I truly am so lucky that I have multiple opportunities to visit Buffalo, New York. I grew up there, and now I visit family multiple times a year. Each time I’m there I try to do something new and exciting, and I have never been hard pressed to find something that fits the bill. This is how I found myself stumbling upon Explore Buffalo’s grain silos tour. This non-profit is dedicated to educating it’s patrons on Buffalo history, architecture, and neighborhoods.Explore Buffalo
Explore Buffalo offers a myriad of tours and experiences, but the one that caught my eye was definitely the Silo City: Vertical tour. Growing up in the Buffalo Southtowns, I was treated to a view of the grain silos on our waterfront every day when I drove into school. They are a staple in the Buffalo skyline, and I think they offer a unique beauty. I’m sure there aren’t many people who would opt for a view of huge concrete grain elevators, and the City of Good Neighbors has plenty of unique and intricate architecture laced through the city, if you’re looking for something more typical. I however think the silos are stunning in their own right, also as a reminder of the city’s industrial roots.
What Are Grain Silos?
The silos, or grain elevators, were built along the water, mainly the Niagara River, to store grain. They are super tall concrete cylinders, that kept the grain dry, and made it possible to store for extended periods of time. Located in-between the Midwest and most major port cities, Buffalo was in a pivotal position to be able to send supplies in either direction. Ultimately this was one of the reasons Buffalo’s industry boomed in the late 1800’s.
Today, Buffalo is coming out of their economic recession, the city is focusing more on tourism than ever before, and as part of that shift in focus Buffalo’s long abandoned history is making a comeback. The silos are a part of that comeback.
The morning I spent climbing, I was with my mother CherBear and our two guides. Harry, the man who led the tour, was incredibly knowledgable and even offered to email me several sources and opportunities for further research once the tour was over. I cannot recommend Explore Buffalo enough, and if you’re a local, there’s no reason not to have their Explorer Pass. Most tours are free with it, although some, including the silo tours, are only discounted.
As we took our first steps into the various silos, you are hit with a bit of sensory overload. These buildings have a distinct smell similar to a dank basement, combined with the oldest house you’ve ever been in, with a little bit of excitement on the air. The entire experience has a sense of mystery and foreboding to it. Partly because it feels like you shouldn’t be allowed there, but also because it is so serene. Every sound you make is amplified, and echoed back to you. Talking above a whisper feels akin to dropping a rock in a perfectly smooth pond, the ripples last forever, to the point where you become positive that the pond will never return to its stillness.
Certain lower levels Silo City are dedicated to art installations, which also impresses on you the need for hushed voices. Although it is possibly the most rugged art museum I’ve ever been to, the harsh surroundings only add to the beauty of the different pieces. The sound quality is impeccable as well, and when we were there a jazz ensemble was recording an album. They found that different silos accommodated different pitches better than others, and were experimenting with both keyboard and saxophone in different areas.
As you move into the upper levels you are treated with beautiful views of the Buffalo skyline, and the expansive waterways surrounding you. When you aren’t near the windows, flashlights are the only way to see where you’re going. There are a lot of stairs to climb, so comfortable shoes are a must, but because you’re surrounded by concrete most places are surprisingly cool in temperature.
Exploring the upper levels was really the premier activity of the day in my opinion, partly because of the views, but also because the sense of abandonment was much stronger there. You almost feel like you could flip a switch somewhere and the whole place would be up and running with no problems.
As we made our way back to the ground level, we were hit with the realization that our trip back in time was over. The photos here are barely a glimpse into the beauty that can be found in Silo City, but they’re really the only way to show exactly why you should check it out. That day was one of the most interesting steps into Buffalo history that I have ever taken.