Niagara Street Industrial Heritage - Table of Contents
History - Niagara Street Industrial Heritage
UB Students Study and Plan the Future of one section of Niagara Street | Part 1
Buffalo Rising, March 9, 2015 (online July 2017)
Upper-Niagara Street has a rich and primarily industrial history. Given the advantages of its location on the Niagara River, the transportation industry has endured here since early European settlement. In fact, Niagara Street “embodies the relationship between industry and transportation networks on water and land. . . .” *4 Upper-Niagara was especially important because of its proximity to an outcropping of black limestone in the river that created a natural harbor convenient for docking, loading, and unloading boats.*5
Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, transportation was at the center of the neighborhood growth. The industry was so pivotal that many of the companies doing business on Upper-Niagara focused on transportation-related needs.*6 While the street namely contained buildings used for industrial purposes, “properties on the east side of Niagara Street reflect the diversity of functions required in a working class neighborhood,”*7 including a grocery and butcher (at 1255 Niagara Street), a plumber and baker (at 1233 Niagara Street), and a small number of boarding rooms and residential properties.*8
Upper-Niagara’s history begins with the use of the Niagara River itself. Before any roadway existed at all, Native Americans used the spot for fishing, and during the American Revolution, the area served as a location for ferrying goods and supplies across the river to Canada.*10 Until the nineteenth century, however, the land that would eventually become Upper-Niagara was largely unused*11. In the early 1800’s, though, several taverns, boarding houses, a ferry station, warehouses, docks, stores, military barracks, and log homes began to sprout up along Upper-Niagara.*12 The War of 1812 put a stopper in this development, however, and many of the buildings actually were destroyed.*13
Well after the war, Black Rock Harbor was incorporated into the Erie Canal system, routing shipping traffic directly through the Upper-Niagara neighborhood.*14 By 1826, Niagara Street was declared a public highway and experienced many transportation-related developments, including improvements to the existing ferry system and the laying of New York Central’s rail lines.*15 Eventually, New York Central would construct two different rail lines in this area, including the Belt Line.*16 The Belt Line was a “15-mile loop that transported people and goods around the city, and provided connections to the larger railroad system that connected Buffalo to the rest of the country.”*17 The line was important to the growth of numerous industries and working-class neighborhoods along the outskirts of Buffalo, but eventually was replaced by trolley lines and automobiles.*18 In fact, Niagara Street was one of the first streets in Buffalo to acquire streetcars, along with extended sewers, paved streets, gas lines, parks, residences and commercial buildings.*19 “Urbanization took hold along Niagara Street” and outward growth continued throughout the nineteenth century.*20
The early portion of the twentieth century was a time of continued industrial progress, and the neighborhood’s progress moved from an “even mix of residential, commercial, and industrial . . . to more heavy industry.”*21 The move from residential to heavy industrial was aided by the increased popularity and accessibility of automobiles, allowing workers to move from working-class neighborhoods like Upper-Niagara.*22 Formerly residential buildings were converted to restaurants and shops.*23
By 1950, the city’s overall population hit its peak.*24 The World Wars now over, many of Niagara Street’s dominant industries downsized with the war effort.*25 Once the St. Lawrence Seaway opened, the neighborhood sa
w the departure of its shipping traffic, as well as the smaller companies still remaining.*26 Today, the buildings remaining on Upper-Niagara Street reflect the neighborhood’s industrial heritage. This plan attempts to integrate the neighborhood’s rich history into a promising future.
1246-1270 Niagara Street is now home (in part) to Resurgence Brewing Company but was once the Buffalo location of the Sterling Engine Company. Built in 1907, Sterling followed in the neighborhood tradition of transportation-specialities, making gas marine engines.*27
1280 Niagara Street, now home to Stark Associates Inc., originally was built to house Buffalo Gasoline Motor Company in 1903. Like many other companies on the block, Buffalo Gasoline made marine engines until the end of WWII, when it began making air conditioners. Buffalo Gasoline continues to make air conditioners today.*28
1294 Niagara Street. Formerly Sowers Manufacturing Company, the building is now home to Northwest Community Mental Health Center. Built in 1914, Sowers used different metals to make heating, cooling, and mixing equipment. It was sold in 1942.*29
1 Bonnie Raitt, “Luck of the Draw,” Track 3, “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” full phrase: “’Cause I can’t make you love me if you don’t / You can’t make your heart feel something it won’t,” available here.
2 Industrial Heritage Report (a preliminary step in the National Register process), by KTA Preservation Specialists (Aug. 2014), at 2.
3 Id. | 4 Id. at 31. | 5 Id. at 30. | 6 Id. at 4. | 7 Id. at 31. | 8 Id. | 9 Id. at 30. | 10 Id. at 31. | 11 Id. | 12 Id. | 13 Id. at 32. | 14 Id. | 15 Id. at 32-33. | 16 Id. | 17 Id. | 18 Id. | 19 Id. at 33. | 20 Id. | 21 Id. at 34. | 22 Id. | 23 Id. | 24 Id. | 25 Id. | 26 Id. | 27 Id. at 6. | 28 Id. at 13. | 29 Id. at 17.