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History Uncovered: Industrial Growth in Black Rock

Industrial development in Black Rock was driven by two factors: the Belt Line railway and electricity. Many of those industrial buildings are still standing and are finding new use as apartments and commercial space. Two of the buildings at 27 and 37 Chandler Street were purchased by Rocco Termini in December with plans to renovate the buildings into incubator space. They are two of three buildings that were proposed for designation as the Chandler Street Industrial Buildings Historic District (the third being 41-63 Chandler). Preservation Studios started preparing the documentation for such a district and passed their information along. We previously took a look at this history of 27 and 37 Chandler, below is the background on the growth of the neighborhood.

From the National Register of Historic Places registration form prepared by Preservation Studios:

The Grant-Amherst Neighborhood

The proposed Chandler Street Industrial Buildings Historic District is located within the Grant-Amherst neighborhood, a sizable community that developed in the Black Rock Planning Neighborhood following the completion of the Belt Line in 1883. The neighborhood is bordered to the north by the Belt Line, to the east by Elmwood Avenue, to the south by the Scajaquada Creek, and to the west by the Belt Line and the Lower Black Rock neighborhood.

The Belt Line played a pivotal role in forming the identity of the Grant-Amherst neighborhood, as it separated the neighborhood from Lower Black Rock. Formerly open farmland, the Grant-Amherst neighborhood rapidly developed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century as industry and immigrants were attracted to the open land along the Belt Line’s tracks. Between 1880 and 1891, largely as a result of the neighborhood’s growing industrial base, most of the residential streets such as Bush, Howell, and Peter Streets were laid out, while Amherst and Grant Streets developed into significant commercial corridors in the neighborhood.

The newly laid residential streets were largely filled with Eastern European immigrants from Poland, Hungary, and Ukraine who carved out their own enclaves in the neighborhood. Many of the new residents came from Buffalo’s East Side and moved en masse to the Grant-Amherst after the neighborhood’s industrial base started growing. These enclaves were centered around religion and churches such as the Church of the Assumption (parish established 1888 Church erected 1914) and St. Elizabeth’s Roman Catholic Hungarian Church (1906-7), became important centers of worship and socialization for their respective communities.

Census data clearly illustrates the growth of the Grant-Amherst neighborhood and the impact of the Belt Line on the neighborhood’s growth. In 1880, the neighborhood was part of the twelfth ward, which encompassed all of northern Buffalo from the Scajaquada Creek to Delevan Avenue with the city limits as the ward’s northern boundary. The ward contained 6,627 people, many of whom were concentrated in Lower Black Rock near the Erie Canal. By 1900, after the Belt Line was completed, the ward had the same boundaries and 20,985 residents. These residents were spread across a number of new neighborhoods such as the Grant-Amherst neighborhood that developed along the Belt Line’s railroad tracks and in wealthier subdivisions around Delaware Park. By 1910, the working class industrial neighborhoods of Lower Black Rock and the Grant-Amherst neighborhood were separated into the eighteenth ward, which had 21,522 people. The growth of this area from 1880 to 1910 highlights the importance of the Belt Line as a catalyst for settling the Grant-Amherst neighborhood. The railroad attracted industry to the margins of Buffalo, providing industrialists with a transportation network for their goods and encouraging immigrants and residents from other parts of Buffalo to work around the Belt Line.

The Development of the New York Central Railroad Belt Line

The large-scale settlement of the Grant-Amherst neighborhood resulted from Lower Black Rock’s growing importance as a railroad hub and the development of the Belt Line. After the Civil War, Buffalo experience a boom in railroad construction as major companies like the New York Central, Lehigh Valley, and Grand Trunk Railroads sought to strengthen their transportation networks in the Great Lakes region. In 1873, the Grand Trunk Railroad completed the International Bridge, a three-and-a-half mile railroad bridge across the Niagara River. The bridge linked Buffalo to Fort Erie in Canada and provided the impetus for several railroad companies, including the New York Central Railroad Company, to develop resources in Lower Black Rock.

In 1871, while work on the International Bridge was ongoing, the New York Central Railroad Company laid tracks around Buffalo’s northern fringes to take advantage of the coming bridge. The new railroad, named the Junction Railroad, ran from Buffalo’s East Side, traveled north to Main Street, then west to the International Bridge, paralleling Amherst Street. After laying the Junction Railroad, the New York Central Railroad Company simplified its operations in downtown Buffalo, eliminating a station at Erie Street and linking several unconnected track lines, including the Junction Railroad, to create the Belt Line.

At its inception, the Belt Line had nineteen-miles of track and passenger stations placed at one mile intervals. The Belt Line carried 2,100 passengers in its first week of operation and steadily grew in popularity. By 1889, in addition to the Belt Line, the New York Central Railroad Company operated a large train yard at the junction of Amherst and Tonawanda Streets and small passenger and freight stations on Tonawanda Street. These rail resources spurred significant development in the Grant-Amherst neighborhood as major industrial firms bought up land and started to plan new plants alongside the railroad tracks.

Industrial Growth in the Grant-Amherst Neighborhood

The New York Central Railroad Company’s burgeoning railroad network spurred development in the Grant-Amherst neighborhood and helped create several distinct industrial nodes in the neighborhood. Each node developed alongside or near the Belt Line’s tracks and the most significant nodes were located at Tonawanda Street, Churchill and Amherst Streets, and Chandler Street [see figure above]. At each node, industrialists built private rail spurs that allowed trains to pull away from the Belt Line and efficiently transfer raw materials or finished goods to and from the factory grounds. Additionally, each node was located near one of the Belt Line’s passenger stations and allowed residents from any part of Buffalo to travel to work in the Grant-Amherst neighborhood’s factories. These industrial nodes, and the individual factories that formed them, played a major role in bringing residential development to the Grant-Amherst neighborhood and played an important role in shaping the neighborhood.

The oldest industrial node in the Grant-Amherst neighborhood developed along Tonawanda Street and predated the large-scale settlement of the neighborhood by two decades. The Tonawanda Street industrial node developed around the iron foundry and rolling mills of the Pratt & Letchworth Company, which specialized in producing nails, sheet iron, tools, and railroad equipment and supplies. Founded around 1850, the company developed its iron works around Tonawanda Street in 1860 and began producing steel by 1888. By 1889 the company had built a large rail spur that branched off the Belt Line and erected a number of storage sheds along the spur to facilitate an easy transfer of finished products into freight cars. Additionally, the company’s iron works were located near two of the Belt Line’s passenger stations, the Black Rock and Amherst Street Stations. The presence of these stations allowed the Pratt & Letchworth Company to draw workers from across Buffalo.

In 1897, the Pratt & Letchworth Company incorporated a separate firm called the United Hame Company to manufacture hames, which were an important part of a draft horse’s tack. The United Hame Company’s factory complex developed just south of the Pratt & Letchworth Company’s iron foundry, taking advantage of the existing rail spur to ship its products. In 1902, the Hard Manufacturing Company, which specialized in hospital beds, erected a plant at the Tonawanda Street industrial node. The Hard Manufacturing Company came to Buffalo in 1895 and employed 200 people at its Tonawanda Street plant by 1903. After the construction of the Hard Manufacturing Company Plant the Tonawanda Street industrial node remained stable until the 1980s. The firms operating around the node expanded their complexes, however no new companies erected factories around the node. In 1981 the Pratt & Letchworth Company closed the Tonawanda Street plant and by 1990 the complex, including the buildings of the Ushco Manufacturing Company, had been demolished. The Hard Manufacturing Company Plant closed in 1991, though the company’s plant is still standing.

The development of the Tonawanda Street industrial node stimulated growth around Tonawanda Street, particularly after 1872 when the Pratt & Letchworth Company started erecting workers cottages on company land. The company employed between 500 and 800 workers, and the growth of the company’s works along with those of the United Hame Company and Hard Manufacturing Company provided an early impetus to settlement in the Grant-Amherst neighborhood. Though there are no extant worker cottages in the Grant-Amherst neighborhood that can be directly tied to the Pratt & Letchworth Company’s worker housing construction, the steady employment offered by the firm doubtlessly helped to develop Lower Black Rock and settle the Grant-Amherst neighborhood.

Developed after the Belt Line’s completion and located near the Austin Street passenger station, the industrial node around the intersection of Churchill Street and Amherst Street was the Grant-Amherst neighborhood’s second major industrial node. By 1889 Sanborn maps show the area around Amherst and Churchill Streets had three large factories, The A. Cutler and Son Furniture Manufacturing Factory (Built circa 1884), the Buffalo Cooperative Stove Company Foundry, and the McKinnon Dash and Hardware Company Factory (built circa 1887). Similar to the factories around the Tonawanda Street industrial node, the A. Cutler and Son Furniture Manufacturing Factory and the Buffalo Cooperative Stove Company Foundry had rail spurs that branched off the Belt Ling and led right to storage spaces. By 1916 the Buffalo Cooperative Stove Company Foundry, McKinnon Dash and Hardware Company Factory, and A. Cutler and Son Furniture Manufacturing Factory had expanded significantly. The growth of these plants between 1889 and 1916 was dwarfed by the erection of arguably the most significant factory in the Amherst Churchill industrial node, the Curtiss Aeroplane Company Factory.

In 1915, one of the Grant-Amherst neighborhood’s largest industrial buildings, the 120,000 square-foot Curtiss Aeroplane Company Factory was built. A number of homes were demolished to make way for the large factory, which employed 18,000 people during World War I and produced 100 planes a week. During the war the company expanded rapidly, building a plant on Elmwood Avenue and securing different plants for airplane production such as the Buffalo Smelting Company Foundry and the McKinnon & Dash Company Factory. After the war, the company continued to manufacture planes for civilian and military use until 1930 when the factory closed permanently due to the Great Depression.

By 1950 the Amherst-Churchill industrial node remained an active center of industry, though smaller industrial firms, such as the Frontier Alkali Corporation Factory and the Wilson Authentic Goods Manufacturing Company Factory, mixed with large factories such as Amherst Foundry Incorporated, and the Sikes Company Factory.

Industrial Development along Chandler Street

The city of Buffalo laid Chandler Street circa 1889 and the street quickly became one of the Grant-Amherst neighborhood’s most important industrial streets. The street paralleled the Belt Line for half a mile before terminating at the tracks of a branch of the Belt Line and the grounds of the Houk Manufacturing Company Factory. By 1900, the north side of Chandler Street, which abutted the Belt Line, had three major industrial plants, the Acme Malleable Iron Works Foundry (1895), the Buffalo Weaving Company Factory (1891), and the Clark Manufacturing Company Factory (circa 1899). Though the Clark Manufacturing Company ceased operations on Chandler Street by 1916, the Acme Malleable Iron Works Foundry and the Buffalo Weaving Company Factory remained important industrial centers for much of the twentieth century. The loss of the Clark Manufacturing Company Factory was quickly offset by the rapid development of several factories including the three buildings in the Chandler Street Industrial Buildings Historic District as well as Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Buffalo Brake Beam Factory. Later additions included the Linde Air Products Factory (1907, NR 2017), and the Enterprise Oil Company Factory (1914, nonextant).

By 1916 the industrial node had largely achieved the shape it would maintain for the next forty years. The north side of Chandler Street was bookended by the large manufacturing facilities of the Acme Malleable Iron Works Foundry and the Buffalo Weaving Company Factory (later renamed the Buffalo Weaving and Belting Company Factory), while smaller factories such as the Enterprise Oil Company Factory were sandwiched between these two factories. On the south side of Chandler Street, industrial development was less intense than on the north; industrial buildings, such as the three factories in the Chandler Street Industrial Buildings Historic District were interspersed with private homes, saloons, and restaurants.

Light Industry Around the Belt Line

Direct access to the Belt Line allowed industrialists to built large manufacturing complexes complete with rail spurs to transport goods too and from the factory grounds. Factories such as the A. Cutler and Son Furniture Manufacturing Factory, the Buffalo Cooperative Stove Company Foundry, and the Pratt & Letchworth Company Foundry exemplify this trend towards large factory buildings and factory complexes along the Belt Line. However, factories, which lacked direct access to the Belt Line developed near the railroad and made use of it, despite lacking direct access to the tracks. Examples of this include the D. H. Stoll Company Factory at 22 Lansing Street (1911, extant), the Viner and Son Company Factory at 30 Lansing Street (extant), and the Bergman Tool Manufacturing Company Factory at 1573 Niagara Street (extant). A number of similarities, related towards their use of the Belt Line, can be drawn between each company and the design of their factories, and parallels between these factories and those in the Chandler Street Industrial Buildings Historic District are discernable.

The D. H. Stoll Company Factory, the Viner and Son Company Factory, and the Bergman Tool Manufacturing Company Factory all specialized in light industry and the manufacture of a particular product. The D.H. Stoll Company manufactured sheet metal presses and shears for machine shops, while the Viner and Son Company manufactured church organs, and the Bergman Tool Manufacturing Company specialized in hand tools, particularly wrenches and pliers. The specific line of products manufactured by each company streamlined their production process and allowed them to construct smaller manufacturing spaces. Additionally, while none of the factories had rail spurs connecting them to the Belt Line, each was within a quarter-of-a-mile of the railroad tracks, and it appears likely that each company took advantage of this proximity and transported products to the Belt Line via horse carts, or automobiles. Like the factories in the Chandler Street Industrial Buildings Historic District, the aforementioned factory buildings were built with gaps separating them from the nearby buildings. Rather than make use of the full width of their lots, the factories created alleyways wide enough for a cart to pass through. Given the nature of each company’s products, which were likely produced in piecemeal fashion, rather than the bulk production methods that characterized the Acme Malleable Iron Works Foundry and the Pratt & Letchworth Company Foundry, transporting finished products via cart or automobile would have been a viable way to get products to the Belt Line for final distribution.

The D. H. Stoll Company Factory, the Viner and Son Company Factory, and the Bergman Tool Manufacturing Company Factory are representative examples of the types of light industrial buildings that developed in the vicinity of the Belt Line during the early twentieth century. The companies specialized in particular products that benefited from proximity to, but were not dependent on access to the Belt Line. Additionally, they potentially built their factories to permit the flow of carts and later vehicles as they brought materials from and took products to the Belt Line.

Development of the Chandler Street Industrial Buildings Historic District

Between 1902 and 1903, the Jewett Refrigerator Company, Double Truss Cornice Brake Company, and Keystone Manufacturing Company erected the three factories in the Chandler Street Industrial Buildings Historic District. The factories at 27 Chandler Street, 37 Chandler Street, and 41-63 Chandler Street took advantage of the large tracts of available land at Chandler Street, the proximity of the Belt Line, and the transformer house of the Cataract Power & Conduit Company.

Though the three factories in the Chandler Street Industrial Buildings Historic District lacked direct access to the Belt Line, each benefited from the railroad’s presence. The three factories were located near the Belt Line’s Military Road passenger station which allowed workers from across the city to travel to Chandler Street for work. Additionally, proximity to the Belt Line would have allowed the factory owners to use horse carts and later automobiles to transport their products to the railroad tracks and evidence suggests the firms designed their buildings to provide carts easy access. Sanborn maps show none of the factories occupy the full width or depth of their building lots and wide alleyways are present between each. Additionally, imagery of the Keystone Manufacturing Company Factory at 41-63 Chandler Street shows carts and later vans circulating throughout the factory grounds [figure below]. This circulation pattern suggests that the factories in the Chandler Street Industrial Buildings Historic District were designed to permit the flow of carts and automobiles, taking advantage of the Belt Line, despite lacking a direct connection to the railroad.

In addition to the Belt Line, two of companies that developed the factories in the Chandler Street Industrial Buildings Historic District were early adopters of the alternating current provided by Cataract Power & Conduit Company. In locating on Chandler Street all three companies were availed the opportunity of using the electricity, which at that time had to be transported through underground cables, due to a Buffalo city ordinance. By 1903 companies that utilized the power company’s electrical current were localized around the Cataract Power & Conduit Company’s transformer house at 2280 Niagara Street with no company greater than thirty-four miles away from the transformer house. Both the Jewett Refrigerator Company and the Keystone Manufacturing Company utilized the Cataract Power & Conduit Company’s alternating current while the Double Truss Cornice Brake Company utilized a dynamo to generate direct current for its power supply.

Access to and use of alternating current proved to be a boon to the Jewett Refrigerator and Keystone Manufacturing Companies. By using electricity the companies eliminated the need to build a generation room or purchase coal, an acute concern in 1902 due to the ongoing coal miners strike in Pennsylvania. Additionally, utilizing alternating current reduced the risk of a fire, as insulated wires did not kick off sparks a distinct improvement over belt driven steam generators. Executives from the Keystone Manufacturing Company was particularly enthusiastic about using power generated from Niagara Falls and claimed that the only fire in their shop would be the blacksmiths’ forges.

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