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.

Buffalo in the ’50s: South Buffalo’s beloved ‘Spoonley the Train Man’

By Steve Cichon

Model train collectors in South Buffalo, all of Western New York, and all around the country knew of “Spoonley the Train Man” from ads in The News, the Courier-Express, and dozens of national magazines that catered to the dreams of little boys and train enthusiasts of all ages.


Chet Spoonley’s South Buffalo home on Choate Street, off South Park Avenue, doubled as his model train store – the basement shop was a place where young boys could see their H-O gauge dreams come true.


He started the train business in 1937, while still working as a pressman for three different newspapers: the Buffalo Times, the Buffalo Courier-Express and the Buffalo Evening News.


The Train Man’s attic was really Spoonley’s personal train museum — which also happened to sell and repair Lionel trains. Among the items on display — but not for sale — at Spoonley’s was a lantern that lit the parlor car of President Lincoln’s Baltimore & Ohio funeral train as it rolled through Buffalo in 1865.

Advertisements for Spoonley, which appeared in magazines around the country from the 1940s- 1970s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

Advertisements for Spoonley, which appeared in magazines around the country from the 1940s through the 1970s. (Buffalo Stories archives)

In 1974, Spoonley handed the model train business — by then moved to West Seneca – over to his son, Chester Jr.


Spoonley Sr. died in 1980. The 74-year-old suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow.

Business lagged, and Spoonley the Train Man shop closed in October 1981, and Spoonley Jr. went missing three months later. His body was found in the Niagara River the following spring.

The story of Spoonley, his trains and the eventual dying off of a model train empire, was written in book form by radio newsman John Zach in 1988 and examined by News Reporter Anthony Violanti as the book was published.