Buffalo Innovation – The Grain Elevator

For nearly a half century, Buffalo played host as the world ‘s largest grain port. That ‘s because the building of the Erie Canal created the first direct link from the Atlantic ocean to the Great Lakes via Buffalo ‘s waterfront. Due to the need to transfer grain from Great Lakes ships to canal boats and railcars (as well as weigh and store the grain), grain elevators – massive groupings of connected silos- were invented in Buffalo in 1842 by Joseph Dart. By 1863, approximately 27 grain elevators dotted the waterfront.

Some of those elevators, now more than 100 years old, are in use today for their original purpose. General Mills still produces the Gold Medal brand flour here and many of its popular cereals like Cheerios. Depending on which way the wind is blowing, you can smell the cheerios “baking” in Downtown Buffalo and you may hear Buffalonians say with pride, “my city smells like Cheerios.”

Other elevators, no longer used in industry, are seeing a rebirth of sorts. A local businessman named Rick Smith, known for his iconic cowboy hat, has a vision for bringing new life and innovation to some of these historic structures. A few years ago he purchased four silos and started calling them “Silo City.” His vision and passion caught the attention of national media and it ‘s worth taking a quick look at this feature story on Smith that appeared in Fast Company earlier this year.

A lot of people have been buzzing about one of the projects completed in Silo City. When Smith bought the properties he found a giant bee hive in one of the silos and wanted to preserve a habitat for the bees. He created a competition for college students to team up and design a revolutionary bee hive to be built in the shadows of the old silos. Teams of students from the University at Buffalo ‘s school of architecture competed and one winning design, called Elevator B or Hive City, was chosen and constructed. Hive City stands 22 feet tall and now protects tens of thousands of bees from the elements in a stunning metal structure.

Another rockin ‘ project in the works at one of the old silos is Silo City Rocks. It will provide a world-record setting, unique rock climbing facility in nearly 100 year old silo. It is set to open later in 2014.

One of the most talked about events in Buffalo also takes place in Silo City and is called City of Night. This year it was held on Saturday, June 28. It ‘s estimated that nearly 15,000 people showed up at different parts of the day to soak up the event that bills itself as a way to promote art, culture, sustainability and history by igniting a connection between people and the places around them.

Queen City Ferry offers a guided tour that gives you an up close look at Silo City while learning more about the history of the iconic elevators. Check out the website for tour info and times.

Left City of Night Photo Courtesy: Mark Callen Photography
Right City of Night Photo Courtesy: Nate Schneekloth