On February first 1968, the unthinkable happened. Two bitter enemies became involved in a colossal industrial gambit in a feeble attempt at increasing profits while at the same time cutting internal costs. The end result was the merging of two corporate giants. Today, such mergers are certainly not uncommon, and often result in a more profitable organization. This was not the case in 1968. The merging of the New York Central and Pennsylvania railroads lasted exactly 871 days and was a disaster from the start. Nothing good came from it. By June of 1970 the offspring of these two railroads, the Penn Central Corporation, was bankrupt.
The "wreck" of this railroad conglomerate had disastrous effects on the United States economy and its government. It put thousands out of work and spelled the beginning of the end for one of America's most prolific industries. By the mid 1970's, the railroad industry as a whole was not as economically sound as it was 20 years earlier. Businesses discovered that shipping by truck was faster and less costly. In the eastern half of the United States, the rail industry was in such a state of disarray that in 1976, the government intervened and took control of railroad operations. The result of this act nearly eliminated every existing independent railroad company. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Buffalo, New York.
In its heyday, the city of Buffalo depended on rail transportation for its livelihood. During what was known as the "glory days of railroading", Buffalo was the second largest rail center in the world -- second only to Chicago. Ninety thousand trains ran within its boundaries annually. Over 600 miles of trackage and twenty six classification yards met all the needs of the continued industrial development of the region. There existed 5 passenger stations with capabilities to transport people anywhere in the country. Millions passed through Buffalo on a yearly basis
Most importantly, the railroads within the Buffalo area employed well over twenty thousand people. They shaped neighborhoods. They created industries previously unavailable in the city until rails were put down. Even though Buffalo was born of water, it was moved by rail.
So now, let us attempt to answer many of the questions asked about the industry responsible for the social and economic growth of Buffalo. Let us also attempt to discover what, if anything, went wrong. Perhaps it is very accurate to say that in order to understand our future, we must first comprehend our past. The railroad era that made Buffalo is a thing of the past.
All that remains are Past Tracks.
December of 1813 was a month that the growing Village of Buffalo would not soon forget. As the year drew to a close, the Niagara Frontier found itself completely engrossed in the War of 1812. One evening in particular was directly responsible for making Buffalo a casualty of the conflict.
The issues surrounding the cause of the War of 1812 are oftentimes unclear, but perhaps the biggest reason for the war was the presence of the British army within the Niagara Peninsula. The Revolutionary War had been fought to declare the United States a separate entity from Britain, and while this was accomplished, the British maintained a strong presence on the Niagara Frontier because they used the area as a major highway for commerce.
In the years before the War of 1812 began, there existed a political party known as the "War Hawks" who believed that the British were purposely trying to create hostility between the United States and the Native Americans residing in the Niagara Region. Also, the War Hawks openly denounced Britain for her continued practice of seizing American ships and impressing sailors. While the United States viewed these acts as piracy and kidnapping, the British claimed that they were retrieving naval deserters.
It is probable that Britain was practicing antisocial behavior toward the United States, for which hostility was justified. On the other hand, the War Hawks were "Land Grabbers". This meant they were claiming territory on the Niagara Frontier for themselves that was clearly and legally owned by the British Empire and used as part of her commercial highway.
Ed Patton, director of the Western New York Heritage Institute explains the role of the War Hawks further. "Geography played the largest part in the War of 1812. This area was known as the "transportation route" by the early French explorers and later by the British, and was used to transport goods and services to the interior of the country. Obviously the War Hawks, particularly Peter Porter, were involved in protecting their own commercial interests in the area as well. They were in control of the Portage Route that came up from the lower landing at Lewiston, New York, and definitely needed to protect that. Porter, being a congressmen of the United States, tried to influence the position of the government on these facts."
"Many of the War Hawks were also trying to speculate in the acquisition of land in the Canadian Territories, particularly in the area we now know as Upper Canada -- the Niagara Peninsula. Certainly, land was a very valuable commodity. The acquisition of large tracts of land gave somebody a sense of wealth especially in a nation that was very agrarian at that time. By speculating in this land and acquiring the rights to it, the War Hawks tried to influence the political decisions being made. If they could get control of that land by the invasion of Upper Canada, they would become wealthy people. Wealth brings power."
Inevitably, the War Hawks succeeded in the their lobbying to the United States. War was declared with Britain and many of the major battles were fought on our home soil. One event in particular cost the village of Buffalo dearly.
He made a horrible tactical error when instead of just walking away from the fort, he burnt it to the ground along with neighboring Village of Newark, now called Niagara-on-the-Lake. McClure's act was condemned by both the British and the Americans alike for hundreds of women and children were put out of their homes. The British were outraged and determined to seek revenge. On December 30, the British army, along with their Native American allies, crossed the Niagara River and set about destroying the towns of Lewiston, Youngtown, and Manchester.
Buffalo was left to its conquerors.
Meanwhile, the survivors of the Village of Buffalo were left to gaze at the smoldering ruins of their homes and wonder how they were going to recover from this devastating British invasion.