How The West Was Lost

To Station
Through the days of the Erie Canal, Buffalo rose from a western outpost founded in 1802, into the 8th largest city in the United States by 1900, on its essential position as a market city and trading port to the frontier West. With the rise of the railroads, naturally this position translated into being a hub in that system as well, and just before the Depression the tracks along Lake Erie were the busiest in the world, with close to 200 passenger and 500 freight trains passing daily toward Chicago and New York. The previous station, located on the present site of the Sabres’ arena downtown, was massively insufficient for this level of traffic, so in 1928 the New York Central Railroad commissioned a landmark station, at the time the tallest, and among the largest, yet constructed (and which would only be surpassed in the US by their own construction in Detroit). Buffalo Central was, for its entire life, a station of excess — by its completion in 1930, it, and its companion Michigan Central Station, both opened to drastically reduced traffic, and would only come close to capacity with the troop trains of the second World War. The jet age led to the demise of these stations in 1979, and their replacement with dull prefab buildings hardly fit for the legacy of what once was. One can only wonder if stations like these could restore the glamour of train travel… while certainly far slower than flying somewhere, with the TSA being what it is, and the price of gas on the rise again, not to mention the sense of adventure and authenticity, will the railroads finally rise again? Will this station someday serve its purpose again as the gateway to the wide open West?

The station itself is an incredible 3 1/2 blocks long, from the end of the freight house to the tower.

This building, which finished its life as the freight house, was once a sort of second-class station for interurbans, short line trains which served small towns on tracks averaging 10-60 miles. (One would not be mistaken comparing this to the light rail that still thrives in the East Coast cities). Amazingly, these tracks were not even counted in the 200 daily trains serving the main station, and probably added at least as many departures.

Continuing toward the tower, the next building is the mail house, dedicated to sorting the incoming mail arriving in Buffalo. These numbered columns referred to wards of the city in the pre-ZIP-code system, to serve the mail trucks that would pull up to the loading docks.
Mail house


Any ideas? There were a number of these coarse-toothed iron gears around the mail house. Each weighs at least 50 pounds, and is on a rod that seems far too weak for the job.

Sometimes the way in is just like in the video games…

This appears to have been some sort of corporate office. The burned paperwork on the floors was employee and freight records from the early 1930s.

Outside the mail house, going toward the arrival platforms

Arrivals hall in a December sunset

A few notes for anyone trying to explore the Terminal — property lines here are a bit tricky, and well enforced. Buffalo city owned areas include the freight line, interurban platform, mail house, arrivals and most of the vacant land; you should be able to explore these areas without being hassled. The tower can only be accessed via tours, available every two weeks from April to November 2012, as well as special events at the holidays and Easter. Attempts to access the tower and concourse on your own will end badly, like mine did last spring!

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