.60% Native American, 0.46% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.23% from other races, and 1.01% from two or more races. 0.94% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. 26.8% were of German, 13.2% Irish, 11.3% English, 9.1% Polish, 8.2% Italian and 7.4% American ancestry according to Census 2000. 95.2% spoke English and 1.4% Spanish as their first language.
There were 32,023 households, out of which 32.10% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 52.30% were married couples living together, 10.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 32.40% were non-families. 26.80% of all households were made up of individuals, and 11.60% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52 and the average family size was 3.05.
In the county, the population was spread out, with 26.20% under the age of 18, 9.30% from 18 to 24, 26.50% from 25 to 44, 23.50% from 45 to 64, and 14.60% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 37 years. For every 100 females there were 95.90 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 92.50 males.
The median income for a household in the county was $33,404, and the median income for a family was $39,318. Males had a median income of $30,901 versus $22,122 for females. The per capita income for the county was $15,959. About 10.00% of families and 13.70% of the population were below the poverty line, including 18.60% of those under age 18 and 9.90% of those age 65 or over.
Government and politics
Cattaraugus County is run by a unicameral legislature who appoint a county "administrator." This individual serves many executive duties of a county executive but has no legislative veto power and is not elected.
The legislators are elected independently by districts (while some also serve as mayors of the villages they represent, their status as mayors does not affect in any way their seats on the legislature and thus it is not a Board of Supervisors). The county uses a system of proportional representation in which each legislator's vote is weighted to the number of persons in their district; each district can have between one and three legislators. This system was imposed in the 1960s in the wake of the one man, one vote federal court rulings of the era; before this, the county operated under a true board of supervisors model. There are currently 17 members of the legislature with 16 Republicans and 1 Democrat. Each legislator serves a four-year term, with a limit of three terms.
All but one of those serving on the county council are Republicans, and only two years in the entire history of the county legislature (1992 to 1994) have seen the Democrats in the majority. Howard VanRensselaer, Sr. of Randolph serves as Chairman, and Andy Burr serves as Vice-Chairman.
Cattaraugus County is entirely within the boundaries of the 148th New York State Assembly District (served currently by Joseph Giglio), the 57th New York State Senate District (served currently by George Borrello), and the U.S. House of Representatives 29th district (served currently by Tom Reed). In the last of these, Cattaraugus County's votes proved pivotal in the 2008 elections: incumbent Republican Randy Kuhl, who had strongly carried the county in 2004 and 2006, lost Cattaraugus County to Democrat Eric Massa in the 2008 elections.
The county is generally considered a “red county,” with Republicans usually outvoting Democrats in most statewide and national offices (for instance, in 2004 George W. Bush defeated John Kerry in Cattaraugus County by a 60–40 margin) although Bill Clinton won Cattaraugus County very narrowly in 1996. In 2006, the county narrowly chose Eliot Spitzer over John Faso by a margin of about 1 percent in the governor's race, and Hillary Clinton defeated John Spencer in the county by a 10 percentage point margin. (That being said, in all other positions up for office that year, Republicans won—including all congressional and state legislature representatives.)
In 2008 the county voted for the Republican presidential candidate, with John McCain defeating Barack Obama by a 55-44% margin. In 2010, Republican Carl Paladino carried Cattaraugus County over Democrat (and eventual winner) Andrew Cuomo 65% to 31%. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Senator Chuck Schumer, both incumbent Democrats, carried the county by 51% to 46% and 54% to 43% margins, respectively. The county regularly has high turnout for presidential elections, with upwards of 70 percent of eligible voters typically voting in the county.
An emerging trend among Cattaraugus County's villages has been consolidation with their surrounding towns. Limestone voters approved dissolution into the Town of Carrollton in September 2009; that took effect at the beginning of 2011. On March 18, 2010, three other villages (East Randolph, Randolph and Perrysburg) followed suit and approved dissolution into their surrounding towns (Town of Randolph for the first two, and Town of Perrysburg for the third); these three villages dissolved at the beginning of 2012.
Two geological formations, both called "Rock City," have the appearance of a town laid out with streets. One is in Olean and the other is in Little Valley.
Olean is the largest city in the county and is the major center for business. Ski country runs through Cattaraugus County; two ski resorts, popular with Canadians, lie in the town of Ellicottville: Holiday Valley Resort and HoliMont; Cattaraugus County once had numerous ski resorts within its bounds, scattered throughout the county, before contracting into Ellicottville alone by 1980. In addition, several snowmobile trails cross the county, including the Pat McGee Trail, a flagship for the county's trail system, and the North Country Trail.
Cattaraugus County is considered part of Appalachia, as well as Western New York, upstate New York, the Southern Tier, the Twin Tiers and the Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Olean Combined Statistical Area. As a result of being at a geographic crossroads, the people of Cattaraugus County speak a variety of accents, ranging from mild variants of Appalachian English to Inland Northern American English, with a handful of people speaking in the more loud and nasal Buffalo English.
The sales tax in Cattaraugus County is 8% (4% from New York, 4% from the county).
A large Amish community is located in the western part of the county; with an estimated 2,500 residents, they constitute slightly under 3% of the county's population. A portion of this community maintains an exceptionally older order that eschews indoor plumbing, which, combined with a small number of Seneca who still live on traditional subsistence, gives the county a high rate of homes without indoor plumbing compared to nearby counties.
A branch of Jamestown Community College, in Olean provides higher education for residents. Olean Business Institute provided specialized education and is also in Olean; it closed in 2013 due to financial and enrollment declines. Jamestown Business College operates a satellite campus in Salamanca. Cornplanter College, a tribally controlled college, opened in 2014 in Salamanca. St. Bonaventure University is located in its own census-designated place just west of Olean.
†† - Former Village
† - County Seat
‡ - Not Wholly in this county
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