A few weeks back I went to City of Night, an event held at Silo City, privately-owned grain elevators on the Buffalo outer harbor. Artists from around Buffalo displayed their work inside of the grain elevators, using the internal environment as a canvas for their work. Guitars were strung and echoes traveled up and down elevators; murals were drawn on the walls; and displays were found throughout the elevators, highlighting the best of Buffalo. I was extremely excited to walk through the massive silos, and even grew an appreciation for the local art scene – something I have never explored before. The event was held at dusk, hence, City of Night, which limited the ability to see up into the actual silos – so the following weekend I went on a tour of the elevators to get a better view. The pictures found within this post were taken by yours truly during the tour, on a beautiful Sunday morning.
What brought the booming grain industry of Buffalo to where it is today? And what does the future of the outer harbor hold?
Buffalo’s grain industry was at its peak in the 1920’s, and continued to prosper throughout the second World War. Following this era, competition began to settle in. In 1932, the Welland Canal in Canada opened, and was large enough for full-sized boats to travel through. This eliminated the need for transfer from the Great Lakes to the canal (as is true of Buffalo’s port and the Erie Canal), and essentially eliminated the need for Buffalo to play a part in the Canadian grain industry.
In 1959, the St. Lawrence Seaway opened up, further diminishing the need for the Erie Canal. The Seaway connects the Great Lakes directly to the Atlantic Ocean, allowing grain boats (any industrial boats, for that matter) to travel directly to their Atlantic port. Thus eliminating the middleman – Buffalo.
Throughout the following decades, the majority of grain milling companies were either forced to close or forced to move to a more lucrative location. Elevators were abandoned and Buffalo’s outer harbor remained virtually empty.
Even the largest, most productive elevator built in Buffalo, the Concrete Central, was abandoned in the early 70s. Walking around the City of Night event, you could still see grain dusted in the cracks of the floors – which I found to be kind of neat, as you would think that notorious winters would get the best of what little remains of Buffalo’s grain industry.
Out of the twenty-seven functioning grain elevators at Buffalo’s peak – only three are presently functional. The best-known of these is General Mills, providing us with that wonderfully refreshing smell of Cheerios during the early morning commute.
Unfortunately, the future of Buffalo’s grain elevators appears grim. Those that have not been demolished offer severe safety hazards, as the elevators and surrounding buildings continue to decay. Local preservationists are working to save and restore those that are still salvageable, but it’s an ongoing battle with the city and potential developers who are looking to repurpose the land. The most popular proposal for the Buffalo outer harbor is an NFL stadium, moving the Buffalo Bills from their suburban location in Orchard Park, and drawing crowds into the city itself.
Whatever does become of Buffalo’s outer harbor and the grain elevators, I must say that the City of Night event was truly an eye-opening experience, filled with everything that makes Buffalo what it is today.
Check out Buffalo’s grain industry in its prime by visiting here.