Silo City

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They serve as a monument to a bygone era; monolithic structures standing by the water’s edge waiting for freighters that will no longer come. Today, all except a few of these enormous buildings are abandoned and serve the industry for which they were designed. Despite their decrepit state many now flock to these silos uncovering Buffalo’s history; repurposing these massive silos as a place for learning and artistic expression

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At one time in Buffalo’s history, the grain elevators dominated the skyline of the waterfront and served as a symbol of Buffalo’s industrial importance as the largest supplier of grain in the world. Although a shadow of its former self, the grain industry is still hanging on to a slight degree. Cereal is still manufactured in the elevators and plants owned by General Mills, and flour is still produced in several of the elevators that are dedicated to milling rather than shipment. But like many of the industries that once thrived in Buffalo, the grain elevators remain as a testament to an industry that once flourished — and then moved on into history.

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I learned about Preservation Buffalo Niagara when I was researching ‘things to do in Buffalo’. I knew about Buffalo’s historical legacy in terms of urban development and architecture but didn’t know much about it’s industrial significance. ‘Up the Grain Elevator’ was a tour that allowed me access into this ‘Concrete Atlantis’; an urban exploration where I was given the opportunity to climb, crawl and discover the in-and-out’s of these massive structures.

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The tour took us through all the different stages of processing grain from the design of the elevator. We saw where the steam-driven belts were located which used to have buckets attached to it. We learned that as the belt with the buckets were lowered into the hold of a ship, the buckets would scoop up the grain and hoist it up into the structure where it was dropped into tall bins. This is where the term ‘elevator’ originated because this is exactly what the process did. It elevated the grain from the ship and stored it in bins until it was lowered for shipment for for milling purposes.

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Now, these buildings which used to hold millions of tons of grain are now hollow and empty. There have been several challenges to revitalizing this area due to cost and funding. But despite it’s segregated location along the river, there are signs that life is being brought back to this place of vitality. Art installations, events and plays are now bringing people back to this area for entertainment. This organic exploration of the human creative is bring a new sense of purpose to the site.

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