The Olean area, about a ninety minute drive from Buffalo, is a perfect getaway spot to help cure cabin fever. While most of us associate the Olean area with St. Bonaventure University, there’s a lot more to see and do than just go to school here.
As you approach Olean from the north, you’ll be impressed by the city’s skyline; a wide, quaint Main Street with mountains looming in the background. Much of the downtown area has well-preserved Victorian-era architecture, giving you the feeling that you’ve stepped back in time. These vintage buildings, as well as more modern structures, house a number of shops and restaurants along Routes 16 and 417, which intersect in the center of the city. Stop by the Greater Olean Chamber of Commerce (716-372-4433) 120 N. Union St. (Rt. 16 N.) to pick up area maps and tourism brochures.
Olean, the largest city in Cattaraugus County, was founded in 1804 and originally called Hamilton, in honor of Alexander Hamilton. The city’s location on the Allegheny River was responsible for its growth. The city’s name was later changed to Olean--Latin for oil--because in the late 19th Century the Olean area was one of the world’s largest producers of oil. Many wealthy oil barons resided in the Oak Hill District, which today runs from Union St. to 4th St.; many of these mansions are still standing today.
To learn more about the city’s history, visit the Fannie Bartlett Center and Olean Point Museum of Local History (716-376-5642) located at 302 Laurens St. The Bartlett House, an 1881 Victorian, has nine rooms decorated with period furnishing, while the carriage house in the rear houses the local history museum. Hours are Wed.-Sat. 1-5.
One of the city’s most unique restaurants is the Old Library Restaurant (716-372-2226, www.oldlibraryrestaurant.com) 116 S. Union St., which is open for lunch and dinner. The circa 1910 building served as the Olean public library until 1974. It was saved from demolition in the 1980’s, restored to its original splendor and opened as a restaurant. This elegant, yet casual restaurant is suited for adults and older children.
Another well-known Olean restaurant, just a few blocks from the Old Library, is the Beef & Barrel (716-372-2985) 146 N. Union St., which is noted for its roast beef dishes, including beef on weck, hot roast beef diners and ground round. They are open 11 am-10 pm, Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday.
For a more family-oriented dining experience, check out Sprague’s Maple Farms (716-933-6637, 800-446-2753,www.spraguesmaplefarms.com) which is located in Portville, about five miles east of Olean on Route 305. This place is definitely more than just a restaurant, it’s a destination. The combination restaurant/maple farm, which is open year-round, is especially popular from late February-April, when Sprague’s produces their 100% pure maple syrup and other maple products.
During this time of year, visitors can walk along the trails in the woods behind the facility to watch tree tapping demonstrations and learn about the process of maple production. Included along the trail is an antique operational “sugarin’ house,” which demonstrates how the sap was boiled the old-fashioned way. A life-size tee-pee reflects the Native American involvement in introducing early settlers to maple production.
Inside the restaurant, visitors can watch syrup being manufactured and bottled in Sprague’s state-of-the-art facility. Since watching all that syrup being made has probably whet your appetite, sit down and enjoy a stack of fluffy pancakes; breakfast is served all day. They also have a full menu featuring numerous lunch and dinner selection, including turkey dinners made from free-range turkeys raised on their farm.
Kids will enjoy eating in the large lodge-like dining room, which is adorned with life-size stuffed bears doing things like sledding down the roof and enjoying a meal at one of the tables. The gift shop has a variety of maple products, as well as gourmet foods, crafts and inexpensive items for kids, like old-fashioned stick candy and pens. Sprague’s is open Sun.-Th. 7 am-8 pm, Fri.-Sat. 7 am-9 pm.
While in Portville, you may want to visit the Pfeiffer Nature Center (716-373-1742, www.pfeiffernaturecenter.org) 1974 Lillibridge Rd., a 200-acre nature center that has six miles of trails. Twenty acres of the center is composed of old-growth forest. It also has a unique 60 year old cabin constructed from American Chestnut, which is listed on the State and National Historic Registers.
February events at the center include Winter Wildlife Wonders from 10:30 am- Noon on February 4, where you can learn about animals hibernation with naturalist Angela Broughton. ($2/person, $7/family, register by Feb. 3). On February 18 from 10 am- 1 pm, enjoy Snow Daze, where visitors can learn about snow through hands-on activities, then afterwards enjoy sledding on their hill; cookies and hot cocoa will be included. (Bring your own sleds or tubes. Cost is $5/person, $18/family, register by Feb. 15).
Heading back toward Olean, you may want to stop by the Cutco/Ka-bar Visitors Center, (716-790-7000,www.cutco.com) 1040 E. State St., open Mon.-Fri. 9-5, which showcases the history of kitchen cutlery as well as military and pocket knives. Their products, which are manufactured and sold here, are world-renowned for their quality and dependability.
Just west of Olean is O’Dea’s Recreation Center (716-372-4559, 716-373-5471, www.odeasmountain.com) 3329 West River Rd., where families can ride the highest, fastest, longest snow tube hill in the world! Tubers can reach speeds up to 50 MPH. The run is 1,400 feet long and has been described by some as a water slide with ice. And to make your life easier, a tow rope takes you back up the hill after your run. The facility has night lighting and snowmaking capabilities. Children must be at least seven years old to ride on the big hill; a smaller hill is available for younger children.
O’Dea’s is open Friday 5-9; Sat. 11-9 and Sun. 11-7 (also open 11-7 on Monday holidays.) Rates are $14 for three hours or $17 for an all day pass. The facility can be rented for private parties on weeknights. A three hole par-3 snow golf course is also available for private parties only.
Of course, as mentioned earlier, the Olean area is probably best known as the home of St. Bonaventure University (which is technically located in the town of Allegany). The school was established in 1856 as a private Franciscan college. The 500 acre campus is considered a cultural, as well as an educational institution, with a performing arts center and art gallery open to the public.
Current exhibits at SBU’s Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts (716-375-2494) include an exhibit highlighting art from Puerto Rico and Lithuania. Visit the college’s web site for details www.sbu.edu. The Regina A. Quick Center is located on Cornelius Welch Drive on the campus; use the main entrance off Route 417. Sports fans might want to get tickets to see the “Bonnies,” the SBU men’s basketball team. (716-375-200 for ticket information.)
An upcoming February event in Olean that you might want to add to your agenda is the 5th Annual New Olean’s Mardi Gras, modeled after the famous celebration in New Orleans. The event, takes place February 25th at the Premier Banquet Center on Constitution Avenue from 8 pm-Midnight. The event includes a Louisiana style dinner, plenty of beads and masks, tunes by DJ Dan Shembeda, a karaoke contest and even a crawfish eating contest! Costumes are encouraged; a king and queen of the event will be crowned. For more information and tickets contact the Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce (716-372-4433).
As you can see, there is much to see and do in the Olean area; you can easily spend more than one day here. Some of the area’s overnight accommodations include the Best Western University Inn, 3051 W. State St., (716-372-1300) and the Country Inn & Suites, 3270 Route 417, (716-372-7500).
If you are here on a getaway with your significant other, consider the Old Library Inn B & B, 120 S. Union St (716-373-9804, 877-241-4347), an 1895 Victorian located next to the Old Library Restaurant. They cater to families as well as couples. Another romantic bed and breakfast, the Gallets House (716-373-7493, www.galletshouse.com), a stately 1896 Victorian farmhouse, is filled with antiques. The Gallets House also has a cottage and a carriage house, suitable for families or larger groups. The inn is located at 1759 Lower Four Mile Creek Rd in Allegany.
Directions from Buffalo to Olean: Take the 400 Expressway south until the end, where it turns into Route 16. Follow Route 16 all the way to Olean.