Along the final bends of the Buffalo River, before it meets the edge of Lake Erie, miles of enormous abandoned grain silos line the riverbanks. Dubbed “Elevator Alley,” this is the densest collection of concrete grain elevators on the planet.
One corner of this iconic sight is known as “Silo City.” In recent years, this group of four silo complexes has been transformed into a unique and fantastic cultural space. The giant hollow cylinders and their surrounding grounds have been repurposed as a popular gathering spot for festivals, performances, and a myriad of cultural events, in step with the revitalization of the city.
At the start of the 20th century, Buffalo was a thriving industrial town and the largest grain port in the world. Much of the grain harvested in the United States Midwest was shipped through Buffalo, which was then the western terminus of the Erie Canal. Massive amounts of grain passed through the Buffalo Harbor, where it was stored or transferred to canal ships heading to cities on the East Coast and abroad.
In their heyday, the towering silos along the harbor stored tens of millions of bushels of wheat and other grains. But the grain industry declined with a change in shipping routes, and by the end of the 20th century, many of the historic elevators were left empty and disused, a decaying reminder of the past. But while it’s tempting to see the abandoned plants as relics, the occasional appearance of a lake freighter headed to the still-active General Mills plant provides a reminder of Buffalo’s industrial heritage.
Buffalo’s abandoned grain silos are getting a second life, thanks to local artists, architects, musicians, and urban explorers. Silo City has hosted concerts (the acoustics in these colossal chambers are extraordinary), literary readings, craft beer festivals, flea markets, theater productions, and other cultural events. Tours around, inside, and on top of the historic grain elevators are also offered, shining a light on the crucial role this impressive infrastructure played in shaping the second-largest city in New York.