Wellsville, NY

Wellsville is a village in Allegany County. It is located in south-central wooded and rural Allegany County, it is the largest population and business center in a 30-mile radius. The village’s name is not, as some suppose, derived from the oil wells that became an important economic part of the area, but rather for Gardiner Wells, a local businessman.

The village of Wellsville is circumscribed by the town of Wellsville, adding another approximately 3,000 people to the population (approx. 7,000 combined village and town). Alfred State College maintains a branch by the south end of the village. Wellsville Airport, Tarantine Field, located to the west of the village, provides general aviation and charter services.

Wellsville was the location of encampments for thousands of years, including the Lamoka and Brewerton cultures. The latest native people, the Seneca, named Wellsville Gistaguat, according to a map produced in 1771 by Guy Johnson, as the official map of New York State at the time, for then-Governor William Tryon. The Seneca referred to the Wellsville area as “the Pigeon Woods” and held annual festivals and encampments there to take advantage of the passenger pigeon. At the time, passenger pigeons filled the skies by the millions, and the tribes and bands came to the Wellsville area from all over western New York and northern Pennsylvania to Gistaquat to harvest the pigeons by the thousands.

European settlers moved into the area before 1800. Nathaniel Dyke, a native of Connecticut, and a captain in the Revolutionary War, serving under both General George Washington and General Warren of Bunker Hill fame, was the first of these in Allegany County. He married a Native American woman (Esther) and moved his family to the Wellsville area by 1795, while it was still owned by the Seneca Nation (two years before the Big Tree Treaty of 1797). He began running a gristmill, sawmill, and a tannery on a stream now known as Dykes Creek, by 1803. Dyke is buried in Elm Valley, just east of town. His tombstone has the official memorial placed there by the Catherine Schuyler Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Wellsville’s economy has undergone many changes in its 200 years. Wellsville’s first industry was tanning, utilizing the bark of the hemlock tree for its tannings. Wellsville was the site of three large tannery operations during the early 19th century. Next came the lumbermen and the railroad. The New York and Erie Railroad came through what would become Wellsville (then the outskirts of Scio) in 1851 as the quickest way west from New York City, crossing New York State. This proved that Nathaniel Dyke’s choice of location was the quickest, easiest and most practical way across Allegany County. The trains gave the lumbermen a new and more efficient means to get their product to market. Previous to this, the logs had been floated on the rivers and canals. Logging moved on to more densely forested areas in the latter part of the 19th century. The cleared ground quickly produced excellent grazing for a tremendous dairy industry which followed. Oil captured the economic center stage in the last two decades of the 19th century, and the Sinclair Refinery was built in Wellsville at the beginning of the 20th century, not closing down until 1957 after two major fires and falling oil prices.

Wellsville was not named for its oil “wells”. Oil was not discovered in Wellsville until 1879 by O.P. Taylor in his famous “Triangle No. 1” well in Petrolia, west of Wellsville. The town was created as it split from Scio in 1856. The village of Wellsville was incorporated the following year, in 1857, 22 years before oil was discovered.

The area that is now Wellsville was part of Scio through the first half of the 19th century. It was incorporated as Wellsville and set apart from Scio in 1857. For a brief time during the early 1870s, Wellsville changed its name to “Genesee”. On April 4, 1871, the New York State Legislature officially changed Wellsville’s name to Genesee. After much political wrangling, by a special act of the legislature, the name Wellsville was again designated as the official name of the town, June 8, 1873. The village of Wellsville was first incorporated in 1857 and then again in 1873.

Wellsville was actually named for a man named Gardiner Wells, who was, according to local history, the one person who didn’t show up for the meeting when the residents were naming the town. Wells was the major landowner of the real estate pieces, now the downtown Main Street section of Wellsville. The first oil boom came later in Wellsville’s history, several decades after the founding of the town and village. A second boom occurred with the discovery of “Secondary Recovery”, led by Bradley Producing, based in Wellsville. The method uses water, so abundant in Wellsville, to force the oil from the “oil sands”.

Wellsville is the junction of many foothill streams including Dyke Creek feeding the Genesee River from the east. The water from Hurricane Agnes in 1972 exceeded the capacity and banks of Dyke Creek, producing a rapid and huge pool of water at the center of the village. The extent of the damaged area continued downstream through Scio and Amity until the valley widened to accept the large flow of water in the lesser populated area. Erosion of topsoil during this flood eliminated many small farms.

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