The Union Depot on William Street

       By Steve Cichon

If we Buffalonians are great at anything, it’s having the same argument generation after generation.

Even as the final plans were unveiled for a new $20 million Exchange Street train station in April, many who disagree with the site selection have continued to agitate for an East Side location at Buffalo’s Central Terminal.

The first time Buffalonians argued over whether East Buffalo or Exchange Street was the better location for a train station was 146 years ago, in 1873.

In those days, the city’s most active train station was on Exchange Street, on the precise spot where there are plans to erect that new station over the next two years.

In another shade of the familiar, at that time, several railroads combined efforts to build a $100,000 depot at East Buffalo to avoid the necessity of having to back some trains into the downtown station.

Buffalo — and the dozen or so newspapers serving Buffalo — were split over whether the station was a good idea. The Buffalo Express was firmly against. Even as stone masons finished their work on the exterior of the building, the paper reported “a delicious state of uncertainty” surrounding the project.

From 1880 map.

Still, about a year later, in 1874, the Union Depot opened on a spot about where Buffalo’s Central Terminal stands today. On the 1880 map, it stood lonely on the easternmost edge of the city.

The Buffalo Evening Post called it “a perfect model of neatness, beauty and comfort.” The New York Central and Lake Shore railroads were the first to make use of the new depot, which the Post called “not only a convenience but a necessity.”

After several months of operation, there were complaints. The Buffalo Sunday Morning News published an article “exposing the inconveniences to which the traveling public is subjected” with the New York Central lines being moved from the heart of the city to the edge of farm country.

Pressure was applied so that the Erie Railroad wouldn’t make the move to East Buffalo, and improvements at the Buffalo Roundhouse made the question of backing in trains less vital.

The site fell out of favor and was eventually abandoned. By the time an 1894 map was created, the site was labeled “the old New York Central passenger station.”

1894 map.

The Exchange Street/East Side argument continued in the 1920s, with many business owners surrounding the Exchange Street station lobbying hard against the building of a new New York Central terminal on the East Side, saying their business depended on the trains. Many of the hotels and restaurants closed within a few years of the opening at the Central Terminal in 1929.

After nearly a century and a half of discussion, don’t expect the Exchange Street/East Buffalo train battle to go away anytime soon.

It’s a May heatwave, but doesn’t that beat snow?

By Steve Cichon

We hit 91 degrees on May 30, and even the most summer-loving of us saw our patience– and our antiperspirant– tested.

So, here are a few thoughts to try to cool things down– or at least make you a little more thankful for the heat.

It was actually the last week of May in 1942 when Bing Crosby recorded the famous version of White Christmas, so maybe he was dealing with the heat that day, just like we are this week?

June 10, 1980. Sweaters at the pool as snow falls in Buffalo.

As we’re dealing with this sometimes unbearable heat, it’s worth thinking about that it could be snow.

Really, you ask? But yes, the date for Buffalo’s latest snow fall is enough to send a chill down your spine on a blazing hot late May day.

It happened in 1980. It’s an outlier to be sure, but we had snow during the afternoon hours of June 10, 1980.

It’s the only time in the nearly 150 years of weather statistics being kept in Buffalo that we had snow in June, but history shows, it is possible.

The news of snow on June 10, 1980 only garnered little blurbs in both The News and the Courier-Express– and not even a headline! Read the coverage in the Buffalo Evening News and the Courier-Express on Buffalo’s latest snowfall on record:

And of course, it was just three years ago (2015) that it was into August before the largest piles of snow– left over from the Snowvember storm of 2014– were still there outside the Buffalo Central Terminal.

The glacier-like piles were showcased by Channel 2’s Dave McKinley in a story that gained national attention as the July sun roasted in Buffalo.

So, of course, know it could always be worse in the Buffalo weather department.

Torn-Down Tuesday: Train stations of Canalside’s past

By Steve Cichon

There’s $1 million in state money on the table to study the feasibility of a new train station for Buffalo and answer some key questions—chief among them, where it should go.

Since problems at the Exchange Street Amtrak station last year helped ignite talk of the need for a new train station in the city, two potential locations received the most buzz: Canalside at Buffalo Harbor and the former New York Central Terminal on Buffalo’s East Side.

Downtown Buffalo’s current train station. Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News

The Central Terminal’s historic connection to Buffalo’s locomotive past is obvious — it was the city’s main train station for 50 years. But before the shiny Art Deco landmark opened in 1929, the heart of the city’s passenger train service was near the area now known as Canalside.

The New York Central Terminal. Postcard, 1945.

For the 75 years before the current Central Terminal opened, the New York Central Depot was on Exchange Street about where the current train station is.

New York Central Depot, Exchange near Washington St. The bridge in the distance is the Michigan St. Bridge going over Exchange Street and the railroad tracks.

Built in 1854, the depot served passengers until 1929.

On the spot where the Courtyard by Marriott/Philips Lytle building stands today, the Lehigh Valley passenger terminal stood from 1916-1960. When the station opened, it was  it was “a cause for civic celebration,” and “the dreams of years fulfilled.”

Lehigh Valley Terminal, 1959.

At the foot of Main Street stood the Lackawanna Railroad depot. This image is from 1914. Trying to find the spot today, you might leave KeyBank Center at the Sabres Store entrance, and head for the Metro Rail tracks. Just across the tracks at the Harbor Center Metro Rail stop is about where this version of the DL&W Passenger terminal stood.

Lackawanna Railroad Depot, 1914

It was around the time of this photo that DL&W built a palatial passenger terminal and train shed complex in the area that is now across South Park Avenue from the backside of the arena along the Buffalo River.

The passenger terminal portion of the building was torn down, but the train shed building is used to shelter the Metro Rail trains when not in use.

The Canalside site has plenty of history, but very little infrastructure remains. Train tracks and terminals once crisscrossed and filled the area, but they’ve mostly been gone for generations now.

What it looked like Wednesday: Opening Day at Central Terminal, 1929

By Steve Cichon

The throwing open of the doors of Buffalo’s new terminal “mark(ed) another milestone in the progress of the metropolitan city of Buffalo,” wrote reporter Paul Schifferle on the day this photo was taken — June 22, 1929 — opening day of the New York Central Terminal.

The Central Terminal was hailed as “another milestone in the progress of the metropolitan city of Buffalo,” when this photo was taken in 1929. (Buffalo Stories archives)

“This $15,000,000 edifice is more than a mass of steel, marble, brick and concrete artistically formed into a splendid example, of modern architecture, perfectly appointed and recognized as one of the finest terminals in the country,” he continued.

“It is a civic monument and a symbol and pledge of the New York Central’s faith in the future greatness of the city.

“Thousands of men and women, prominent in all walks of life, joined in the colorful ceremonies attendant upon the formal opening of the new station.

“The walks on Lindbergh drive and Curtiss and other streets in the vicinity were crowded with a large number of others who were denied the privilege of entering the spacious and ornately decorated building until 3 o’clock in the afternoon when it was thrown open to the public. Thousands inspected the building during the afternoon and evening.”

Railroad brass and city fathers bragged endlessly about the features of the new building. It had enough lunch counter space to feed 250 people at the same time — dwarfing anything, they said, even at New York City’s Central terminal.

Buffalo Stories archives

Buffalo Stories archives

In bragging about his latest triumph, W. P. Jordan, resident engineer of the New York Central railroad, offered some thoughts which might be useful to those looking to see the former rail hub returned to that purpose.

“The new terminal is so located as to be unusually convenient to access from all parts of the city,” he said. “Indeed, the location is in many ways unique in this respect. In the first place it is near the geographical center of the city, and hence plays no favorites in this respect.”

“In the second place, the location which some critics looked upon as out-of-the-way, carries with it some peculiar advantages, particularly as regards space.

“The site of the building proper — old Polonia Park — Is itself one that offered unusual opportunities to create a terminal that has been created to meet the needs, not only of the Buffalo of today, but also the Buffalo of tomorrow.

“All about it wide avenues are laid, offering approaches from all directions, of a sort that would facilitate the handling of traffic and minimize the confusion, congestion, delay and danger with which so many city terminals have to contend.”

The $15 million building served as a passenger terminal in Buffalo from 1929- 1979.

Buffalo in the ’50s: Train of the future at the Central Terminal

By Steve Cichon

It was General Motors’ new, experimental, lightweight “dream train” on display at the New York Central Terminal in January 1956.

Buffalo News archives

The 10 passenger cars on the train were modified motor coach buses.

Also known as “The Aerotrain,” it was set to go into regular service between Detroit and Chicago later that year.

Hollywood features Buffalo on TV’s Route 66

By Steve Cichon

Flipping through the channels we get over the air without cable, and I saw black & white video that looked like Buffalo’s Central Terminal. Turns out, it was!!

The opening five minutes or so of a 1963 episode of Route 66 was shot inside the New York Central Terminal, with some looks at the surrounding area as well.

Great East Side views!!













The Central Terminal part of this episode was also posted on YouTube some time ago.



April 24, 1999: Is Central Terminal worth saving?

By Steve Cichon

Despite a lack of help and encouragement from government and private developers, community minded folks continued, undaunted, in their efforts to save and revitalize East Buffalo’s New York Central Terminal:

April 24, 1999: Terminal’s clocks get repairs

“Jeff Ingersoll swung in the raw wind outside the broken face of one of the New York Central Terminal clocks Friday, marking the start of a $15,000 project to restore time to the old landmark.

“Ten stories below, his admirers on the ground — a half-dozen preservationists and East Side activists — pointed to Ingersoll’s volunteer assistance on the clock restoration project as another example of the loyalty many people have for the building.”

Buffalo in the ’60s: Will high speed trains soon be barreling through Central Terminal?

By Steve Cichon

Forty-five years after a comfortable high speed rail trip from the Central Terminal, some folks are now wondering if the high-speed rail discussion has once again left the station:

April 21, 1969: TurboTrain shows how nice rail trip can be

“United Aircraft’s TurboTrain … is a vehicle right out of the jet age. It has achieved test speeds up to 170 miles an hour but was held on this trip to 79, the upstate limit set by the Interstate Commerce Commission.”