Located at the confluence of Tuna, Kendall, and Foster creeks, Bradford was established as a supply town for the lumber industry. Originally called Littleton, it was named after the U.S. Land Company's agent, Colonel Leavitt C. Little. By 1854, the town's name was changed to Bradford after the New Hampshire town from which the second land agent, Daniel Kingsbury, had emigrated.
The Erie Railroad opened to Bradford in 1866, followed by the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh line in 1883. By then, oil drilling had spread to Bradford, where oil production increased from 36,000 barrels to 23 million barrels per year. Between 1875 and 1881, nearly 9,000 wells were drilled. The elaborate frame and brick houses lining the 100 and 200 blocks of Congress Street, and of Jackson Avenue to School Street between Petrolia and N. Bennett streets, demonstrate how those who benefited from the boom spent their money. The Colonial Revival houses with Queen Anne touches date from 1890 to 1920. Several headquarters and commercial buildings designed by such architects as Enoch A. Curtis of Fredonia, New York, Green and Wicks of Buffalo, and Philadelphian Edward N. Unruh, who relocated to Bradford, enhance the downtown core as a result of the oil boom. Bradford's fairly large commercial district with two high-rise office buildings, a theater, and several fraternal organizations serves a regional population. The city has designated a downtown historic district and hired a Main Street manager to further their goals of both attracting tourists to the Zippo factory ( MK10) and outdoor enthusiasts to the nearby trails. A street lining the town square is now named for mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne, who was born in Bradford in 1934 and moved to Southern California in 1945.
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