The Erie Canal shipyard that’s now an I-190 on-ramp

       By Steve Cichon

Heading north from Canalside toward the Peace Bridge, the I-190 was built in the bed of the Erie Canal.

Erie Canal at the foot of Virginia Street, 1883.

It’s difficult to imagine a ride along the Erie Canal, with some of today’s landmarks there with the old waterway. You’d be floating north past the Channel 7 studios, then Genesee Street going right up to the edge of the water, then the BlueCross BlueShield headquarters, then Court Street going right up to the edge of the water – but that’s what it would have looked like if the canal was magically put back in the spot where it once sat.


The shipbuilding yard of George Notter was at the foot of Virginia Street, where Virginia met the canal. This 1883 photo shows Notter’s shipyard, the Erie Canal, and the strip of land between the canal and the water.

Today, the spot once occupied by the Notter building is about where the Niagara Street northbound on-ramp to the I-190 starts to curve. The canal is paved over with the Niagara Extension of the Thruway, and the strip of land with small houses to the right is now LaSalle Park.

Torn-Down Tuesday: When the Erie Canal wandered through the West Side

By Steve Cichon

Many Buffalonians know that the Erie Canal started in Buffalo — at the old Aud site at Canalside. Where it went from there is a little less well-known, but even easier to picture — the canal bed as it ran through the Lower West Side is essentially paved over for a very familiar roadway. Between Erie Street (next to the old Aud site) and Porter Street (next to the Peace Bridge), the Erie Canal ran on the path of what is now I-190.

The Canal was part of life on the Lower West Side, but not in the “low bridge” and “mule named Sal” sense. It was, for intents, a garbage dump. An illegal dump, but a dump nonetheless.

The garbage-filled waterway is the long-defunct Erie Canal in this 1938 photo. City Hall is seen to the south, and the bridge crossing the canal is at about the same place where the pedestrian bridge now crosses the 190 from Hudson Street to LaSalle Park. (Buffalo News archives)

In the 25 years following the snapping of the photo above, the Lower West Side would go through a series of scorched earth “Urban Renewal” type projects that left the area entirely unrecognizable to someone who would have been familiar with the canal.

When the Lakeview Housing Project was announced, residents were told the canal bed would be transformed into a playground for children. If this ever happened, it only lasted for about a decade with the 1950s building of the “Ontario Thruway.”

Gone would be tightly packed “slum areas” like the one below.

Buffalo News archives

This image, probably taken in front of 370 Trenton Ave. near Hudson Street, was provided to newspapers in 1938 as the typical sort of “slums” which would be condemned to build the new Lakeview project. By 1939, Trenton Avenue looked like the photo below, with 696 units of housing planned, costing renters on average about $4 per month.

Buffalo News archives

Today, the corner of Trenton and Hudson has gone through another transformation, with a new generation of subsidized housing built there over the last several decades.