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Part II

By: Greg Jandura

         The Lehigh Valley entered in Buffalo in 1869 by way of trackage rights over the Erie Railroad using the later's depot at Michigan and Exchange streets. By 1892 the Lehigh Valley had its own rail line into Buffalo. "The old "Noye Building" at the corner of Scott and Washington streets was acquired. It was dismantled and the upper stories taken off. A new front was put up 30 feet from the street. The first floor being converted to passenger waiting rooms and the two upper floors made into office space for railroad officials." (9)

         Between 1890 and 1900, there were spasmodic movements concerning better station and terminal facilities, all having the idea of a union terminal. Indianapolis and St. Louis had union terminals and why not Buffalo? During those early stages, Chief Engineer William Wilgus of the New York Central seems to have made a study and prepared a suggestion of a Union station built about on the site where Buffalo Central Terminal would later stand. It evoked protests, whirls of them with the result that for the next 30 years no one dared as much as seriously propose an East Buffalo location. (10)

         During the Pan-American Exposition year of 1901 as might be expected, railroad stations and terminals again came to the forefront. 8,120,048 visitors would eventually pass through the Exposition gates. The major railroad stations would be choked beyond capacity that Summer and early Autumn on a daily basis with the arrival and departure of several hundred thousand visitors to Buffalo in addition to the normal everyday passenger traffic. In February 1899, Mr. Robert B. Adam, Chairman of the Grade Crossing Commission sets the wheel in motion for securing improved depot facilities in Buffalo with correspondence to all railroad companies requesting that a general conference be held on the matter. Subsequently, the Union Station Company is incorporated in Albany for 99 years in March, 1899. Allowing no time to elapse, preliminary plans for a Union Depot are unanimously approved by the Grade Crossing Commission in April. "Designed by noted Buffalo architect Thomas A. Hyland, plans call for a building 200 x 625 feet costing an enormous sum of money on nearly 3 acres of property bounded by Main, Exchange, Washington and Scott Streets containing 125,000 square feet of space. The Ellicott Square Building at Main and South Division streets covers only 50,000 square feet of space. It will be of modern Renaissance architecture six stories high with a mansard roof. It will serve all steam railroads and all city and suburban lines of the International traction Company including Niagara Falls, Lockport, and Lancaster and all other city and suburban lines. The Union station would have a 320 foot clock tower, surmounted by a 20 foot statue. It will have a waiting room larger than Grand Central Terminal in New York City, Michigan Central station in Chicago or that of Boston's South Terminal, In the center of it would be a magnificent electric fountain extending to the skylight. Amenities incorporated into the design include 22 retail stores, a 300 room hotel, and a carriage concourse." (11)

         Endorsing such an endeavor as to why the city of Buffalo needs its long-sought Union Station, an editorial, Buffalo's Railroad Stations, They Are Behind The Times," appeared in the June 18, 1899 "Buffalo Times" addressing the seriousness of the situation, "At present Buffalo has the poorest railroad accommodations of any city of its size in the country and four of its five depots (Figure 1) would be a disgrace to any city one-tenth the size of this city. The other one might be good enough for Tonawanda but certainly not for a railroad center the size of Buffalo."

         The majority of the depots in the city have only one street car line approaching them and as no one line takes in two depots, a slow and exasperating system of transferring has become necessary to reach the different railway terminals. If, on the other hand, all of the different railroads entered the city at the same depot it would be possible to have every street car run to that depot, and this the company proposes to do when the Union station is built.

         As the Lackawanna, Erie, Grand Trunk, New York Central and Lehigh Valley depots are now conducted, it is, in most cases by crossing tracks, with luggage in hand, at the risk of life or limb, that a passenger can reach the train he desires to take and when it is reached it is necessary to ask the brakeman, or other employee the destination of the train to make sure that it is the right one. According to the plans of the Union Depot Company, the trains departing will be plainly marked and it will also be possible to reach any train without crossing the tracks of any sort.

         The improvement in appearance at least that will be brought about by the construction of the proposed Union Station is sufficient to warrant the City of Buffalo giving the now dormant Hamburg Canal site as they ask. The present dilapidated buildings would be done away and the new structure would be one of which any city would feel proud...the city will be in a comparatively few years be repaid for the land donated by the taxes it can collect from it and the building built on it."

         The New York Central & Hudson Railroad, being the most dominant carrier in the city never really endorsed the idea of sharing a depot with a rival railroad between New York City and Buffalo let alone share facilities that would be injurious to their unrivaled Western connections. A prominent officer of the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad was not inclined to think that there was not little prospect of a Union Terminal Station being built very soon. "In 1888, he said, "This matter was considered and plans were drawn up for the incorporation of a Union Terminal Company. The different railroad companies were asked to contribute their terminal properties to the Terminal Company, asking them for stock to the extent of their appraised value of their holdings. The fatal objection was that some of the railroads, I need not mention any names, would consent to do this unless they were given an equal amount of stock with companies which contributed a great deal more property. It was though a man holding ten dollars worth of stock demanded equal representation with the one whom had $1,000 invested." (13)

         In 1906 the first definite program for a Union Station deemed in keeping with the city and its needs was launched by Architect George Cary during the administration of Mayor Erastus Knight. The plan was dazzling, but its enemies got busy and attacked it along the lines of what it would cost the city. The Cary plan called for the station located in the area of The Terrace and Niagara Square, the development of a Civic Center and the square and piers for passenger boats in the vicinity of Georgia Street.

         Businessmen on lower Main Street and Seneca Street who wished passenger terminals to remain in their Exchange Street location, got busy. Plans were evolved and hearings held all directed towards instead obtaining a first class station at the Exchange Street location. To these demands the railroads countered with the claim there was not the space! They then organized what was known as the Joint Terminal Committee of the Chamber of Commerce and other business organizations. It had little if any clout in dealing with the railroads. It sought interviews with railroad officials and at one notable meeting in New York City they conferred with the executives of all the railroads entering Buffalo to try to push its agenda. That meeting seemed to finally convince the committee that it couldn't get anywhere if it lacked authority.

         Along about 1908 the New York State Public Service commission began to function. The Joint Terminal Committee proceeded to again try its luck. It made complaint against the New York Central, charging it with having inadequate station facilities. This effort was to compel the Central to improve its station and of course the object was the bringing about of the building of a new station on Exchange Street. The railroad still contended there was not sufficient ground for a station to meet their future needs.

         The Public Service Commission determined that the Joint Terminal Committee engage an architectural engineer to make a downtown station layout. George H. Kimball was chosen. The Kimball plans were the center of controversy for several years. They met the requirements providing for a station along Exchange Street between Michigan Street and Main street and tracks for the handling of passenger coaches in the vicinity of Georgia Street.

         Before the Kimball plans went any further, President Underwood of the Erie Railroad had declared that his road would not join in a Union Station and President Truesdale of the Lackawanna Railroad took the same position for his road. The Lehigh Valley Railroad had obtained possession of the old Hamburg Canal strip and seemed to go ahead with its own plans. There were hearings in the Buffalo Common Council chamber, and efforts in many directions by the Joint Terminal Committee and citizens, all got nowhere in particular.

         In 1911, Democrats got control of Albany and John A. Dix was Governor. Members of the Joint Terminal Committee conceived the idea of enlisting the service of William H. Fitzpatrick, prominent local Democratic leader, and getting through in Albany a bill creating a body with powers to deal with the terminal and station situation in Buffalo. There was opposition, but the movement was successful and the Buffalo Terminal Commission was created. The commission had its difficulties and had to go through a period of litigation before the validity of the act creating it was established.

         The unwillingness of the railroads to unite on a common passenger terminal caused the commission to deal with them individually. The popularity of the Union Station idea was on the wane. The first agreement put through by the commission was with the Lackawanna Railroad which resulted in the Lackawanna Station and docks at the foot of Main Street in 1916. (The Buffalo, Rochester & Pittsburgh Railway, New York, Chicago & St. Louis Railroad and Wabash Railroads shifted their passenger operations to this station). Then followed the Lehigh Valley Railroad Station bounded by Main, Washington, Scott and Quay streets in 1917. Both monumental buildings replacing original structures in use since these railroads first entered Buffalo.

         A third agreement brought about new freight terminals for the Pennsylvania Railroad. A new railroad station at Black Rock for the Canadian railroads entering Buffalo also resulted from the commissions efforts. Negotiations with the New York Central were well underway when the country entered the World War and control of the railroads was taken over by the Federal Government (U. S. Railroad Administration). Not much could be done until the government relinquished control and the railroads began to recover their financial footing. (10)

         With the start of the 1920's the city of Buffalo and the New York Central Railroad didn't seem anywhere close to resolving the four decades old problem of erecting a suitable railroad passenger facility to serve the traveling public. Although placing the major station on the city's East Side was a forbidden topic of discussion as it was simply too far out to reach by horse and buggy on dirt roads in the early days. Events nonetheless gravitated towards this end as the only solution, helped along with the advent of paved roads and the automobile providing easy access. Buffalo Central Terminal would be only 2.5 miles from the downtown business district.

         If you take a look at the railroad passenger stations of the New York Central Railroad in the major cities across New York State and west to Chicago, for the most part they were built downtown or within reasonable walking distance. Had the New York Central Railroad mainline been more northerly from Rochester by way of Medina-Lockport Junction, Tonawanda-Buffalo, 83 miles distance, there's no doubt that downtown Buffalo would have been be on the mainline and a magnificent Exchange street Depot would have been built decades ago. This would also have benefitted the rail lines west of Buffalo along both shores of Lake Erie. Instead, the straighter, shorter more direct route, 68 miles distance, by way of Batavia was chosen. We were a victim of circumstance!

         Change however, was gaining momentum. In 1921, the New York Central Railroad set forth a proposal to build a new main station on Exchange Street and a subsidiary station in East Buffalo at Curtiss and William Streets. They would be connected by a shuttle train service. This proposal never got beyond the planning stage. The following year, 1922, the New York Central announced plans to build a passenger terminal of a modernized classical design in the Clinton-Eagle-Emslie Street area. The location was perfect. Both the Erie Railroad and Pennsylvania would be invited to jointly use the facility located on the Central's "Lines West" main line. It would be located a little over a mile from Lafayette Square on a major artery which would be widened. There would be ample room for sufficient tracks and platforms with future expansion in mind. A secondary smaller depot would be built at Exchange and Washington Streets with a plaza approach on Main Street between the existing New York Central tracks and Lehigh Valley Station. Passenger trains originating or terminating in Buffalo, as well as Michigan Central through trains and commuter trains would use this facility.

         Unfortunately, the Buffalo City Planning Committee objected to this proposal as they planned to develop Clinton street as a big traffic outlet to the east. A 700 foot long viaduct would have to be built to carry Clinton street over the railroad yard and The city didn't have the money for such a project. In addition, Eagle, North and South Division, Emslie, Lord, and Smith streets would be permanently closed. Here was another golden opportunity lost. The following year of 1923, legislation was enacted in Albany creating the Grade Crossing and Terminal Station Commission (more commonly referred to the in the press as the Grade Crossing and Terminal Commission). In 1888 "A Grade Crossing Commission was created by an act of the state legislature to coordinate city and railroad plans and responsibilities and to decide how costs would be shared in eliminating the crossings that were clogging traffic and threatening public safety." (14)

         Eighteen individuals served on the Grade Crossing and Terminal Commission including William H. Fitzpatrick, Chairman; William E. Robertson, Vice-Chairman; Daniel J. McKenzie, Secretary; George H. Norton, Chief Engineer; DeWitt Clinton, Attorney; Francis X. Schwab, Ex-Officio; William F. Schwartz, Ex-Officio; Alfred A. Berrick; William J. Connors; William H. Crosby; Henry M. Gerrans; Elmer E. Harris; Henry D. Kirkover; William W. Reiley; William T. Roberts; William H. Ryan; James Smith and Patrick E. Streich.

         Entering our story is Patrick Edward Crowley, a native Western New Yorker, born in Cattaraugus County in 1864, who rose through the ranks employed in various railroad positions, beginning first as a messenger with the Erie Railroad. He assumed the Presidency of the New York Central in 1924, serving in that capacity until 1931. It was during these six years that powerful locomotive were introduced, the (2-8-4) "Berkshire" for hauling freight, and the (4-6-4) "Hudson," hauling the railroads passenger trains. His legacy would also include impressive Union Terminals in both Cleveland and Cincinnati.

         In 1925, with NYC President Crowley at the throttle, it was full steam ahead after 45 years of patiently waiting that a suitable railroad depot to serve the City Of Buffalo would be built. representing the New York Central Railroad, President Crowley appointed both R. E. Dougherty, Engineering Assistant to the Vice-President as the liaison man between the city and the railroad, and William F. Jordan, Chief Field Engineer. Events would gradually unfold, continuing over the next four years leading to the construction, completion and opening of the magnificent Buffalo Central Terminal. These years however, would not be without additional agitation, controversy and uncertainty. Two depots would have to be simultaneously considered, the primary one on the East Side, and a secondary one, honoring a 999 year agreement of always maintaining a presence in downtown Buffalo. Construction of the East Side Terminal could not formally begin until there was a written agreement concerning construction specifics and exact placement of both the Downtown Station and East Side Terminal. The Downtown Station would be a sticking point.


-Work on the removal of the West Shore embankment creating a new diagonal street linking Fillmore Avenue a major north-south artery with Broadway, a major east-west route, will begin weather permitting. (Originally called Lindburgh Drive, it was "later changed to Paderewski Drive and finally Memorial Drive). Ground is to be broken for the new station at Curtiss and Lovejoy Streets on April 15th.
         March -Polonia Park, a tract of land between Curtiss and Lovejoy Streets owned by the Buffalo Board of Education as the intended site of the Peckham Vocational School needs to be acquired by the railroad. The new depot costing $10 million will be called the "Fillmore Station." Once the new station is built downtown, the tracks will be removed from the Terrace and relocated onto the bed of the old abandoned Erie Canal. The Lehigh Valley Station between Main Street and Washington Street is also being looked at quite favorably for joint use as the Downtown Station.
         June -President Crowley tells the Grade Crossing and Terminal Commission that work will begin on the East Side Terminal by Sept 1, 1925, to be completed in 1927. The Downtown Station will be completed by September 1, 1928. The Buffalo City Council next conducts hearings on the proposal.
         December -Many members of the Grade Crossing and Terminal Commission go public that they are in the dark as to the New York Central station plans. William H. Fitzpatrick, Chairman of the Terminal Commission is conducting the majority of negotiations in New York City with the Central instead of in Buffalo.


-William F. Jordan, one of the foremost railroad civil engineers in the United States, employed by the New York Central Railroad, it was announced, will be the Field Engineer in charge of building the new East Side Terminal. His impressive credentials include Grand Central Station and the Castleton Cut-Off Bridge spanning the Hudson River. Station construction is to begin in early 1927 to be completed in 1928. Most of 1926 will be concerned with property acquisition, reconstruction of the infrastructure, and the extension of the William Street viaduct westward to permit additional track construction. Paving of the new street leading to the Terminal will be undertaken and completed in the spring of 1927.
         February -Buffalo Mayor Francis X. Schwab with city residents in mind does not want to just give the Erie Canal to the railroad for nothing, although it has no other viable use or much monetary value. As a delaying tactic, he's now questioning the legality of the Commission as legislation is pending in Albany giving the Public Service Commission and the state Superintendent of Public works state wide authority and jurisdiction over grade crossing elimination. Twenty businessmen's organizations and Albany lawmakers however go on record backing the Grade crossing and Terminal Commission and its work to date. Special situations in Buffalo, Syracuse, and New York City warrant a regional entity. Meanwhile, the land swap involving Polonia Park goes through with the Buffalo Board of Education getting property for a vocational school to be built at the corner of Sycamore Street and Koons Avenue. (The Peckham Vocational School changes it's name to Emerson Vocational School in 1937). Although there's no Downtown Station contract in sight, the New York Central Railroad; Grade Crossing and Terminal Commission; and City of Buffalo not wanting further delays, reach a formal agreement with a "certificate of consent" regarding the Curtiss Street site. The railroad will build the station, make changes to streets and approaches, in order to adapt the tracks to the stations need, build sewers, water lines, and other needed public utilities, and both the city and railroad will fully co-operate which each other.
         March -The Johnson Construction Company on the 30th, has laborers starting to clear the Terminal site. 50 or more houses and buildings will have to be demolished. A two-family house at 889 William Street is the first to come down. Mrs. Joseph Kawolski and her family have to be evicted. Reluctant to move because of their financial situation, the railroad moves the family free of charge, pays two months rent for another place and gives them a large basket of groceries. International Railway Company (IRC) track gangs will tear up 800 feet of William Street rails between Curtiss Street and Fillmore Avenue while General Electric will take down the catenary wire and poles followed by the Buffalo Streets Department ripping up the pavement. A stub line will be installed to handle street car traffic from Fillmore Avenue to the city line.
         July -William Street closed since April 1st for the subway (underpass) extension reopens on the 24th of July. The original underpass built in 1895 is extended about 230 feet to be aligned with the main line tracks. With concrete abutments in place, an adjacent bridge will be built for the lead tracks into the American Railway Express building.
         August -The Lehigh Valley Station site is in the news again, one of a dozen being proposed for a downtown station.
         September -80% of some 90 buildings have been torn down. Additional ones will have to be removed in the widening of Lovejoy Street. The West Shore Railroad embankment has been cleaned away between Peckham and Lovejoy Streets and new tracks have been laid up to the William Street subway. The 36 inch water mains are connected, but sewer work was slowed because of rock encountered.
         October -The Grade Crossing and Terminal Commission is to hold public hearings pursuant to the New York Central's placing of track in the abandoned Erie Canal bed west of Main Street to the harbor frontage tracks at the foot of Georgia Street. At the same time, Buffalo Mayor Schwab will oppose such a move.
         November -Buffalo Mayor Schwab informs the City Council that he will abandon his opposition to the abandoned canal if the Grade Crossing and Terminal Commission buries the tracks in a tunnel with a boulevard on top. Meanwhile, the framework for the new platforms and freight shed of the American Railway Express Company on Curtiss Street is practically completed.
         December -The Buffalo City Council will hold a public hearing to hear from those allied with the Mayor and against the use of the abandoned canal. William F. Jordan believes that once Spring comes in 1927, work will begin on the new station to be known as "Buffalo Central Terminal," which will be one of Buffalo's beauty spots and a lasting monument to President Crowley. Why the name: The new station will serve the New York "Central" Railroad, will be at the City of Buffalo's geographic "Center," and is located at a "Central" point linking "Lines East" (New York City) with "Lines West" (Chicago).

       Continuing his fight with the Terminal Commission, Mayor Schwab through City Corporation Counsel, William S. Rann resorts to the courts to get a copy of the tentative Downtown Station plans and track arrangement. The Grade Crossing and Terminal commission responds that these blueprints are not ready. Believing that property title to the canal should remain with the municipality, and with proponents and opponents on both sides of the issue, the Mayor calls for voters to decide in a referendum. A big showdown is coming.

End of Part II - go to:  Part I   Part III   Part IV

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