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Explore Buffalo: The Larkin District

The Larkin District is one of the shining examples of revitalization in the city of Buffalo.  Explore Buffalo docent, Patra Mangus, provides a bit of history of the neighborhood and the company for which it is named.  Explore Buffalo leads a tour of the Larkin District which we’ll be bringing back to you next Spring!  Explore Buffalo thanks the Zemsky Family Foundation for their support of tours in the Larkin District.

Larkinville is a very intriguing neighborhood. It is the part of Buffalo where industry took root and the city expanded and grew.

As the population of the City of Buffalo grew, people accumulated enough wealth to move away from the waterfront and build homes and churches in clusters. As the density developed, the city limits spread out in areas that became known as wards.  Larkinville is part of what we call the first ward.

The city is divided into parcels called wards, but within those wards are smaller communities like the “Old First Ward” and then there’s a smaller community called “the Valley,” that encompasses parts of South Park, Elk Street, and Seneca Streets, that are located between bridges that rise over railroad tracks that encircle the entire city called “the Beltline.”  Within the “Valley” there is another section named “The Hydraulics” where Larkinville is located, and an even smaller section called “Little Hollywood.”

The city is divided into parcels called wards, but within those wards are smaller communities.

The Hydraulics neighborhood is named for the Buffalo Hydraulic Association, who built the Hydraulic Canal and reservoir along Buffalo Creek by connecting it to the Buffalo River near what is now Gardenville, directing it to Seneca & Swan and creating a faster current to provide water power for industry. This was all done before Buffalo was incorporated as a city. The canal became filled with waste from the many business using it and was eventually filled in after a cholera outbreak infected over 2,500 people in a city of 18,000, killing 877.

The Beltline was created in 1873 from the consolidation of various railroads including the Buffalo, New York and Pennsylvania Railroads, which terminated near the Hydraulics. In 1883 the New York Central Beltline was established with fifteen miles of railroad track circling Buffalo, making the Hydraulics very accessible to the workforce. It also made it possible for raw materials to come into the community and finished product could be sent out. It was the perfect place for a young soap maker to start his first company.

John Durrant Larkin

John D. Larkin was quite the entrepreneur! He began making a bar soap called “Sweet Home” laundry soap. Today it doesn’t sound like much but at that time women made soap in their own homes.  It was hot, dirty work using lye, and dangerous, especially with kids running around. It was a real timesaver for housewives to be able to purchase laundry soap. Each time John developed a new product, he’d build another building to produce that product. The large gray building located at 700 Seneca Street is actually a group of Larkin buildings now connected and called “The Larkin Center of Commerce.” It houses a number of businesses and offices, as well as the Larkin Museum that showcases many Larkin products and premiums, as well as video of production and shipping.

Larkin was the company to work for! John cared for his 2000 employees. He had a doctor and dentist on staff. There was a library to borrow books from. There was a men’s club, a women’s club, a coffee break with pay, a savings account, a marching band, and the company would pay expenses for continuing education.

It’s really appropriate that one of the first businesses to locate in what we now call Larkinville as part of the neighborhood’s renaissance is Flying Bison Brewery. In 1849 William W. Sloan of Belfast Ireland built a new, state of the art brewery & malt house called “Sloan’s Hydraulic Brewery.” It was the largest brewery in the city, and in 1885 produced 3,000 barrels of beer. Buffalo has a history of brewing beer. At its peak, Buffalo had over 20 malters and 29 breweries. Malt, used to produce beer, requires a temperate climate (our weather has four seasons), proximity to water (we have a lake) and grain (we have grain storage elevators) plus we have railroads to ship product out!

Flying Bison started on the West Side of Buffalo. In 2004 Flying Bison installed a full bottling line and became the first standalone brewery in Buffalo since 1962. By 2010 they were bought out by FX Matt in Utica but the terms state Flying Bison will always be made in Buffalo. In 2014, Flying Bison moved into Larkinville.

Today, new construction by Larkin Development Group is taking place on two sites on Seneca Street near Flying Bison, adding more life to the neighborhood in addition to previous projects such as the Larkin at Exchange Building, Larkin Square, Hydraulic Hearth, and Swan Street Diner. Larkinville has a long and proud history, and is a lesson in how a city grows and expands.

Photo Credits:
Chuck LaChiusa/
John D. Larkin photo:

You can discover more local architecture and history by joining an Explore Buffalo tour (tickets can be purchased here), signing up for the weekly email newsletter, which is filled with local history content every Monday, and by following Explore Buffalo on Facebook. In a typical year, more than 80% of Explore Buffalo’s revenue comes from tours, events, and other public programs, all of which were suspended until July 2020. You can help Explore Buffalo to continue its mission of promoting Buffalo architecture and history during this time by:

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Written by Explore Buffalo

Explore Buffalo

Explore Buffalo is a nonprofit organization with a mission of promoting Buffalo and Western New York history, architecture, and neighborhoods through quality education to learners of all ages. Explore Buffalo's volunteer docents lead a wide range of guided tours by foot, bike, bus, kayak, and boat to explore our city's history and architecture; in 2019, more than 25,000 people participated in an Explore Buffalo tour or program. Learn more at

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