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MAIN STREET IS PUSHED FOR NATIONAL HISTORIC REGISTER

Nearly two centuries ago, it was a stretch on the dirt road over which opportunity-seeking Easterners journeyed from Newburgh on the Hudson River to the open lands of the West.

Today that tiny stretch is Main Street in Cuba, an Allegany County village of 1,900. Cuba historians are pushing to get their Main Street listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

So is Allegany County Historian Craig Braack. "This is a historically rich and beautiful area. Thousands of people making their way west traveled over this road. Cuba residents are justifiably proud of their Main Street."

Braack said that when approved for the Historic Register, Main Street in Cuba would join other Allegany County locations that include two others in Cuba, Main Street in Angelica and two locations in Belvidere and Alfred.

"Putting Cuba's Main Street in the Historic Register will be noted in travel guides and maps and bring historic-minded people to Cuba and Allegany County who might not otherwise visit."

Thomas Taylor, a lifelong resident of Cuba, village trustee and Cuba Historical Society member, said Cuba's current recognition effort is being aided by a $2,415 grant from the Rural Development Program that is supported by several charitable foundations.

"We should complete the work begun five years ago when the Rural Development Program gave us money to inventory Cuba's historic buildings," Taylor said. "We found 50, mostly homes, but some businesses."

Cuba once had four or five hotels that served westbound travelers. Only one is left, the St. James. It was built in 1835 and is Allegany County's oldest building. "It's a bar now, and needs restoration work," Taylor said.

Taylor said Cuba was named -- as were Athens, Attica, Greece, Rome and Ithaca -- after Greek and Roman places.

Completing the National Register process may take the rest of 1998, Taylor believes. "The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation must act first and then send it to Washington."

Cuba has other claims to historic recognition. "In 1627, a French monk found North America's first oil at what we now call Oil Springs on Seneca Indian land in the Town of Cuba.

"The Indians used the oil as a medicine, but there are no commercial oil wells in Cuba and no commercial development until recently, when the Seneca Indians opened a gas station on the Oil Springs reservation land," Taylor said. "Now, we can buy gasoline for 98 cents a gallon."

In the 1880s, Cuba's cheese traders made the national market for cheese, a service it provided until it was displaced by Green Bay, Wis.

Cheese has been part of the Cuba scene for more than a century. The former Cuba Cheese Co. has been replaced by Great Lakes Cheese Co., a large Ohio company. The 19th-century iron railings on Main Street are another relic of Cuba's past.

Cuba has a thin claim to show business fame: Charles Ingalls, made famous by the "Little House" series written by his daughter, Laura Ingalls Wilder and later made into a television series starring Michael Landon, was born in Cuba.

"When Cuba's Main Street is added to the National Register of Historic places, it will boost local pride and tell others that Cuba has something special," Taylor said.

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