It’s hard to imagine what Buffalo was like more than 100 years ago. The city’s rich history is well documented in galleries, museums, through renovations of turn-of-the century buildings and architectural landmarks. But to really appreciate the past, sometimes you have to surround yourself with it. For a mere $40 ($35 for students and Explorer pass holders) and a pair of comfortable shoes strapped to my feet, that’s exactly what I did when I climbed inside two of the oldest grain elevators in the United States.
I had a little help of course. The folks from Explore Buffalo have put together some pretty incredible tours, one of which is a Silo City Vertical Tour that takes you 100 feet up and into a part of Buffalo’s past. One might not consider the inner workings of a 109-year-old grain elevator particularly intriguing, but after spending two and a half hours with Explore Buffalo tour guides Ron and Helen and six new-found history-seeking friends, I had a much different perspective.
With flashlights and smartphones in hand we stood in the middle of four concrete giants, each of us looking up in complete awe of their towering presence. We were transported back to 1906 when Buffalo was the world’s largest grain port. We steadily climbed to the top of “American,” the first and oldest grain elevator in Buffalo. The vantage point from the top is breathtaking – offering sweeping views of the Buffalo River and the entirety of Silo City and Elevator Alley. After we snapped tons of photos so that we could show our friends, we then walked across a covered bridge connecting American to the smaller “Perot” complex and malt house where barley was once malted for beer. The entire time we eagerly listened to anecdotes about the methods used to store, tend to and transfer grain. We heard stories about grain mill workers who dedicated their lives to the industry and worked hard, often in dangerous conditions to make a life for themselves and their families.
I’ve lived my entire life in Buffalo and probably like many others I have found myself driving that familiar stretch of the interstate with a clear view, but very little perspective of what is now called “Silo City.” After seeing and feeling such an important part of history, and standing in the exact footsteps of the people who helped transform this city into what it is today – now it’s a different story.
Check out the tours Explore Buffalo has to offer. I guarantee it will change your perspective on the Buffalo you thought you knew.