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WNYRHS HISTORY - PanAm Expo 1901 - Chapter IV

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This is the Second of many historical articles about railroading in the Western New York area, written by Society Historian, Greg Jandura. As more articles are added, old ones will be archived. So sit back, or feel free to print out, and enjoy the rich railway heritage of Western New York.
by: Greg Jandura

"The Railroads Make Extensive Preparations"

       In 1901, the major mode of travel if you had to cover a great distance was the railroad or by steamboat. That new tangle contraption the automobile or horseless carriage which came into being in the United States in the early 1890's would not as yet be owned by the masses. If you traveled locally, it was either by foot, horse, wagon, buggy or streetcar.

The Pan-American Exposition to be a success had to attract visitors from the four comers of the U.S., Canada, Central and South America and the world!

By now, with the World Colombian Exposition (I 893) and the Trans-Mississippi Exposition (I 898) relegated to history, the railroads learned from their past successes and mistakes how to prepare for and make the Pan-American Exposition the best world's fair ever.

As, early as January, 1898 the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad announced improvements to the LaSalle Street Station in Chicago which included a new elaborate long train shed that included additional tracks and switches to handle both anticipated passenger traffic and movement of exhibit materials.

During 1898, work was progressing on securing funding for the exposition, recognition by New York State and the Federal Government, and looking over a number of proposed sites. All this and a host of other problems, which had to be resolved, even while the Spanish-American War was in progress.

As with any major event, you have to advertise. Initially organized in April, 1899, the Pan-Am Publicity Committee by September, 1900, had already 40 people employed full time sending out advertisements to newspapers, periodicals, and also creating pamphlets and posters which were sent to every State in the Union and Province of Canada. The railroads and steamboat lines also would do extensive advertising in all their publications.

Not to overlook the steamboat lines, the Detroit and Cleveland Line announced that their steamers "City of Alpena" and "City of MacKinac" would be lengthened 50 feet over the winter. It should be noted that in October, 1899 Buffalo Merchant's Exchange excursionists returning from Duluth aboard the steamship "Northwest" threw 8 bottles into the various Great Lakes containing the following message "To the Finder - The Pan-American Exposition is to be held at Buffalo, NY from May 1st to October 31st, 1901. Its chief purpose will be to show the commercial progress of the republics of the Western Hemisphere. It will be larger and more beautiful then the World's Fair or Paris Exposition, and no one can afford to miss it. From May I to October 31, 1901, all roads lead to Buffalo. Asked to be dropped off there.

It may to be your advantage to send this note to the Pan-American Exposition Company at Buffalo, NY with a report of the circumstances of your finding it. Also please notify the newspapers of your town and city."

To get people to travel to the Exposition, a major concern was the price of a ticket to get there. While the steamboat lines agreed to reduce their transportation rates as early as 1899, the major trunk line railroads and various regional traffic associations would be haggling over this with The Pan-American Exposition Company right up to opening day and well into the summer of 1901. Railroads did not officially get involved with the Pan-American until early 1899 with the problem of site selection. The leading location was "The Front" or Front Park which included land and waterfront. The major obstacle was the New York Central & Hudson River Railroads Belt Line which would go right through the fairgrounds at grade. Not only were there over a hundred trains a day, but visitors would have to contend with whistles, bells, and smoke from locomotives. This would never be acceptable.

In May 1898 the "Wilgus Plan" was presented by NYC&HR Chief Civil Engineer William J. Wilgus, proposing that the Belt Line tracks between Hudson Street and Porter Avenue be temporarily elevated at a cost of between $60,000 and $120,000. This depended upon if a wooden trestle, or one of concrete facades, to blend in with the exposition grounds and buildings allowing for free unimpeded passage by pedestrians. The railroad would not blow whistles or ring bells when passing over this site and would use anthracite instead of soft coal to lessen the smoke. The other alternative was to relocate the railroad tracks. All costs would be born by the City of Buffalo and the Pan American Exposition Company. A permanent elevated structure could run up to $429,000.

Fortunately, the Rumsey Site where the exposition would be held was chosen in May, 1898 and the depot placed on the inside of the northern segment of the Belt Line. To allow access into the exposition grounds by other major railroads, "The Central agreed in June, 1899 to have two tracks laid along its right of way besides the American Radiator Works, the tracks to be used by the Erie, Lackawanna, Lehigh Valley and others in approaching the grounds. Both the Erie and Lackawanna railroad tracks being north of the Central tracks. Halfway between Elmwood Avenue and Delaware Avenue there will be an overhead crossing or subway for these tracks to get to the grounds without a grade crossing. (30)

       The depot site was now established with connecting railroad. Access events would be unfolding at a steady pace over the next two years until opening day on May 1, 1901. In June, 1899 the Cotton Belt Railroad sent in the first bid for 2,500 feet of exhibition space. August, 1899, Chief Engineer Wilgus proposed that the Terminal Station have 14 tracks for use by all railroads and a station exhibit floor area of 15,000 feet. By November of 1899, all but two trunk line railroads have signed an agreement to allow all exhibits to be returned to point of origin free of charge provided that applicable tariff rate was paid to exposition from point of origin and no change of owner. Temporary rails will be laid in the pavement from the Belt Line tracks to the various buildings to bring in exhibits. These tracks will be covered over, and then uncovered at end of the exposition.

Events were now rapidly unfolding as we begin 1900 and the countdown to May 1, 1901. Herewith is a chronology of important railroad events:

APRIL, 1900

Buffalo Street Railway Company request permission from Buffalo Common Council to lay a third track on the east side of Main Street, between Seneca and North Division Streets to properly handle Pan-American crowds.

The Pullman Palace Car Company is making preparations to send an exhibit of their Palace Cars to the Pan-American Exposition.

MAY, 1900

International Traction Company, New York Central, West Shore, Lake Shore, Michigan Central, Nickel Plate, DL&W, Erie, Grand Trunk, Pennsylvania subscribe $290,000 into Pan-Am Exposition Stock.

AUGUST, 1900

Buffalo Street Railway Company begins laying tracks at southwest comer of Elmwood Avenue and Amherst Street to hold between 200 and 300 empty trolley cars during the Exposition.

Nearly 300 members of National Association of Railway Passenger Agents to meet in Buffalo in October. They will be appealed to for low passenger rates to the Exposition to encourage travelers.


Large Contingent OF DL&W Traffic Department officials from all points on railroad tour exposition grounds and prepare for large scale advertising campaign.


Annual national meeting of American Association of General Passenger and Ticket Agents held in Buffalo. Representatives and families from U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

One million labels, Pan-American official logo, to be applied on express parcels by United States Express Company at all stations nationwide.

New York Central proposes that a new and larger depot be built at Terrace Street to relieve anticipated Congested at Exchange Street. Crosstown Street Railway Company at own expense is granted permission by Buffalo Common Council to lay temporary tracks on several streets in North Buffalo to handle additional traffic.

New York Central and Erie Railroads agree on joint construction and use of terminal facilities on Exposition grounds. 9 tracks with platforms will be built by Exposition costing around 25,000.

New York Central booms the fair. Publishes "Four Track Series" Pan American Express. (15)

Lehigh Valley Railroad spending about $50,000 by replacing old freight shed with a new larger one, and extending Scott Street station and laying additional tracks.


Erie Railroad Station at Michigan and Exchange Streets to received $55,000 facelift. Newly remodeled enlarged ticket office and waiting room, baggage and express area, and two newly built platforms under awnings with relaid tracks.

Nickel Plate Road orders 20 passenger coaches and 12 new locomotives costing $275,000 combined. All wooden bridges along the line are being replaced by steel, and a new steel bridge over 18 Mile Creek is being jointly built with Pennsylvania Railroad.


Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railway traffic department officials visit Exposition grounds. Missouri Pacific and Illinois Central Railroads to promote Pan-American Exposition with advertisements in their travel folders.

Pennsylvania Railroad civil engineers making preliminary assessments on grade elimination and curve reductions along Buffalo and Allegheny Divisions.

Nickel Plate Road passenger agents visit Buffalo and Exposition.


Grand Trunk Railroad officials visit Exposition grounds. Will heavily promote one-day excursions from throughout Ontario.

Pennsylvania Railroad to inaugurate two solid vestibule trains daily from Philadelphia to Buffalo beginning in February.

Belt Line trains to operate at 5-minute intervals during Exposition.

Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad will be running two trains daily from Pittsburgh via Ashtabula and Erie via the Nickel Plate.


Joint freight agent office established with headquarters temporarily in Transportation Building.

Grand Trunk Railroad putting on two new passenger trains between New York City and Chicago.

MARCH, 1901

Empire State Express to operate in two sections. The second section stopping only at Albany with passengers bound for Buffalo.

Pittsburgh, Bessemer & Lake Erie to reach Buffalo by way of Pittsburgh & Western Railroad and the Nickel Plate.

New York Central to run trains direct to Exposition by way of Terrace Street temporary switch track for back and forth operation every 5 minutes instead of around the city. Long distance excursion trains will bypass downtown Buffalo. Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo threatens lawsuit over Terrace Street center property line. Diocese purchased property for cathedral, rectory and school. Additional train noise and smoke will make property useless. New York Central abandons idea, and all trains to Exposition will go by way of East and North Buffalo, not touching the city proper.
(32, 33, 34)

DL&W special train brings 181 newspaper men-publishers, editors and reporters-to Buffalo from New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Chicago & Northwestern Railroad officials arrive in Buffalo via Michigan Central to tour Buffalo and Exposition grounds.

15 carloads of timber, agricultural and horticultural products coming from Oregon.

DL&W sending a full train comprised of a locomotive, baggage car, parlor car, coach, freight and coal car. Exposition officials are discouraging the wealthy from coming in own private railroad cars. No facilities available to service their "private varnish".

General baggage agents on all railroads serving Buffalo agree on a uniform system to handle parcels expeditiously.

APRIL, 1901

International Traction Company now has 800 trolley cars in service. This is 350 more then one year ago when 450 were in service.

300 Native Americans arrive by train over the Wabash from the west to take part in the Pan-American Exposition. The 300 Native Americans and their 200 horses arrived in two coaches with three cattle cars. Eventually 10,000 Native Americans will be here to take part in an International Congress.


28. "Notes In Bottles" Buffalo Morning Express, 1st, October, 1899.
29. "Wilgus on The Front" Buffalo Morning Express, 5th, May 1899.
30. "Terminal Station" Buffalo Morning Express, 24th, June, 1899.
31. "Railway Terminal At Exposition" Buffalo News, 23rd, Oct. 1900.
32. "Central Wasn't Bluffing" Buffalo Morning Express, 9th, March 1901.
33. "Diocese VS. Railroad" Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, 8th, March, 1901
34. "Central Gives Up" Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, 7th, May 1901.

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