Buffalo, New York
75 Exchange Street Buffalo, NY 14203
- Annual Station Revenue (2013)
- Annual Station Ridership (2013)
|Facility Ownership||City of Buffalo|
|Parking Lot Ownership||City of Buffalo|
|10 Long Term Parking Spaces||10 Short Term Parking Spaces||Accessible Payphones|
|Accessible Platform||Accessible Restrooms||Accessible Ticket Office|
|Accessible Waiting Room||Accessible Water Fountain||Dedicated Parking|
|Enclosed Waiting Area||Pay Phones||Restrooms|
- Empire Service
- Maple Leaf
(301) 564-5760 (ph)
Local Community Links:
- City of Buffalo, NY
- Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority
- Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy
- Central Terminal Restoration Corporation
The Amtrak Exchange Street station in Buffalo serves passengers heading east toward New York City on the Empire Service or northwest to Toronto on the Maple Leaf via the famed falls at Niagara on the American-Canadian border. Passengers wishing to head west to Chicago aboard the Lake Shore Limited must use the Buffalo-Depew stop east of the city. Located just south of Coca-Cola Field, home of the Buffalo Bisons baseball team, Exchange Street station is also within walking distance of Niagara Square, which is ringed by buildings representing the city, county, state, and federal governments. In addition, the depot is easily accessed via major highways including the Buffalo Skyway (New York State Route 5) and Interstate 190, whose elevated roadway borders the station property on the south.
For generations of Buffalonians, Exchange Street has been synonymous with the railroad. The roadway hosted the city’s primary train stations from 1848 until 1929 when Buffalo Central Terminal (BCT) opened two miles east of downtown. Although most passenger rail traffic subsequently shifted to BCT, the New York Central Railroad (NYC) continued to serve the Exchange Street location in a limited capacity. Erected in 1952, the current building was only in operation for one decade before the NYC ended service to Niagara Falls and closed the structure. Amtrak reopened the depot in October 1978 when passenger train service was extended beyond Buffalo to Niagara Falls.
Built of red brick, the building is composed of two intersecting rectangular volumes. The main block resembles a modest one story house with a gabled roof. In contrast to the striking red brick, a light grey-colored stone is used to highlight the base, a simple entablature, and a door surround at the main entrance. With a flat roof, the second rectangular volume intersects the main block at the rear, and from a distance, its ends appear to be the wings of the main structure. Behind the station, a wide canopy stretches along the platform and protects passengers from inclement weather as they wait for the arrival of the train.
The area on the eastern edge of Lake Erie was first visited by French explorers and missionaries in the early 17th century. They encountered a band of American Indians that they termed the “Neutral Nation” in reference to the fact that the people appeared to remain neutral in the fighting taking place between the Hurons and the Five Nations of the Iroquois. French traders traversed the Great Lakes region and made contact with numerous tribes in order to obtain furs that were highly valued in European markets.
Adversarial relations between the English and French in North America precluded extensive settlement in the region by English colonists until 1760 when British armies conquered Montreal and effectively gained control of Canada. Although open to settlement, the region remained difficult to access due to poor transportation routes. War between the British and the American colonists would further delay westward movement until the 1780s. By the end of that decade, a small trading post had been established along the shores of Buffalo Creek where it emptied into Lake Erie.
Due to uncertain land claims and boundaries dating to the early colonial period, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut all asserted ownership of the land around the northeastern end of Lake Erie. From 1792 to 1793, about 3.2 million acres of land west of the Genesee River were purchased by the agents of the Holland Land Company, a land syndicate owned by Amsterdam-based Dutch investors. They hoped to quickly sell the land and make a profit, but lacking any basic infrastructure such as roads or even accurate surveys, progress was slow. American Indian claims to the land also had to be extinguished.
In 1798, the company hired famed surveyors Joseph and Benjamin Ellicott—Joseph Ellicott had surveyed the District of Columbia—to map out the tract, a process which took three years. Joseph Ellicott designed a new town in 1804 that was to be built near the existing trading post. Streets were shown radiating out from a central square, a clear nod to the Baroque city-planning precedents recently employed at the nation’s capital, and a rather grand gesture on behalf of a young frontier outpost. Named New Amsterdam to honor the investors of the Holland Land Company, the village soon became known as Buffalo. The origins of the name remain a bit of a mystery, as the most obvious inspiration—bison—are not native to the area.
The village grew slowly, and experienced a setback during the War of 1812 when British forces burned it to the ground in December 1813. Post-war, residents returned and soon found their settlement discussed as the endpoint for a new canal. The proposed waterway was to stretch across the center of the state to Albany where it would join the Hudson River, thereby providing an all water link from New York City, an Atlantic Ocean seaport, to the Great Lakes region in what was then the far reaches of the young country. As a result, New York City ensured its future as the nation’s commercial heart, and quickly gained control over the vital stocks of grain shipped eastward to the nation’s largest, hungriest metropolises.
Prior to the opening of the Erie Canal, the cost to ship a ton of goods between Lake Erie and the Hudson River was about $100 and took roughly three weeks. The canal cut that cost to $10 and reduced shipping times to 10 days. While bulk commodities such as grain or lumber moved east, another valuable resource moved west: people. Citizens and new immigrants used the waterway to move into the Midwest where land was cheap, plentiful, and productive. At Buffalo, they could board ships that carried them to new lakeside settlements such as Cleveland and Toledo. Observers realized the fluid commercial and social life along the Erie Canal had not only facilitated the movement of goods and people, but also of ideas.
Some remained in Buffalo, recognizing that its strategic role as the easternmost point of navigation on four of the five Great Lakes and as the western terminus of the canal guaranteed its importance as a transshipment center. Mayor Samuel Wilkinson and other city leaders foresaw this potential growth and wisely began improvements to Buffalo’s harbor years before the canal was finished. The mouth of Buffalo Creek was enlarged, and a breakwater was constructed to protect it from the often choppy waters of Lake Erie. In the decade after the canal opened, Buffalo’s population quadrupled to 10,000 residents, and the city was incorporated in 1832.
Of all the products shipped through the newly bustling port, grain was the most important, but it was labor intensive and time consuming to transfer the good from lake vessels to canal boats. Grain also had to be kept dry in order to prevent mold and rot. Considering these problems, inventor Joseph Dart and engineer Robert Dunbar developed the first steam-powered wooden grain elevator in 1842. It used a conveyor belt with buckets to scoop grain out of a hold and into storage bins where it could be safely held until canal boats were ready to load up. Over the next half century, the design was improved to include drying and sifting mechanisms, and wood construction was replaced with concrete. The elevators became a defining feature of the Buffalo waterfront, representing the fact that the city was one of the largest grain shipment and storage centers in the world.
Transportation had been radically transformed by the canal, whetting the appetites of merchants for even faster and more efficient ways to move goods. The railroads held the most promise, and by 1836 the first steam-powered line, the Buffalo and Niagara Falls, was under construction. That same year, stock subscriptions for the Attica and Buffalo Railroad were opened, although the financial difficulties of the late 1830s delayed the opening of the route until early 1843.
Throughout the 1840s, small lines such as the Attica and Buffalo were built between Buffalo and Albany, requiring passengers to take numerous trains to reach their final destination. Not until 1853 were the ten separate lines consolidated as the New York Central Railroad. This feat was accomplished by Erastus Corning, a businessman and railroad investor who became the NYC’s first president. Later in the century, the NYC came under the command of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who positioned it as a dominant force in Northeast railroading, stretching from Illinois to Massachusetts and from Michigan to West Virginia.
Once formed, the NYC used the Exchange Street Station constructed by the Attica and Buffalo Railroad. In 1870, the NYC erected a new facility to serve as a “union station,” since it also hosted other railroads. As more space was needed, additions were added in the late 19th century that resulted in a rambling complex marked by a prominent square tower capped with a pyramidal roof and a tall, square cupola. NYC passengers heading to Niagara Falls, which had become a major tourist destination, had to get off at Exchange Street and then walk a few blocks to another depot located on Erie Street. In 1879, the NYC railroad received permission to lay tracks to connect the two stations, but the Erie Street building was then abandoned for a newer facility on a nearby tract of land known as the “Terrace.”
As the Great Lakes region developed, Buffalo continued to grow in importance as a major inland port. By the turn of the century, more than a dozen railroads entered the city, including the Pennsylvania, Nickel Plate, Erie, and the Lackawanna. More than 700 miles of tracks within the city led to rail yards, numerous downtown depots, waterfront facilities, and repair shops, making Buffalo the busiest rail center in the country after Chicago. The city became a major livestock center, and the railroads’ docks processed iron ore and coal—essential components of steel production—that were then shipped to major industrial centers.
By the end of the 19th century, Buffalo was the city ascendant, its wealth and prestige growing with each passing year as it became one of the nation’s largest municipalities. In an effort to boost its status as a cultural center, the city retained famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted—one of the designers of New York’s Central Park—to create a park system. Olmsted and his firm envisioned a unique network of large parks, circles and squares, and “green ribbons” or “parkways” that would connect all of the elements. The showpiece was “The Park” (now Delaware Park), which was highly used during the Pan-American Exposition of 1901.
Conceived as a way to highlight the peoples and cultures of South, Central, and North America, the world’s fair was a great triumph for the city. 350 acres north of downtown were transformed into a fantasy land of lakes and flowering shrubs that became the setting for the temporary exposition buildings, many of which were designed in an elaborate, colorful Spanish Revival architectural style. The crowning structure was the 391 foot high “Electric Tower.” Painted deep green with cream, blue, and gold accents, the tower burst to life at dusk when 44,000 electric lights were illuminated. Unfortunately, tragedy struck when President William McKinley was wounded by an assassin’s shot while visiting the fairgrounds. Upon his death in Buffalo a week later, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in as the 26th President of the United States.
After decades of complaints about the old Exchange Street station, the NYC finally came to a decision in the 1920s to replace it with a larger, modern facility on the outskirts of town along the main line. While the downtown site was more convenient, acquiring additional land would have been expensive. In addition, Exchange Street station was not on the NYC main line, meaning that trains departing the depot had to perform a dangerous maneuver to back-out of the yard. A 61-acre East Buffalo site provided space for additional platforms as well as facilities for the Railway Express Agency, the postal service, a steam-producing power plant, and car repair shops.
Like many of the stations constructed by the NYC in the 1920s and 1930s, Buffalo’s $14 million facility was designed by the New York City based firm of Fellheimer and Wagner. At Buffalo, the architects made an impressive statement with a prominent 271-foot octagonal corner tower that soars above the surrounding neighborhood. As it rises, the grey brick tower includes a series of setbacks that culminate in a receding limestone crown marked with flourishing stone finials. To the south, the main concourse stretches for more than 450 feet, and rich interior finishes include various marbles in pink and grey, as well as metal railings and finishes employing geometric shapes and swirls that provide a sense of movement so essential to the Art Deco aesthetic. At the center of the concourse there once stood a statue of a bison; the original stuffed version was replaced by a plaster copy after soldiers heading to the front during WWII rubbed down its hide.
Unfortunately, the station opened in 1929, just months before the stock market crash that precipitated the Great Depression. Buffalo never expanded eastward as hoped, and the station remained isolated from downtown. Changes in federal transportation funding priorities and increased personal transportation options hurt the railroads and many began to shed passenger services. As early as the mid-1950s, the NYC tried selling the property, but it remained in the hands of the NYC and its successors until 1979 when it finally closed to passenger traffic.
Passing through various owners, the BCT came under the control of the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation (CTRC) in 1997. The non-profit, volunteer organization immediately worked to secure state and county funds to seal the building and prevent further deterioration and vandalism. In an effort to once again make the terminal a “hub of activity” for the immediate neighborhood, the CTRC makes the concourse available for special events and offers tours of the complex throughout the year. In perhaps a foreshadowing of improvements to come, the tower’s four clock faces were re-lighted in 1999, casting a welcoming glow into the night sky.
Amtrak provides ticketing service at Exchange Street but does not provide baggage service. It is served by six daily trains.