Buffalo Travel Information

United States > US City Index > Buffalo > History

From the renaissance thinking of the waterfront to downtown's phoenix rising, from the major airport expansion to a revived arts and cultural scene, New York's second-largest city is booming again.

Just like in the glory days, when Buffalo was Queen City of The Lakes and Gateway to the Midwest, supplying steel, cars, meat, grain and textiles to the rest of the nation and the world.

Just like in the days when the port bustled and the railroads hummed and the manufacturing plants, using cheap Niagara Falls electricity, produced chemicals and refined oil for a hungry industrial engine.

Just like in the days at the turn of the last century when the city was on top of the world, boasting the known universe's largest grain and livestock markets, and when it was the logical choice for the 1901 Pan-American Exposition, one of whose buildings still stands, housing the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society.

An exciting, bustling place, in other words, that can name two presidents as native sons (Millard Fillmore in 1850 and Grover Cleveland in 1884 and again in 1892), that flaunts six structures built by Frank Lloyd Wright, and a park system created by one of the designers of Manhattan's Central Park.

Dark Clouds Dispelled

Oh, Buffalo saw some dark times in the three decades between 1960 and 1990, climaxed by the 1982 closing of most of its steel mills and the death of the Courier-Express morning paper, where Mark Twain had served as editor a century before.

But through it all, this city of just over 300,000 (with 1.2 million in the surrounding 'burbs) has always maintained its class and dignity. And, above all, its friendliness. It's not called The City of Good Neighbors and The Biggest Small Town in America for nothing.

Buffalo's ethnic diversity—Greek, Irish, Italian, African American, Polish, Scottish, Hispanic and German, to name a few—overlays a basic blue collar mentality. There's a solid underpinning on which to build and re-build.

And re-build the city has, pumping millions into its downtown showpiece Theater District, expansion of the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, waterfront housing, and a Metro Rail line from HSBC Arena to the South Campus of the State University at Buffalo. It has diversified its economy, moving from strictly "rust belt" industries to services and tourism, to high tech and fiber optics. It has put up hotels, banks, office buildings and a state-of-the-art convention center.

At the same time, the city has been mindful of the distinctive neighborhoods that make up Buffalo, a compact area of a mere 42 square miles. Allentown, Bailey-Lovejoy, Black Rock, the Delaware District, the Elmwood Strip, Kensington, North Buffalo, Polonia, South Buffalo, West Side: each has its unique story to tell and will defend its heritage with the ferociousness of a mother protecting her child.

National Historic District

There's Allentown National Historic District, home to both The Wilcox Mansion (where Teddy Roosevelt was inaugurated) and The Allentown Art Festival; the Bailey-Lovejoy area's commitment to preserving its railroad past through the Iron Island Museum and annual neighborhood festival; the Delaware District with Delaware Park, the jewel of the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park system, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, and Cofeld Judaic Museum of Temple Beth Zion; and Polonia, featuring the traditional Broadway Market food vendors and the New York Central Terminal.

With Lake Erie and Canada to the west, Buffalo is bordered on its other three sides by suburban areas also rich in history and heritage. To the north and northeast lie Tonawanda and Amherst, the first combining a strong industrial base with beautiful parks and natural scenery, the latter home to the huge University at Buffalo North Campus.

To the east can be found Cheektowaga (Land of the Crabapple) with the Buffalo Niagara International Airport and Walden Galleria Mall, largest mall in Western NY. To the south and southeast lie the aptly named Southtowns: Lackawanna, Hamburg, West Seneca, Orchard Park and East Aurora, combining heavy industry and farms, shopping malls and village boutiques, modern condos and 19th century architectural gems.

Hamburg is home to the Erie County Fairgrounds, site of the Buffalo Raceway and the Erie County Fair. Orchard Park hosts the 75,000-seat Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the NFL Buffalo Bills. East Aurora houses the Roycroft Campus, Elbert Hubbard's famous early-20th-century arts and crafts colony, as well as the Toy Town Museum, sponsored by Fisher-Price Toys.

Economic and Cultural Hub

Perhaps inspired by the circular road system laid out by Joseph Ellicott after the settlement was burned during the War of 1812, Buffalo serves as the hub for the region, sending out its economic and cultural spokes in every direction.

It is within its compact downtown that you'll find the hive of performing arts activity known as the Theater District. And the Chippewa Club Zone. And Buffalo Place, with its pedestrian mall and reputation as festival central. And the HSBC Arena (formerly Marine-Midland), where the NHL Buffalo Sabres skate.

It is here that Buffalo City Hall, a 1929 Art Deco masterpiece, rises like a gaudily-bedecked matron, and the French Renaissance-style Ellicott Square Building still stands, finished in 1896 and at the time the largest office building in the world. It is here that the Baroque interior of Shea's Performing Arts Center serves as an anchor for the 20-block Theater District.

And it's true: Buffalo chicken wings actually were created here, thanks to a stray shipment of wings that made its way to the Anchor Bar in the mid-1960s. Buffalo is also home to the Beef on Weck sandwich and is the Friday fish fry capital of the world. And all you kazoo players out there should know that this all-American instrument first saw the light of day at the Original American Kazoo Company in Eden, south of Buffalo.

Oh yes. Lest we forget. Buffalo is a mere 25 miles from what has been called one of the seven natural wonders of the world. For 11 million visitors a year, The Falls alone are attraction enough.

Now comes a mystery: How did Buffalo get its name? Woolly bison have never been part of the landscape (except inside the Buffalo Zoo). One theory has the first settlers, seeing Indians in the area, giving the name Buffaloe's Creek to what is now the Buffalo River. Another stems from the French influence in the area. A French missionary-explorer, dazzled by the beauty of the Niagara River, called it beau fleuve or beautiful river--and this eventually came to be mispronounced "Buffalo" by the locals.

Whatever the story behind the name of the city (which was originally called New Amsterdam), one thing is no mystery: This City of Good Neighbors offers all its visitors small-town hospitality in a big-city environment. So, feel free to look around and explore--be it ethnically-diverse cuisine, high-caliber theater, Elmwood Avenue's Victorian mansions, or the Chippewa Club Zone's sizzling nightlife. You're sure to find something to your liking.

Weather

  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Avg. High 30° 31° 41° 54° 66° 75° 80° 77° 70° 58° 47° 35°
Avg. Low 17° 17° 25° 36° 47° 56° 61° 60° 54° 42° 34° 22°
Mean 24° 25° 34° 45° 57° 66° 71° 68° 62° 51° 41° 28°
Avg. Precip. 2.7 in 2.3 in 2.7 in 2.9 in 3.1 in 3.6 in 3.1 in 4.2 in 3.5 in 3.1 in 3.8 in 3.7 in