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.

William & Emslie through the years

By Steve Cichon

Emslie Street hits William Street between Adams and Kretner, for the purposes of looking at our 1880 map.

Soon after 1880, the houses that stood on the northeast corner of William and Emslie streets were torn down to make way for Siegrist & Fraley’s dry goods store, which opened on the spot in 1891.

The corner of William and Emslie, looking toward Cheektowaga. From a postcard, c.1910.

Jacob Siegrist was a buyer for Hengerer’s before partnering with George Fraley in the store on William Street, which Siegrist ran for 41 years. In 1909, Siegrist was the Republican nominee for Buffalo mayor. He lost to Louis Fuhrmann, who was later remembered with the naming of Fuhrmann Boulevard.

Joseph Stein’s bakery was in the building in the 1930s and ’40s. David Cole, and later, Harold Russell and his wife, Ethel, ran a delicatessen in the building in the 1950s.

The only building left standing from the circa-1910 postcard image above is the former Savoy Theater. As it was under construction in 1910, the Buffalo Enquirer reported that its “class of attractions will consist of continuous vaudeville and high-class moving pictures.”

The theater closed in the mid-1950s.

Buffalo Enquirer, 1909.