The Industrial Heritage of Buffalo's Grain Elevators Will Be Topic of October Conference

Will Buffalonians choose to appreciate and rescue "first fruits of the new age"?

Release Date: September 18, 2002 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- When the Swiss architect Le Corbusier saw the pure cylindrical forms of Buffalo's massive concrete grain elevators, he exclaimed, "The first fruits of the new age!"

Although the city still has an active grain industry, 15 of these heroic monuments of the early modern era stand empty along the Buffalo River, largely forgotten by the community that invented them and once drew its economic sustenance from them. Among them is the quarter mile-long "Concrete Central" elevator, which, when built in 1918, was the largest in the world.

Many city residents and architectural groups have been concerned for more than 40 years with the preservation and reuse of the elevators, calling them prime examples of the city's history and industrial heritage, where thousands of Buffalonians worked for more than 100 years.

On Oct. 12, they will present a public symposium, "The Industrial Heritage in the Working Landscape," at which they plan to reintroduce the grain elevators to the larger community in a new context and help organize a "rescue party."

The symposium will be sponsored by the Urban Design Project in the University at Buffalo's School of Architecture and Planning, and the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier.

The symposium will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the city campus of Erie Community College, 121 Ellicott St., itself one of Buffalo's prime examples of adaptive reuse. Organizers expect that many area residents will attend.

Discussions, presentations, a heritage boat tour of the elevators and meals will be included in the $50 registration fee. Without the boat tour, the fee is $30. To register, call 716-829-3483 ext. 220, or register online at the symposium Web site at

The program will include "Stories from Other Places," a session in which restoration and reuse projects involving grain elevators in Cleveland, Canada and Germany's Ruhr Valley will be discussed, and a luncheon talk by international documentary photographer Mark Maio, author of "Against the Grain," a photographic essay on the grain industry.

The closing session will feature talks by Frances Kowsky, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Art History at Buffalo State College, and urban historian Michael Frisch, professor of history and American studies at UB, where he is a senior research scholar. They will address the steps required to organize Buffalonians to act on behalf of the elevator.

The grain elevator, invented in Buffalo in 1842, did much to promote the city's emergence in the 19th century as one of the nation's principal grain storage, processing and transport centers. Grain elevators later were built all over the world.

Symposium organizer Lynda Schneekloth, UB professor of architecture, said the event will be "an opportunity to celebrate these artifacts and their social, cultural and architectural history, and to develop a public conversation about the shared future of industry and heritage tourism in the region."

She says the conference goals are to bring the elevators into the public consciousness, as well as to recognize formally their national historical significance and the layers of meaning that they have absorbed over the past two centuries.

The public conversation around the history, preservation and reuse of the impressive structures is one of many steps that organizers hope will lead to their addition to the National Register of Historic Places.

That listing would make the used and vacant elevators eligible for the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive Program, one of the federal government's most successful and cost-effective community revitalization programs.

The symposium will be co-sponsored by The Preservation Coalition of Erie County, the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society, Friends of the School of Architecture and Planning, the New Millennium Group, Partners for Livable WNY, Friends of the Buffalo and Niagara Rivers and Burchfield-Penney Art Center.

Additional funding was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts and the Preservation League of New York.

For an essay and photographs of the grain elevators in Buffalo and elsewhere by German architectural photographer Gerrit Engel, see

Media Contact Information

Patricia Donovan has retired from University Communications. To contact UB's media relations staff, call 716-645-6969 or visit our list of current university media contacts. Sorry for the inconvenience.