Saturday, May 16, 2009
The Eastern States Elevator
On pages 395-396 of American Colossus, I evoke the fear I experienced when I first visited the Eastern States Farmers' Exchange Feed Mill & Grain Elevator on Military Road in Tonawanda, New York. (Tonawanda is just north of Buffalo.) Located "out in the suburbs" and alongside a set of railroads tracks -- not next to a canal, river or lake -- the Eastern States was designed and built by the A.E Baxter Engineering Company in 1934. During the mid-1940s, a second set of grain bins was added and a new flour mill was built; both structures were designed by A.E. Baxter and/or Henry Baxter, A.E.'s son. In the aftermath of changes made in the preferential railroad rates allowed by the federal government, the Eastern States -- like so many other grain elevators in Buffalo -- closed down in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Left abandoned and derelict, the Eastern States became the scene of accidental injuries, deaths and "animal sacrifices." It wasn't until the late 1980s that it was locked and sealed.
The pictures reproduced above were originally taken by the Historic American Engineering Record in the early 1990s. They capture the Eastern States from its southern side, which is the side of the elevator I first saw. Quite obviously, I was immediately struck by the great height of the elevating tower, which is almost twice the size of the bins adjacent to it. No elevator in Buffalo had a tower so tall. But what I found truly daunting about the idea of exploring this colossus was the large flour mill next to it (on the right in both pictures). Not only was this building full of broken windows, empty spaces, echoing sounds, birds, foul/fowl smells and cold, dank air, but it was also positioned such that it completely blocked the grain elevator -- and whatever was taking place in or around it -- from being seen from Military Road. I got the fear and left.
When I returned, several months later and in the company of a local councilman, a photographer and Henry Baxter himself, I got to see inside the elevator's basement. One of the first things I saw was a graffito that proclaimed: FRANKENSTEIN LIVES HERE. Though there was something silly about this proclamation, it resonated with my own fears and other people's associations of grain elevators with monsters. And so, in the summer of 2001, when the Eastern States was demolished, but not replaced by anything, I found myself wondering: "Where is Frankenstein living now?"