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.


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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.