Transcribed by Crist Middaugh


Cuba - ‘So Proudly We Hail’

By Kathryn Ross

The Spectator

Cuba - There has been much conjecture as to why Cuba is named Cuba since the village was incorporated in 1850.

Some historical thought is given to the fact that other towns in the area named for Spanish cities, such as Bolivar and Salamanca, but many believe credit can be given to the state surveyor general.

Historian John Minard in “Allegany county and its People,” printed in 1910, wrote, “Cuba is a Roman word and means “Goddess’ or “Protector of the Young.” Simeon DeWitt, the surveyor general for New York state in the early 1800s was an avid student of ancient Roman mythology and is credited with suggesting the name when in 1822 the state legislator created the town of Cuba from part of the town of Friendship.”Cuba Photo 5 of 7

But long before the first settlers arrived in 1815 and 1817, the area was already well-known to the Seneca Indians and the French. In 1627, the Native Americans escorted Franciscan missionary Joseph De La Roche D’Allion to a spring that had “mystic powers” known as the Oil Springs.

D’Allion recorded his excursion to the spring. His written account serves as the first-recorded mention of oil on the North American continent and cements the county’s prominence in the history of oil production.

The phenomenon still exists nearly 400 years later and can be seen at Oil Spring Park off state Route 31 on the Oil Spring Indian Reservation, near the spillway to Cuba Lake.

No lake existed, however, when the Native Americans showed D’Allion the spring that came later. In 1927, the New York State Oil Producers dedicated a monument on the site. Today the site is maintained by Allegany County.

Cuba Photo 4 of 7As the pioneers made their way along the rivers and creeks into area, one of the first necessities was building a safe home, which meant taking down the Big Butts (tress) that towered above and according to author Conrad Richtor, blocked the sun. Consequently as houses were built and land cleared to make room for subsistence crops, the first businesses established were sawmills.

In 1815, William Dovner built just such a mill on Oil Creek in North Cuba. Minard stated, “Between 1810 to the late 1920s, at the place (Cuba) saw a boom in both settlement and population as many of the first businesses, churches and schools were established.

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One of those families moving into the area was named Ingalls. Town Historian David Crowley wrote, “Several members of the Ingalls family had settled adjoining farms in Norch Cuba by 1835.”

Crowley went on to say that Charles Ingalls, known to generations of readers as “Pa” in the “Little House On the Prairie” books was born on one of the farms in North Cuba. He does not record when Ingalls began his trek west, but at the time Cuba was a resting point for those headed to more open lands via the Allegany River to the Mississippi and west.

There is also no recording of whether “Little House” author Laura Ingalls Wilder ever visited her father’s family in Cuba.

Basing his information on the “History of the Holland Purchase,” by Turner, Minard wrote that the idea of the Genesee Valley Canal, which would link the city of Rochester and the Erie Canal to the Allegany river, providing that roadway to the west for Charles Ingalls and his like, was first suggested at a meeting in Cuba in the early 1930s.

By 1836, construction of the 124-mile-long canal was authorized by the State Legislature for a cost of $2 million. Remnants of the canal can be seen from Route 20 as you enter Cuba.Cuba Photo 2 of 7

In 1858, the center of recreation known as Cuba Lake was constructed by the state as a feeder for the Genesee Valley Canal. Well into the 1890s’, at 1,545 feet above sea-level, the lake, covering 1,600 acres was the largest, manmade lake in the state. It cost $150,000 to wild and today serves as a reservoir for the village as well as a tourist attraction.

In the 1900s, there was a hotel on the lake, as well as on Olivercrest amusement park and skating rink. In the 1960s, the amusement park closed and the original wooden carousel built between 1912 and 1916 by the Herschell-Spillman Company of North Tonawanda was sold and can now be seen and ride in the New York State Museum in Albany.

But a history of Cuba cannot be written without mention of cheese. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Cuba was the cheese capital of the world, due in part to its location on the railroad. Each week the Hotel Kinney in downtown Cuba would overflow with ‘big city’ reporters as large cheese producers would set the price for cheddar cheese for the week. Notice would then go out worldwide.

At the time, numerous small cheese factories were scattered across the area and in 1871 the first cheese factory was established. Today, Empire Cheese is on of the town’s top employers and Cuba Cheese is still well-known throughout the world. Cuba’s cheese history is preserved in Cuba Cheese Museum on Water Street where the original tote board form the Kinney hotel is on display.

In 1874, Cuba had the honor of producing he largest milk record form a single cow oil the world. The famous Holstein-Friesian cow, Piertertjr was calved on April 25, 1877, in Friesland, Holland. She was imported and brought to Cuba by Dallas B. Whipple in 1874.

In one year, she produced 30,318.5 pounds of milk and held a one-day record of producing 112 pounds of milk.

Tom Parmenter of the Cooperative Extension in Belmont said Pietertjr was one of the foundation stock in the county and 140 years later, top producing cows produce just 120 to 130 pounds of milk.

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“She was a genetic miracle,” Parmenter said.

Horses are also in important and lasting part of Cuba’s history, because of a trotter named McKinney, owned by New York businessman William B. Simpson. In 1909, Simpson built a fireproof concrete Block Barn just south of the village to protect the fastest trotter in the world and its offspring.

One of those offspring was foaled in the stables of the czar of Russia, who before his demise had sent a mare to Cuba to be bred by the McKinney stallion.

Today, the Block Barn is an equestrian center, but also serves as the site of the rapidly growing Garlic Festival held every fall.

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Proud of its history, in 1988 a four-block-long section of South Street containing 37 residential properties built from 1840 to 1940 and several churches became one of the country’s first official Historic Districts. The South Street Historic District is on the National Historic Register.

In recent years, the Cuba Friends of Architecture have worked endless hours to fund and restore the Palmer Opera House, located on Main Street, to its former cultural prominence. In the last several months they have begun to hold events there, although renovations are still ongoing.

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Since 2009, it has been easy to spot Cuba while driving along Interstate 86 because it is marked by not only the tallest flat pole in the state, but also one of the tallest flagpoles east of the Mississippi. Paid for by the Cuba Chamber of Commerce and the public, the 150-foot flag pole and the 28-foot-by-38-foot Old Glory, proudly locate the historic village of Cuba on the landscape of the county and country.