Against The Grain: Buffalo Bound

buffalo grain elevator
While honeymooners and other tourists take to nearby Niagara Falls, other visitors a few miles away in Buffalo, New York, take in a more elevating experience.

Buffalo is the birthplace of grain elevators, those towering concrete and steel structures that stand as symbols of the golden age of milling.

In the early 1800s, the Erie Canal completed a water route between the Great Lakes and New York Harbor, a route that was eventually passed through Buffalo. Boatloads of grain found their way from as far west as Minnesota to Buffalo's waterfront. Soon the area was a thriving center of commerce.

More on the Elevators
For more information on the history and function of Buffalo's grain elevators, Buffalo History Works has maps, facts and photos of these monoliths of modern industry.

In 1842, Joseph Dart built a steam-powered elevator to carry the bushels of grain from boats into storage bins. His system of conveyor belts and buckets cut the unloading time from seven days to seven minutes for the typical grain boat.

Dart realized that since his elevator could carry grain to great heights, it was only logical to store it in giant towers. Soon the booming town of Buffalo was boasting dozens of these grand examples of the power of industry. Visitors from around the world came to gaze at the marvels of architecture.

Today those behemoths are a sightseeing attraction for tourists, whose interests, you might say, run very much against the grain. Tours sponsored by the Buffalo Industrial Heritage Committee allow visitors to witness what many architects see: stark and monumental towers that are an instant lesson in the United States' industrial heritage.

These tours along the Buffalo River give a glimpse at part of the skeletal structure upon which a revolution was based - the industrial revolution.