Torn-Down Tuesday: Train stations of Canalside’s past

By Steve Cichon

There’s $1 million in state money on the table to study the feasibility of a new train station for Buffalo and answer some key questions—chief among them, where it should go.

Since problems at the Exchange Street Amtrak station last year helped ignite talk of the need for a new train station in the city, two potential locations received the most buzz: Canalside at Buffalo Harbor and the former New York Central Terminal on Buffalo’s East Side.

Downtown Buffalo’s current train station. Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News

The Central Terminal’s historic connection to Buffalo’s locomotive past is obvious — it was the city’s main train station for 50 years. But before the shiny Art Deco landmark opened in 1929, the heart of the city’s passenger train service was near the area now known as Canalside.

The New York Central Terminal. Postcard, 1945.

For the 75 years before the current Central Terminal opened, the New York Central Depot was on Exchange Street about where the current train station is.

New York Central Depot, Exchange near Washington St. The bridge in the distance is the Michigan St. Bridge going over Exchange Street and the railroad tracks.

Built in 1854, the depot served passengers until 1929.

On the spot where the Courtyard by Marriott/Philips Lytle building stands today, the Lehigh Valley passenger terminal stood from 1916-1960. When the station opened, it was  it was “a cause for civic celebration,” and “the dreams of years fulfilled.”

Lehigh Valley Terminal, 1959.

At the foot of Main Street stood the Lackawanna Railroad depot. This image is from 1914. Trying to find the spot today, you might leave KeyBank Center at the Sabres Store entrance, and head for the Metro Rail tracks. Just across the tracks at the Harbor Center Metro Rail stop is about where this version of the DL&W Passenger terminal stood.

Lackawanna Railroad Depot, 1914

It was around the time of this photo that DL&W built a palatial passenger terminal and train shed complex in the area that is now across South Park Avenue from the backside of the arena along the Buffalo River.

The passenger terminal portion of the building was torn down, but the train shed building is used to shelter the Metro Rail trains when not in use.

The Canalside site has plenty of history, but very little infrastructure remains. Train tracks and terminals once crisscrossed and filled the area, but they’ve mostly been gone for generations now.

Buffalo in the 1890s: Frederick Law Olmsted’s designs for Depew

By Steve Cichon

Chauncey Depew was one of New York’s U.S. Senators from 1899-1911, but that probably wasn’t the office from which he wielded the most power. Depew was the president of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central Railroad. It was in his capacity as a railroad tycoon that Depew bought up about 100 acres east of Buffalo in Lancaster for the building of railroad sheds and locomotive repair shops in 1893. From there, Depew sprung.

Town of Depew, 1893, Olmsted, Olmsted & Eliot Landscape Architects (Buffalo News archives)

The Town of Depew was envisioned as a model town, and Frederick Law Olmsted — by then a legend in his own time — was contracted as the consulting architect in the designing of the town square.

The proof of Olmsted’s hand in designing Depew had been lost for generations — until a proposed changes to Broadway in 1991 sent historians to Olmsted’s archives, where they found as many as 40 maps of Depew.

It’s also no coincidence that today’s Depew has an Olmstead Avenue. Despite the misspelling, the street was named after the landscape architect. The extra “a” was added in error by a survey company in 1925, and the typo stuck.

There was talk of officially fixing the mistake as recently as 2011, but when Olmstead Avenue’s intersection with Transit Road was rebuilt to accommodate the new Tim Horton’s at the intersection the following year, new signs continued the typo-turned-fact.