Grain Elevators
Small Elevator Image
How to see them.

Part 2


Safety Precautions
Getting close to Cargill Superior and Concrete Central is very difficult and is not recommended for those with small vehicles. You will need to travel over virtually impossible road conditions littered with railroad tracks to get to them. As you read on, keep in mind that I DO NOT encourage anyone to venture close to these elevators nor do I take any responsibility if you get hurt. They have been abandoned for quite some time and are constantly falling apart. Any abandoned grain elevator is a natural haven for pigeons, rats and other vermin. There is a high risk of disease from the droppings of these animals and being bit is always a danger. DON'T GO INSIDE!

After seeing all that there is to see on Childs Street, turn left onto Ohio Street and watch for the Pierce and Stevens Chemical Plant which will be on your left. You will only be driving less than 500 feet. Pull into the parking lot for Pierce and Stevens and veer toward the right -- the paved road will give way to a dirt road and you will see a metal recycling plant with tons of old cars piled up behind a fence. Ohio Street will be to your right running parallel to this dirt road and will be heading up a viaduct.

The Buffalo Creek Railroad
Burrows Lot lead track.
As stated in the text, you will have to cross the lead track to Burrows Lot. On the day this photograph was taken, there was indeed switching activities and the track was constantly in use.
After a very short, bumpy ride, you will come to a railroad crossing. This is the lead track to Burrows Lot as you will now be at the absolute outer perimeter of the yard. WATCH FOR MOVING TRAINS! Cross the railroad tracks and follow the road as it veers to the left. Directly in front of you will be the remains of the yard that was once thriving with the railroad activity of the Buffalo Creek. The "Crik" as it is often fondly referred to, was the main railroad that served nearly all of Buffalo's grain elevators -- those not controlled by the Pennsylvania Railroad and others. The Buffalo Creek was founded in 1868 and was used as a local terminal switching road completely within the city limits. It's main purpose was to service waterfront industries, but mostly the grain elevators.

BCK yard.
Cargill Superior looms behind a small Buffalo Creek steam engine as it works in the Buffalo Creek yard. (LLMHS)
The Buffalo Creek was controlled by both the Lehigh Valley and Erie Railroads and offered connecting service with every major railroad that serviced Buffalo. In this manner, grain was able to get in and out of Buffalo by rail in quantities just as large as if by freighter.

Cargill Superior
Side view of Cargill Superior.
Your first view of Cargill Superior as you approach in the dirt road.
The dirt road that you are driving on will stay to the left of the railroad yard and will follow the Buffalo River as it heads directly toward Cargill Superior. By now, you will see it looming directly in front of you. Take note that before you get too close to Cargill's, this would be a great place to get out of your car and take some pictures of both the Cargill elevator and Concrete Central, which will seem to be be directly across the river from your vantage point.

Another view of Cargill Superior.
Looking back at Cargill Superior from the dirt road.
As you drive closer to Cargill's, the road will veer to the right directly in front of the elevator and turn into a nearly impassable collection of mud, stones and ruts. Do not venture any further than the front of the elevator if you have a small car. For those with trucks, or cars that think their trucks, slowly drive on until the railroad yard is on your right and the elevator is on your left. You will be able to see the bins of Cargill's as well as the dreadful state of decay that surrounds the complex. At one time, the road that you are driving on was actually roadbed for the railroad yard. Cargill Superior was so busy that it was almost surrounded by railroad tracks on its land side.

 Cargill Superior.
Here is how Cargill Superior looked in 1932. Notice how the Buffalo Creek yard practicaly surrounded the land-side of the elevator.
Cargill Superior, or just the Superior Elevator, was designed and built by local architect A. E. Baxter who also designed several other grain elevators in the Buffalo area. Construction began in 1914 with section "A" and section "B" added in 1919. A final section, "C", was added in 1925 making the Superior on of the largest elevators on the Buffalo River. Cargill was a multinational grain consortium and took over operations of both the Superior and the Electric elevators sometime in the 1930s. Cargil abandoned both elevators in the mid 1960s even though the Electric had a short reprieve in 1968 due to an enourmous influx of surplus grain from the Midwest.

The Superior, like many other grain elevators, were used as transfer elevators in that they didn't service an adjacent mill. The Superior was like other elevators that were used primarily for quick transfer of grain from a freighter to a rail car or vice versa. By the time the 1960s arrived, and the St. Lawrence Seaway was putting an end to Buffalo as a grain transfer center, many of the grain elevators that were still clinging to existence (like the Superior) were being used as long-term storage facilities for European export which could have taken months from the time the grain was first delivered to the elevator.

CP Draw
CP Draw.
A view of CP Draw from the Norfolk Southern yard at the foot of Smith Street.
After getting a good look at Cargill Superior, carefully proceed up the dirt road again until it begins to veer to the left, following the course of the Buffalo River. This now begins the more difficult section of your adventure. You will notice that directly in front of you are two draw bridges, one permanently raised. In railroad terms, this bridge grouping is known as "CP Draw" and was once used by the all the railroads that served Buffalo.

Not enough can be said about how active this entire area is as far as rail traffic. Conrail and Norfolk Southern run trains on these tracks 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It's a great place to watch trains, but an even better place to get arrested for trespassing. Stay on the dirt road and don't go anywhere near the railroad tracks. I'm told that there are security cameras stationed all over the area and you don't want to risk ruining your excursion by doing something stupid and getting caught. Besides, you're interested in the grain elevator and not the railroad.

You will notice that as you continue to crawl along that the dirt road has become covered with stone ballast -- used by the railroad to secure the tracks, and not a good surface to drive on. Proceed with extreme caution as your tires will kick up these stones and drive them right into your car. Also, there's a fifty-fifty chance that this road will not be plowed in the winter. The railroad uses part of it as an access road to a bridge that's a little farther up the line, but for the most part the road is not serviced.


BC Tower
One little side note; you may notice a large concrete slab right at a massive railroad track crossing. This is the foundation of the Buffalo Creek Railroad's "BC" tower. This interlocking tower was used by the Buffalo Creek to control train movements all over the line in this area. The tower, a small, gray colored building, was demolished in the 80s. Can you imagine the view that the tower operators had during the area's prime?

Contrete Central
Concrete Central.
Your first frontal view of Concrete Central. The railroad tracks will be on your right.
By now, you will have driven down the dirt/stone road and have come to a fork. Toward the right will take you up to the railroad tracks. Taking the left will send you down toward Concrete Central which will now be looming directly to your left. This is the closest you've ever been and you will get closer. The dirt road will now turn into a loose cinder surface and will be very easy to drive on. This surface is actually all that remains of the original roadbed that the New York Central used to service the elevator. It looks like coal dust.

Concrete Central.
Concrete Central, 1919. (LOC/PP)

Concrete Central.
A close-up view of the insignia on Concrete Central.
Concrete Central stretches along the Buffalo River for almost a quarter of a mile. The bins were built in stages from 1915 to 1917 and was the largest elevator ever built in the Buffalo area. The entire complex contains over 250 bins, some of which are 150 feet in height. When it was in operation, it had the capacity to handle a total of 4.3 million bushels of grain. The elevator allowed crews to load and unload 20 railroad cars an hour, and three marine legs could load and unload three massive lake freighters at one time.

Concrete Central was built of reinforced concrete (hence the name) by the Mouaren Engineering Company and was used for grain storage until 1966. At the time of its closing, the elevator employed 18 men during the winter and 23 during the navigation season. The elevator was bought by the Continental Grain Company in 1944 and remained profitable up until the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway which caused a drastic drop in grain profits in Buffalo. When the elevator closed in 1966, Continental grain deeded the elevator to Buffalo Grain Elevator Inc. for about $10,000. Buffalo Grain Inc. dissolved in 1975 and Concrete Central was left to the vultures. The city took over the property in lieu of back taxes but never did a thing to secure it. Vandals and souvenir hunters took over $250,000 worth of equipment and other artifacts from the property.


When two children fell to their deaths while playing in the elevator in 1976, there were rumors of tearing it down. However, these monoliths were built to last and demolishing them is a very costly affair -- one that the city has not the desire or money to carry out. As you drive up to Concrete Central, keep in mind that it is wide open to not only you, but to anyone else that drives up to it. Never venture out alone. The road will fork again; one going straight to the elevator, another will swing around and bring you back where you came from. Take all your pictures from this road and stay out of the elevator.

Concrete Central.
This aerial view shows Concrete Central and its surrounding property. To the left of the photograph is Cargill Superior. "CP Draw" is shown in the bottom right.

The Great Northern Elevator
The Great Northern Elevator.
The Buffalo River is filled with ships waiting to unload at the Great Northern elevator. You will notice that the Pillsbury flour mill is absent from the picture. (LOC/DPC)
I'll assume that you will be able to find your way back to the intersection of Ohio and Ganson Street (if you've gone back over the Ohio Street lift bridge, you've gone too far). Once at Ganson Street, take a left. After a short distance you will see another yard used by the Buffalo Creek railroad to the left. Your view to the right will be of various small industries and boat yards. Worthy of note is the old Huron Cement elevator which is now called La Farge Cement. You may even catch a glimpse of the Erie Freight House mentioned earlier. In the distance will be our next stop, the Great Northern Elevator.

The Great Northern, or Pillsbury Elevator as it came to be known, was an engineering masterpiece when it was built in 1897. Both the Great Northern and the Electric were built around the same time and were both the first elevators in the Buffalo area to uses electricity as a means of power. The Great Northern is the last of Buffalo's major "working house" elevators in which the storage bins, work spaces, and conveying apparatus were all located in a single structure, much like the old wooden elevators.


Built by the Great Northern Railroad, the elevator served as a way to tap into some of Buffalo's industrial importance for the railroad giant. Not long after it was built, the Great Northern railroad lost interest in the facility due to some nasty stock market fighting and a huge consortium of railroad companies took it over -- several of which were already using the facility. Based on this "partnership ownership" situation among the railroad consortium, the Great Northern was renamed the Mutual elevator in the early 1900s.

The Great Northern Elevator.
The Great Northern and the huge rail yard that once serviced the elevator and flour mill. This property is now paved over and is used for truck parking for the General Mills plant.
The facility itself contains 30 bins, 38 feet in diameter, placed in three rows of 10, and 18 bins, 15 and a half feet in diameter, placed at the interstices of the larger bins in two rows of nine bins each. The elevator's brick skin serves as just a weather barrier and does not help to carry the weight of the cupola or the grain bins. Originally the elevator had three marine towers on the City Ship Canal. These were destroyed by a storm in 1922. The present two towers were replaced in 1923 and 1928. You can still see four spouts sticking out of the north wall. These served to load grain into canal boats which docked in a slip which was cut for that purpose.

The Pillsbury Company bought the elevator in 1921 and demolished a warehouse just south of the elevator and erected a concrete framed flour mill, which opened in 1924. Today, you just barely make out the lettering on the side of the flour mill which read "Pillsbury's Best Flour". The Great Northern was purchased by the Archer-Daniels-Midland Company (ADM) which has expressed interest in demolishing the elevator claiming "tough times" as a reason. I won't go any further with the stupidity of this topic.


The Great Northern Elevator.
This view shows the Great Northern elevator from across the City Ship Canal. The picture was taken from a private boat yard off Fuhrmann Boulevard.
Although the Great Northern is no longer in use as a grain storage facility, about 50 people work in three shifts at the flour mill which still produces Pillsbury products. The elevator has not seen a freighter docked at its moorings in quite some time. The best way to view the elevator is in a parking lot just past the elevator on the left. Be careful as this lot is often crammed with trucks pulling in and out for the Great Northern's neighbor, the General Mills plant. The shear size of the Great Northern is quite a challenge to the photographer as getting it into a frame without a wide-angle lens if difficult. Perhaps the best way to view the Great Northern is across the City Ship Canal from Furhmann Boulevard.

The Agway Elevator
The Agway/GLF Elevator.
The Agway/GLF elevator as seen from across Ganson Street in front of the Great Northern elevator.
Immediately across the street from the Great Northern looms the decrepit looking Agway/GLF Elevator. This complex is a mix and match of irregular shapes and vernacular architecture which includes a combination of metal and concrete. The GLF was built for the Grange Leauge Federation (GLF) and served as both an elevator and a feed mill. The function of the elevator being that it took in corn and other elements of the feed mix which in turn were milled into animal feed at the adjacent mill.

The Agway/GLF Elevator.
A view of the Agway/GLF elevator as it is approached on the Buffalo River.

Grange League Federation was a regional grain cooperative and eventually merged with the Eastern States cooperative, who had their elevator on Military Road in Tonawanda. The merger formed Agway which became one of the biggest grain and feed cooperatives in the Eastern and Middle Atlantic states.

The GLF complex got its start in 1908 when the original elevator on the property, the Wheeler elevator, began operation as a typical transfer elevator. When Grange League Federation took over the property to erect their feed mill in late 1920s, they built a small storage facilty on the northwest end of the original Wheeler elevator. In 1941 GLF built a large railroad-based elevator to handle the huge increase of grain traffic that had developed in the late 30s. This elevator has two very characteristic work houses that protrude at either end of the structure and was designed by A. E. Baxter.

The Agway/GLF complex shut down in the mid 1970s and has not been used in it original capacity since then. The site is now used as a storage facility for recreational boats.

St. Mary's Cement
The Kellogg Elevators.
Behind the first Michigan Avenue lift bridge are the twin elevators of the Spencer Kellogg company. (BECHS/ARCADIA)
Right next door to the Agway/GLF is the St. Mary's Cement elevator. Originally the Kellogg A and B elevators, the St. Mary's is an odd collection of bins joined at the top through a transfer system to a small collection of bins on the south, with a gap of perhaps 150 feet between. The reason for the odd construction is that there was once a slip between the Kellogg A and Kellogg B. Two vessels could be handled at once.

Named after the Spencer Kellogg Company, which produced vegetable oils used in paints, foods, animal feeds and other industries, the Kellogg elevators were located right off the Michigan Avenue lift bridge. In 1917, the Kellogg B was demolished and replaced by the reinforced concrete elevator that still stands today as part of St. Mary's Cement. The Kellogg A was demolished but never replaced except for the collection of bins. Instead of storing grain, the bins now store cement.


General Mills
Washburn-Crosby.
A view of the Washburn-Crosby flour mill from the City Ship Canal, 1919. (LOC/DPC)
The last elevator on our tour is very difficult to see as one unit. The General Mills plant, located at the corner of Ganson Street and South Michigan Avenue is an enormous complex with extremely tight security. Photographing it in this day and age is difficult from Ganson Street -- your best bet being across the City Ship Canal on Furhmann Boulevard.

Washburn-Crosby was originally a flour mill with its parent company being based in Minneapolis. They started out somewhere around 1903 with the tile bins that are visible on South Michigan Avenue -- adjacent to the sidewalk. These bins were the storage facilities for a flour mill which became known as Mill A. Within the next three or so years, Washburn-Crosby built another mill, Mill B, and another storage facility built of reinforced concrete.


The General Mills plant.
This is the same view of the General Mills plant as it appears today.
Prior to Washburn-Crosby, there was another elevator on the site known as the Frontier elevator. It is interesting to note that the storage annexes for Washburn-Crosby had no marine receiving capabilities so they had to rely on the Frontier elevator for loading and unloading of grain for the flour mill. A long conveyor connceted the two facilities together. Eventually, the Frontier was taken over by Washburn-Crosby as was the Dakota elevator, another neighbor.

The Dakota Elevator.
The Dakota elevator as seen in 1919. The Dakota was located at the far end of Kelley Island. (LOC/DPC)
The Dakota was built in 1902 as another transfer elevator and it was said to be associated with the Lehigh valley railroad. It, like the Frontier, was eventually used by Washburn-Crosby to unload lake and canal vessels. By 1928, Washburn-Crosby was taken over by General Mills which expanded their milling facilities into a powerhouse industry. They continued to operate the Frontier and Dakota elevators until the latter closed in 1965. Both were later demolished.

The City Ship Canal
the City Ship Canal.
A view of the City Ship Canal around the turn of the century. the Great Northern elevator can be seen in the distance. (LOC/DPC)
The sheer size of the General Mills plant is very deceiving to the casual observer. However the entire complex, even going back to the Washburn-Crosby days, is situated on what was known as Kelley Island. When the City Ship Canal was completed in 1850, it allowed more access to protected docking space along the Buffalo River, even though the canal was not part of the river itself. Originally named the Blackwell Canal after the contractor that built it, the City Ship Canal proved to be a complete success from day one. Four slips were cut perpendicular to the canal connecting it to the Buffalo River thus causing a huge increase in grain elevator construction. Kelley Island was a result of the creation of one of those slips even though the island is more of a penninsula today.

In 1883 the Buffalo Creek railroad was permitted to extend the canal 5,000 feet southward into its own land. This in turn connected property owned by the Lehigh Valley railroad which built canals and coal docks on the old Tifft farm. As progress continued and freighters got larger and larger, navigation on the slips grew increasingly difficult so many were filled in as the old wooden elevators that graced their shores burned or were demolished.

Conclusion

You have just spent an afternoon looking at a huge part of Buffalo's industrial past. It would take days to explore every inch of the grain elevators and the property they rest on. Perhaps this section will entice you to contact the Preservation Coalition of Erie County and sign up for one of their guided tours of the area. I highly recommended them as you will not find a better way to get close to the elevators and learn their history at the same time.

Part 1

 

Some of the photographs contained on this page were from
The Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection,
The Library of Congress, Panaramic Photographs Collection,
The Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society,
The Western New York Heritage Institute and
Lower Lakes Marine Historical Society.

Additional photographs were from the book "Buffalo's Waterfront", another volume of Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series; written by Thomas E. Leary and Elizabeth Sholes. This book is available at most bookstores in the Western New York area, or through the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

Some information contained in this section was reprinted from "Buffalo's Waterfront: A Guidebook", edited by Tim Tielman and published in 1990 by The Preservation Coalition of Erie County.