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Buffalo History

Once called "Queen City on the Lake," Buffalo's history is inextricably linked with North American shipping, an industry it once ruled with an iron hand. The city grew rich off the commercial goods brought on the Erie Canal, and then loaded from its ports into railroad cars toward Albany. Laborers poured into the city for work, merchants sprang up to serve them, and titans of industry grew out of the melee. The city was thick with newly-minted millionaires who hired up-and-coming architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Frederick Law Olmsted (designer of Manhattan's Central Park) to build mansions, monuments, skyscrapers and public spaces. The boom times lasted until the 1950s, when shipping was rerouted through the St. Lawrence Seaway, stripping Buffalo of jobs and income. The city's fortunes plummeted. When Amtrak trains began to run along the northern corridors in the 1970s, Buffalo's once-majestic Central Terminal was abandoned. The city fell into disrepair, residents fled in search of jobs, and Buffalo gained a reputation as a bleak, crime-ridden northern outpost. Its rebirth has come slowly, over decades. The first glimmer of change began in the 1980s. Artists had taken a look at its crumbling, but unmistakably grand, housing stock and built themselves studios out of old factory lofts. As Buffalo's reputation grew in the arts world, city officials began to see the value in restoring its old buildings and derelict structures. Gradually Buffalo became more than just the city to fly into en route to Niagara Falls—as its artsy cachet grew, it became a destination in its own right. The city has yet to regain the population it had at its height in the early-1900s, but it’s well on its way to a new prosperity.