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Home > Our City > Buffalo My City > Buffalo My City Watercolors > 12-A Great Northern Elevator (1990)

12-A Great Northern Elevator (1990)


Narrative by - David M. Rote
(Narratives are copyrighted)

Ganson Street, running from Michigan Avenue to Ohio Street between the Buffalo River and the City Ship Canal, was the first street in the United States lighted by electricity (1881) - 12 lights in all.

Built in 1897 by James J. Hall for the Great Northern Railroad, the elevator has been called the Mutual Elevator for most of its life and is now an unused part of the Pillsbury flour milling complex of which it became a part in 1921 and currently threatened with demolition.

The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 provided for mid-western grain to be shipped by lake boat to Buffalo and then transferred to canal boats for shipment to points East. Buffalo quickly became the largest inland transshipping center of grain in the country and soon, the world. But along with growth came congestion and the slow process of transferring grain from the lake boats to the canal boats was a problem which seemed insurmountable.

Enter Joseph Dart, a Buffalo merchant. In 1842, Mr. Dart constructed the world's first grain elevator and storage warehouse on the Buffalo River at the junction of the Evans Ship Canal. Powered by a steam engine with a conveyor belt with metal "scoops" attached at equal distances running along a "marine leg", the Dart elevator was able to unload a boat in a matter of hours rather than days. Within a few years grain elevators sprang up all around the Buffalo harbor. The term "elevator" is taken from the fact that the grain is "elevated" to the highest point of the storage structure, weighed and then allowed, by the force of gravity, to settle into the various bins below.

The Great Northern, when built in 1897, was the world's largest elevator with a nearly 3,000,000 bushel capacity. Large cylindrical steel bins and a newly introduced electrified operation marked a great advance in grain storage over the much smaller and fire-prone wooden elevators. Soon concrete elevators became the standard norm for elevator construction and established Buffalo as a premier site for this world-famous architectural form. The 600-foot freighter Henry Steinbrenner, built in 1916, is moored alongside on the City Ship Canal and boats of its owner Kinsman Lines, Inc. of Cleveland still call at Buffalo.