A Thumbnail History Of
Town & Village Of Cuba, New York
Compiled by DAVID H. CROWLEY, Town & Village of Cuba Historian
The Town of Cuba lies upon the west border of Allegany County, south of the center and was first organized from the Town of Friendship on February 4, 1822. It was formerly known as township 3, range 2 of the Holland Land Purchase. On November 11, 1850, the incorporated Village of Cuba, situated wholly within the township, was organized.
How Cuba got its name has always been a matter of conjecture. John S. Mindard's: Civic History of Cuba, published in 1910, tells us "Cuba is a Roman word and means Goddess or Protector of the Young. So in all probability, the Legislators of 1822, when they set aside the township from the town of Friendship, by accident, stumbled upon the work and appropriated the name, the significance of which is pleasant to think of." Simeon DeWitt, the surveyor general for New York State in early 1800's was an avid student of ancient Roman Mythology and is credited with suggesting the name.
Settlement of the area began in 1817, by Salmon Abbott, a Mr. Freer, and a Mr. Hall, who all migrated from Connecticut. John Bennett, Andrew Hawley, and Stephen Cole, who is said to have kept the first inn near the center, came about the same time. The first school was taught by David Row in 1822. The first sawmill was built by William Dovner on Oil Creek in 1815. The first gristmill was built by Cady & Baldwin on the same stream in 1822. The first church (Baptist) was formed in 1824.
A four block, one-quarter mile section of South Street (Route 305), the main north-south route through the village, comprises the South Street Historic District. Designated in 1988, when it was added to the State and National Historic Registers, the district consists of 37 residential properties dating from 1840 to 1940 and three churches: First Baptist and Christ Episcopal, 1871, and Our Lady of Angels Roman Catholic, 1926. The district begins at the First Baptist Church and ends at the WNY&Pa. Railroad underpass at the south end. The street is one of the villages' most prestigious residential areas.
A magnificent cement block structure located on Route 305 (South Street) on the southern edge of the village is known as The Block Barn. Constructed in 1909, the building is 347 feet long and 50 feet wide. Because it is made of concrete block with poured cement floors and ceilings, it is entirely fireproof. The blocks used in construction were cast at the construction site, and this is believed to be the first block building built in this area. A New York City business man, William B. Simpson, had the stable built to protect the bloodline of his famous stallion "McKinney" whose trotting record was known worldwide. It is said that the Czar of Russia once sent some of his mares to Cuba to be bred so that the famous McKinney strain could become part of his stable.
About two miles north of the village is a man-made lake at 1545 feet above sea level, Cuba Lake is the highest reservoir in Allegany County. When constructed by New York State as a feeder for the Genesee Valley Canal in 1858 it was the largest man-made lake ever constructed.
Another significant historical landmark at Cuba is The Seneca Oil Spring. The site is located near the spillway end of Cuba Lake on the Oil Spring Indian Reservation. This is the site of the famed spring described by the Franciscan Missionary Joseph De La Roche D'Allion 1627, the first recorded mention of oil on the North American Continent. The New York State Oil Producers Association sponsored the dedication of a monument at the site in 1927, describing the history of the oil industry in North America. The site is now under the supervision of the County of Allegany.
Charles Ingalls, father of Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author of the popular Little House books, was born on a farm in the North Cuba area. Several members of the Ingalls family had settled there prior to 1835, and several brothers all had adjoining farmlands. It in not known exactly where the home was located wherein Charles Ingalls was born, but several homes still standing in the area are known to have been built around the era, and were owned by various members of the Ingalls family.
During the early 1900's Cuba was considered the "cheese center of the world". The price for cheddar cheese was established at a meeting in Cuba each week at the Hotel Kinney, a prominent hostelry in its day, and was accepted as "The Price" nationwide. Numerous small cheese factories were scattered across the countryside at various crossroads in the late 1800's and the first cheese company was formed in Cuba, NY in 1871. The company purchased and cured local cheddar cheese and in 1888, the company bought the building where the Cuba Cheese Shoppe is presently located. Ice, harvested during the winter from nearby Cuba Lake provided the cooling for the cheese warehouses.