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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.

quote 1 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.

Abandoned line.
The property left behind by the abandonment of Buffalo railroad industry is numerous. This stretch is part of a New York Central branch in Depew, New York. The overpass bridge in the distance is Walden Avenue.
However, by the mid 1960's, many things began to change. At the height of the railroad era, 20 different rail companies made a home for themselves in Buffalo. 1963 saw half of that. Corporate mergers began to eliminate many of the once proud railroads that served the city. Facilities were abandoned, stations were closed and demolished, tracks and roadbed were torn up, and anything left over in the liquidation process was left to decay. Buffalo was now holding on to hundred of acres of abandoned property. Inevitably, people would pass by and gaze at this emptiness and wonder, "what was once in this vacant lot?" "What was that crumbled building used for?"

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.

Bridge to the Past

War of 1812

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.

Peter Porter
Peter Porter, Champion of Black Rock.
It was imperative to the War Hawks that the British be removed from all of their holdings and sent back across the Atlantic before any lasting peace between the two countries could be achieved. Perhaps the loudest voice in the cry for a conflict with Britain was Peter Porter, a congressman instrumental to the building of Black Rock, and who later became a quartermaster general during the War of 1812. Porter and the rest of the War Hawk party were vocal enough to convince the citizens and government of the United States that a war with Britain was a necessary evil.

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.

Fort George, located in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
Fort George, located in Newark, Ontario, was under British control until it was captured by American forces under the command of General George McClure in June of 1813. As the war dragged on, General McClure's troops stationed at the fort were called to duty elsewhere. By December of 1813, Fort George was being guarded by only a small garrison of 100 men. Sensing that the British would eventually try to recapture the fort, General McClure decided to abandon it and move his troops back across the Niagara River and into Black Rock.

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.

Run for your lives!
"...armed only with a solitary cannon."
The forces then advanced towards Black Rock where they encountered little resistance to their devastation. The meager American troops stationed there simply abandoned their posts and fled before the battle commenced. Black Rock was destroyed. Next, the invaders marched up Niagara Street towards Buffalo. At the corner of Niagara and Main streets, the defenses attempted to make a stand armed only with a solitary cannon, but the distant battle cries of the combined advancing armies again made the American run for their lives.

Buffalo was left to its conquerors.

The Burning of Buffalo
The Burning of Buffalo.
For three days Buffalo burned, and when the smoke finally cleared, the residents returned to find nothing left of their homes and businesses. Very few structures survived the chaos of that night -- one home, the local jail, the blacksmith's shop, and another home that was under construction.

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.