By Mark Weber (Buffalo Crooner):
Steel helped create the skyscrapers of great cities like New York and Chicago, especially during the first half of the 20th Century. And one of the great places in America where lots and lots of steel was made? Buffalo, New York.
Did you know that Buffalo has a Steel History Museum? It’s located just south of downtown in the “Heritage Discovery Center” at 100 Lee St., Buffalo, New York 14210. There is nothing glamorous about the neighborhood it’s in, but there’s free, well-lit parking behind the building, and the museum itself is worth a visit, especially for people who have an interest in America’s industrial heritage.
Steel helped build Buffalo into, at one time, the 10th most populated city in America, complete with many millionaires. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, the steel mills essentially disappeared from Buffalo and its fellow rust-belt neighbors like Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Steel could be made cheaper overseas, and Buffalo was left with big, old, hulking buildings near its waterfront, some of which still exist. However, if we’re honest, it looks like an industrial wasteland at the edge of downtown Buffalo–a place where industry used to thrive is now home to just a few industrial plants like Honeywell and General Mills.
But, if you’re into seeing a place that doesn’t look like the cookie-cutter suburbs that have become the American standard, and you don’t mind wandering around a gritty area among the ruins, it might be worth a trip to Buffalo’s oft-forgotten former steel town just south of downtown.
For perspective on what steel meant to Buffalo, pay a visit to The Steel Plant Museum of Western New York. Established in 1984, the museum houses memorabilia from Bethlehem’s Lackawanna plant, as well as artifacts from Republic Steel, Hanna Furnace, and other local companies. Union efforts to improve working conditions are documented in grievance files and correspondence kept in the museum’s reference library, along with steel-related catalogs, technical papers, books, and manuals. Kids will like seeing the hardhats, colorful signs, model railroad layout, and scary looking uniforms steel workers had to wear– they look like space alien costumes. An adjoining room displays artifacts from Buffalo’s great railroad history, too.
On Friday, May 17th, from 6 – 9pm, come to the opening gala celebration of the museum’s new 2013 exhibit, “The Art of Steel: As seen through the eyes of Norman Rockwell,” which runs through November. If you have images, paintings, photos or artifacts from the Old Main Office Building, consider sharing them with the museum; A Winter 2013-2014 exhibit called “Old Main: Preservation Education and Razing Awareness” is set to run November 15th, 2013 – May 2nd, 2014, and you can find an artwork submittal form online at the museum’s website.
General museum hours are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 10am-5pm, with special lecture nights the first Wednesday of each month at 6pm. Admission to the museum and its programs is free. You can buy one-of-a-kind Bethlehem Steel shirts at the museum’s gift shop.