Allegany Council House

a modest one-story front-gable building with a concrete foundation, wood clapboard walls
The Allegany Council House

Photograph: Nathan Montague, courtesy Seneca Nation of Indians Tribal Historic Preservation Office

Quick Facts
The Allegany Council House, located on the Seneca Nation of Indians Allegany Reservation in Cattaraugus County, New York, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The property is significant at both the local and state levels for its associations with two major twentieth century events in the cultural and governmental history of the Seneca Nation. The Seneca Nation of Indians (SNI) is one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (or Iroquois) Confederacy. The Allegany Council House served as the primary gathering place for regular meetings of the Seneca Council beginning in 1926. Over the next forty years, the Allegany Council House served as the governmental center of the Seneca Nation. During this time, the building served as the socio-political epicenter for two major, nearly simultaneous Seneca Nation battles: to halt the Kinzua Dam Project and to obtain the right to vote for Seneca women.

Between 1936 and 1966, the Allegany Council House served as the primary location where the Seneca Nation discussed, debated and formulated strategies to prevent the United States government from taking 10,000 acres of treaty-protected Seneca lands along the Allegany River. After a lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful legal battle to protect their lands in the mid-twentieth century, one-third of the Allegany Reservation land was flooded by the Kinzua Dam beginning in 1966. As a result, the Seneca people suffered the taking, loss, and destruction of ancestral hunting, fishing and gathering areas, farms, homes, churches, schools, the ceremonial longhouse and burial grounds, and the forced relocation of over 600 people. While creating deep emotional and psychological wounds that last to this day, the resistance to the Kinzua Dam that occurred at the Allegany Council House ultimately strengthened Seneca determination to protect their sovereignty, helped to create a new generation of activists who have been instrumental in creating numerous education and economic opportunities for the Nation, and advanced the suffrage movement of Seneca women. 

The first record of Seneca women seeking the right to vote in Nation elections occurred at the Council House in 1935. Although the first attempt was unsuccessful, during the Kinzua Dam controversy, Seneca women staffed committees, testified before the United States Congress, and helped organize the removal. It was the women’s participation and strong leadership role in the fight against the dam that finally influenced the male-dominated leadership to grant women the right to vote and hold office in the Seneca Nation, and, in 1964, in this building, Seneca woman were given the right to vote. The Allegany Council House is one of the few surviving public buildings from this era remaining on the Seneca Reservation, and it was the political and social nucleus of activity for these historic events, both of which continue to impact the Seneca Nation today. 

For its role as a central meeting place for the Seneca Nation during this pivotal era in their governmental and cultural history, the Allegany Council House meets the requirements for Criterion A in the areas of Politics/Government and Ethnic Heritage (Native American). While the building was initially constructed around 1925/26 to serve as the new primary administrative center for the Nation, the period of significance begins in 1935, with the earliest recorded vote taken to give Seneca women the right to vote, and ends in 1966, when the Kinzua Dam was completed and the governmental functions were transferred out of the building to the new Haley Building nearby. The era from 1935-1966 encompasses the Seneca Nation’s struggle against the Kinzua Dam construction and the time during which the building is most strongly associated with Seneca women’s suffrage, which was finally granted in 1964. After 1966, when the original Council House building ceased serving as a governmental center, the building housed several functions. For approximately the next four decades, it functioned as the Cavalry Baptist Church, at which time the one-story full-width front gable addition and entry porch were added to the building.

Last updated: August 17, 2020