The Union Depot on William Street

       By Steve Cichon
       steve@buffalostories.com
       @stevebuffalo

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.

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Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo’s pop culture history. His stories of Buffalo's past have appeared more than 1600 times in The Buffalo News. He's a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. Since the earliest days of the internet, Cichon's been creating content celebrating the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The 25-year veteran of Buffalo radio and television has written five books and curates The Buffalo Stories Archives-- hundreds of thousands of books, images, and audio/visual media which tell the stories of who we are in Western New York.