By Land or By Water
Take a drive anywhere in Buffalo's First Ward and you are bound to see one of the city's grain elevators. They have been the subject of many photographs since their creation, yet still provide a challenge to those who actually try to get close to them. Several viewing options are available to anyone wishing to see the elevators, or any of the other architectural artifacts along the way.
By following the guidelines contained here you will be able to view the elevators both by automobile or by boat if you are lucky enough to own one. By reading each section and familiarizing yourself with the surroundings viewing the elevators from the water will be an easy process. In fact, it is much easier to see the elevators from the Buffalo River than it would be if you were to drive up to them. Keep in mind that they were never built to be driven up to unless you arrived by boat or by railroad.
The best way to begin your tour of Buffalo's Grain District is by way of Michigan Avenue. However before you cross the Michigan Avenue lift bridge, take a short time to observe some of the great sites that await you in just a small area.
The Edward M. Cotter
The Edward M. Cotter, docked at the foot of the Michigan Avenue lift bridge.
If you have indeed parked your car at the foot of the bridge, you will notice to your right the building for Engine 20 of the Buffalo Fire Department. Otherwise known as fireboat Edward M. Cotter, this splendid craft was originally christened in 1900 as the W.S. Gratten who was the city fire commissioner at that time. In 1953, the ship was modernized and rededicated as the Edward M. Cotter after the President of Buffalo Fire Fighters Local #282.
The Cotter is the only fire fighting apparatus that can reach most of Buffalo's waterfront. The boat is docked in a slip under the lift bridge and can be easily seen from the street. Interesting of note is the fact that the Cotter was the sole protector of Buffalo's grain elevators from the water. While more in a respite state today, the Cotter saw much action during the grain industry's heyday.
The Michigan Avenue Lift Bridge
The first Michigan Avenue bridge was very ornate as seen in this 1911 photograph. (LOC/DPC)
After looking at the Cotter, take a look above you at the Michigan Avenue lift bridge. This marvelous structure has had several reincarnations, the first version being built in 1873. The bridge offers a great view of the old D.L.& W. train sheds as well as the some of the elevators lining the Buffalo River. The current bridge was opened in 1933 but was replaced in 1960 after a boating accident destroyed the original. Today it doesn't see one quarter of the activity it saw during the Buffalo River's heyday. If the bridge is raised once a week during the shipping season, that's a lot.
Elevated Railroad Tracks
As a train pulled out of the Lackawanna depot it passed the elevated Michigan Avenue tower. The train shed of the depot are visible to the right of the picture. The grain elevator showing just behind the tower on the left is the Dakota -- on the right is the Connecting Terminal.
One of the best architectural facts about the area in which you are standing is the fact that during the days when the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad was in its prime, the tracks that brought passenger trains in and out of the station were elevated above Michigan Avenue. It was quite an amazing site for passengers arriving at the depot to ride alongside the Buffalo River and see the grain elevators, structures that many visitors to Buffalo had never seen before. If you looked out the window of a train you would have seen a small brick tower sitting alongside the tracks. This structure was known as the Michigan Avenue tower and was used by the D.L.& W. railroad to control movements of the trains in and around the depot.
The D. L. & W. Depot
The Delaware, Lackawana and Western Passenger station.
Let's return to the D . L . & W. train sheds. When the Lackawanna railroad built the sheds in 1915, they were part of a freight, passenger and shipping complex that gave the railroad dominance over the entire waterfront area. What's missing from the entire equation is the railroad's actual passenger station which was demolished in 1979 to make way for the construction of the NFTA Rapid Transit system. If the entire complex were in existence today, it would stretch from Washington Street all the way to Michigan Avenue, a distance of almost three-quarters of a mile. When the D.L.& W. railroad began operation in Buffalo in 1882, all of its tracks were located directly on the streets of the waterfront district. You can imagine the chaos such a movement caused to an area that consumed almost 75% of the city's population.
This photograph shows the elevated D. L. & W. tracks and the Michigan Avenue tower. (Matt Wronski)
The tracks were eventually removed from most of the streets and were elevated for passenger service, while freight and Railway Express services remained at ground level. Even though it appears that the tracks end abruptly at a glassed-in wall, the elevated section did indeed continue out beyond the confines of the complex and extend out to the railroad's coal docks where Erie Basin Marina is now situated. It was not an uncommon site to see various steam engines slowly heading out along the elevated spur to the coal docks to be filled with coal.
Just as a side note, the D.L.& W.'s passenger station was one of Buffalo's more magnificent railroad depots. Built in 1915, it was a focal point for many people traveling in and out of the Buffalo area for many years. By 1962, the Lackawanna Railroad merged with the Erie Railroad forming the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad. Claiming that passenger revenues were an unprofitable venture that the new railroad corporation could not afford to maintain, they moved what little passenger service remained out to their Lovejoy facility and closed the grand depot.
This is the current condition of the D. L. & W. train sheds -- now used by the NFTA.
This began the steady decline of the building. In a fate similar to that of Buffalo's New York Central Terminal, the D.L.& W. depot became a haven for vagrants and other people of questionable integrity. The building was stripped of its artifacts, and anything else that could be of value, and left to rot. Because this area of Buffalo was considered pretty dangerous in the 60s and 70s, it was fare game to anyone who claimed "squatters rights." I have been told that the condition of the Lackawanna depot was worse
than that of Central Terminal! Be that as it may, the building was razed in 1982.
Another bit of information worthy of note is that before the complex was considered by the NFTA as the headquarters for the NFTA Rapid Transit System, Erie Community College was thinking about obtaining the property for its city campus. However, there was another Buffalo landmark with an uncertain future and much less property damage, namely the old Post Office. So the last chance for restoration for the D.L.& W. depot fell by the wayside.
The Swannie House
The Swannie House.
Let's return to the Michigan Street bridge. If you look across the street you will see a small brick building with an interesting advertisement for Kentucky Whisky painted on the side. This is the Swannie House, first opened as a bar in the late 19th century. When the area was in its prime, the Swannie House served as a bar on the first floor, a boarding house on the second, and the third housed various sailors of low rank. The bar is now privately owned and was proudly restored to its former glory.
The Erie Freight House
The Erie Freight House on Ganson Street.
So now we finally
return to the driving tour of the grain elevators. Since at the time of this writing crossing the Buffalo River via Michigan Avenue wasn't possible, lets turn onto Ohio Street and continue our tour. As you approach the Ohio Street lift bridge, look across the Buffalo River and you'll see the remains of the Erie Railroad's Freight House located on Ganson Street. When the freight house was built, it was the Erie's principle waterfront location. It had a storage capacity of over 10,000 tons and was serviced both by freighter and three rail sidings.
The remains of the Erie freight house.
Interesting of note is that when the freight terminal was built, it was made of concrete and advertised as fireproof. It was destroyed by fire in 1949 and the remains have been standing ever since.
The Standard Elevator
A view of the Standard elevator in 1932.
After observing the Erie Freight House, look to your left and you will see the Standard elevator. The Standard was built in 1926 by James Stewart & Company and was acquired by the Standard Milling Company of Seneca and Hamburg streets. The Standard is not considered to be one of Buffalo's elevator gems, but for photographers, it's a treasure. But first, we must take a detour.
The best way to view the Standard is by turning off of Ohio Street and onto Louisiana Street -- that will be a left turn. Drive up Louisiana to Republic Street and take a right. Look for railroad tracks littering the area -- symbols of the area's industrial heritage. As you continue driving up Republic taking in all the sights, turn right onto Hamburg Street and proceed to the end. Be prepared for a visual feast as the foot of Hamburg offers perhaps the best photographic vantage point to view the biggest mass of elevators on the Buffalo River.
The Standard elevator as seen from the corner of South and Vadalia Streets.
Straight ahead of you will be the Lake and Rail elevator, followed by the Perot elevator, the American elevator, and finally, the Standard elevator. The Standard can actually be seen much easier by turning right onto South Street -- the elevator will be off to your left and you'll see a railroad spur leading right up to it. The property surrounding the Standard is posted so observe the NO TRESSPASSING signs and stay on the sidewalk.
The Lake and Rail Elevator
The Lake and Rail elevator is shown on the right, Marine A is on the left, and the foot of Childs Street is between the two elevators.
Returning to the foot of Hamburg Street, the Lake and Rail elevator is now owned by Con Agra. It was built between 1927 and 1930 and has a very unusual architectural highlight in that it had flat walls built around its cylindrical bins. The North Annex, at the inside of a 90 degree bend of the Buffalo River, was built in 1928. The South Annex was built to the Childs Street lot in 1929. You can see this end much better if you turn left onto Childs Street off of Ohio Street once you cross the Ohio Street lift bridge. The Lake and Rail produces over 2,700,00 pounds of flour a day and is a constant hotbed of activity.
If you venture onto Childs Street to look at the elevator, be extremely careful of the active railroad tracks that still enter the perimeter of the elevator's property. Originally owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, the yard was referred to as Burrows Lot but is now under the operation of the Buffalo Southern Railroad.
A Pennsylvania railroad switching engine works Burrows lot. The American and Marine A elevators are in the center and right of the photograph.
In its heyday, Burrows Lot occupied 33 acres of land and allowed the Pennsylvania Railroad access to the Marine A elevator, the Electric, the American, the Dellwood, and Russell-Miller Milling to name a few. Burrows Lot also serviced the Pierce and Stevens Chemical Company which is still in existence today. There still stands on Ohio Street a small freight station that was once owned by the Pennsylvania railroad. Look for the small concrete structure just past Childs Street with the bumper on the one side. This was one of the freight sheds used by Burrows Lot.
When exploring Burrows Lot, be very careful as there are always switching activities taking place here as cars are moved in and out of the Con Agra (Lake and Rail) elevator. You might also see a freighter docked at the Lake and Rail elevator especially during the winter months. With two marine legs capable of scooping up 17,000 bushels of wheat and hour, the Kinsman Enterprise or Kinsman Independent might be unloading. Have your cameras ready.
The Connecting Terminal Elevator
The Pennsylvania Railroad controlled a major of the freight traffic in and out of the Buffalo Harbor. The Connecting Terminal elevator was located right at the entrance to the harbor directly across the river from the D.L.& W. train sheds and allowed for the interchange of traffic with the lake lines. The elevator was built by A.E. Baxter in two sections of reinforced concrete, the first being in 1915, the second in 1954 -- the last grain storage facility to be built in Buffalo.
The remains of the Connecting Terminal elevator at the entrance to the Buffalo Harbor.
The remains of the Connecting terminal -- the storage bins -- can best be seen from Fuhrmann Boulevard. As you approach the Coast Guard Station, look to your right and you will see the bins. Keep in mind that the property that the elevator sat on is now privately owned by a marina so trespassing may not be a good idea. It's remarkable to know that this entire area was clogged with the railroad tracks of the Pennsylvania since they owned and operated the entire Connecting Terminal complex which included not only the elevator, but several warehouses as well. The West Shore Railroad also staked a claim here as they operated an iron ore dock further up from the C.T. directly across the river from the Great Northern elevator.
The Electric Elevator
Let's return to Ohio Street and look at each of the elevators that will be on your left as you make a left turn onto Childs Street. The first structure on your left will be the Gelinmac Feed and Storage Mill which is actually right on the corner of Ohio and Childs streets. The Gelinmac storage bins are all that remain of the Electric Elevator, which in turn was known as Cargill Electric. The Electric was built in 1897 as Buffalo's first elevator to be powered by electricity rather than steam. Electricity greatly reduced the risk of fire or explosion caused by on-site burning of coal for steam power.
The original Electric Elevator was later renamed Cargill Electric.
The original Electric elevator consisted of low, large-diameter steel cylinders with double-gabled marine legs which were colored black. The Electric had one stationary marine leg and the world's first movable marine leg, mounted on rails and powered by electricity. Within a few short years, the short bins of the Electric would be surrounded by the classic elevators that eventually grew up all around it. The original Electric was demolished in 1984.
The bins used by Gelinmac are part of an extension that the Electric elevator built in 1940 and are not at all what they seem. Even though it appears that there are dozens of individual bins, the complex is actually six rooms each measuring 150 feet by 90 feet with a total capacity of six million bushels. You can actually see the details of this method of construction by driving slowly past the "bins" and looking into them. You will be able to see enormous piles of grain in an extremely darkened atmosphere. The idea was for easy access to the grain by front end loaders rather than men or conveyor belts.
In a way this new method of elevator design almost made the original concept of unloading grain, namely the bucket system, obsolete.
The American Elevator
The American elevator is show in the center of this photograph of Burrows Lot. The Marine A is to the right.
After Gelinmac, the next elevator on the left is the American Elevator, the first elevator to be built of reinforced concrete in the Buffalo area. Built in 1906 for the American Malting Corporation, of which banking giant J. P. Morgan was a part of, to allow a stronghold on the ever-growing Buffalo waterfront. American Malting used the elevator for the production of beers for the Eastern market but fell victim to the Prohibition. In 1921, the elevator was taken over by the Russell-Miller company who used the mill to produce its Occident-brand flour. In the early 1950s, Russell-Miller was bought out by Peavy Corporation, the sixth largest grain dealer in the world. To this day, Peavy still owns and operates the American Elevator and helped make it the world's largest pneumatic flouring producer.
The Perot Elevator
Next is the Perot Elevator which is currently owned by the Fred Koch Malting Company which recently became a unit of Genesee Brewing. The actual complex consists of two distinct parts; the first is the actual elevator and the second are the germinating compartments for the malting process. The Perot was built for a malting company of the same name in 1909 and later, bins were constructed on the Buffalo River in 1933. The Perot was never actually built on the river itself -- it never had marine legs. It was connected to the American Elevator next door by an overhead conveyor that transferred its grain to the waiting bins.
The Marine Elevator
The abandoned Marine A elevator is shown in this view from the Buffalo River. The Lake & Rail is seen to the right.
The last elevator on the left is the Lake and Rail, which was discussed earlier. The abandoned elevator on the right is the Marine A, which was built as a transfer elevator by the Able family, owners of several other elevators in the Buffalo area. The Marine A had a very short active life. It was constructed in 1925 and because it didn't have a mill associated with it, the elevator fell victim to the demise of the industry during the 1960s when the transshipment business that was prevalent in Buffalo collapsed in the 1960s. Today the Marine A sits right alongside Burrows Lot and is fairly easy to photograph. Just watch out for moving trains.
Looking across the Buffalo River from the Burrows Lot area you will be able to get your first glimpse of Buffalo's abandoned giants and our next stop; Concrete Central and Cargill Superior.