Seneca Oil Spring

We stopped in Cuba, New York on Rt. 86 in Allegany County for a pit stop. I got wondering about the town, especially why it is called “Cuba”. The story goes that in 1822, the white settlers carved a piece out of a neighboring town called “Friendship”. and they needed a name for the new town. Someone suggested the Roman word “Cuba” that means “Goddess”  or “protector of the young” and it was chosen for no apparent reason other than it sounds nice. This was a little disappointing as I was hoping for a much more interesting story and the name was not it. There was a cute covered bridge next to the gas station/ liquor store where we stopped. It is not big enough for a car. Any guesses what it is for?

If you guessed snow mobiles you would be correct!

I read that the town is best known for Cuba Cheese, Cuba Lake and the Seneca Oil Spring. Being ever inquisitive, we wondered about Seneca Oil Spring, of which neither of us had ever heard a mention. It is on the Seneca Nation Territory that starts just west of the Cuba town line and google knew the way. We came to a stone pillar next to a dirt road that said “1627 Seneca Oil Spring- First One Found in America”

Of course we took the dirt road and came to a parking lot and a walking bridge over a creek to the Spring.

The Seneca discovered the oil spring and kept the “mysterious and magical” substance floating on the water secret. They would dip their blankets in and wring them into brass kettles to collect the liquid. They used the oil for medicinal purposes, making body paints, and adding it to fires and torches to make them flare ( Their mistake was trusting a missionary Father Joseph De La Roche and telling him the secret of the spring in 1627, who wrote back to his people in France about it. This is the first recorded discovery of oil in North America.

The Seneca fought on the side of the British during the American Revolution in an attempt to oust European settlers on their land. The Seneca and other Iroquois nations were forced to cede most of their lands to the U.S. in the Treaty of Canandaigua in 1794, , but the Seneca negotiated to keep 5 plots, including the Oil Springs. In the 1850s , the Seneca began a case to evict squatters, including Horatio Seymour, future New York Governor from Oil Springs Reservation in order to restore control and use to the tribe. Thanks to the efforts of influential Seneca leader, Governor Blacksnake, the state appeals court ruled in the tribe’s favor and the reservation was returned to the Seneca in 1861. Oil no longer comes from the spring, but the Seneca did build a casino on the Oil Springs Reservation.

One thought on “Seneca Oil Spring

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  1. Interesting that Seneca Oil Spring was the the first recorded discovery of oil in North America. Also I guessed that the path was for walkers.


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