From 1880 to Today: East Buffalo Cattle Yards were ‘finest’ in U.S.

       By Steve Cichon

“The livestock business has come to be one of the most important, if not the most important, business now transacted in Buffalo,” read the front page of the Buffalo Morning Express in 1873.

The Buffalo Stockyards.

Buffalo’s location as a rail center located halfway between midwestern ranches and eastern population centers caused the numbers of cattle, sheep, hogs and horses grow exponentially through the 1860s and 1870s.

The stockyards grew up around the East Buffalo tracks of the New York Central Railroad, and the railroad was the original owner and operator of the yards.

Railroad control helped insure “comfortable and safe housing of all livestock” plus “prompt and efficient transportation facilities,” according to a 1903 Buffalo Times article which called the East Buffalo yards “the finest in the United States of America,” with room for 100,000 animals.

The yards ran along William Street, in an area covered today in part by the William Street Post Office and former mail processing center.

Buffalo Stockyards. 1880 map.

At the height of livestock trading in Buffalo, only Chicago’s stockyards were bigger than Buffalo’s. As many as 15,000 cattle passed through the East Buffalo yards each Monday morning. By the early 1980s, those numbers had dwindled to as few as 300 hogs and 75 cattle each week.

The Buffalo Livestock Yards closed for good in 1983.

What it looked like Wednesday: Buffalo’s Stockyards, 1937

By Steve Cichon

One of the less-celebrated and remembered industries of Buffalo’s past is livestock trading. In the 1880s, the East Buffalo Stockyards made Buffalo the world’s second largest livestock market.

Buffalo News archives

About 100 acres of Buffalo’s East Side was dedicated to the livestock trade. For decades, every day thousands of animals made their way to and from Buffalo between their time on the farm and the table.

Buffalo’s place next to Chicago as a hub for the trade of livestock was sealed when the New York Central and Erie railroads created a more efficient animal delivery framework in 1864.

The pens and pockets between the New York Central tracks and William Street had capacity for 35,000 hogs, 40,000 sheep and 25,000 cattle. The each year of the 1890s saw about one million cattle, 5 million hogs, 2.5 million sheep and 75,000 horses pass though.

Much of Buffalo’s early wealth was derived somehow in the trading of animals. Virgil Bailey, after whom Bailey Avenue was named, was a horse trader. The Larkin Empire started when John D. Larkin came to Buffalo in 1875 to make use of the fat rendered from animal slaughter in the making of soap. The iconic Sahlen’s hot dog, still made on Buffalo’s East Side, can trace its lineage back to the Sahlen and Roland Meat Packing Company founded in 1869.

The Stockyards gave way to the William Street Post Office in the late 1950s, and in 1964 — 100 years after centrally organizing the stockyards on William Street — the New York Central closed its East Buffalo Stockyards station and got out of the livestock business in Buffalo.

Some spinoff industries, like leather tanning, left when the railcars mostly stopped. Other spinoff industries, like Sahlen’s Meat Packing and others, continue on Buffalo’s East Side to this day.