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?"


  1. I used to hang out at that elevator 1976-1979. We called it Agway.My friends said the large concrete panel on the frontside had Agway painted on it,since weathered away. 3 bridges connected the "white" and "red" bldgs.low, slanted and the steel bridge,Removed in the late 70"s,to combat trespassers like us. But we still got in. I loved going to the top,and eventually became a roofer.Go figure. Frankensteins room, if I remember correctly, was on the 4th floor red bldg. Named after graffiti on the walls back when I was there.I know of one suicide there, a friend named Joe in the 1990's. And a fatal fall in the White bldg.Pre 1976, where graffiti told the story on the upper floors of the White tower.

  2. to anonymous- I am in the research phases of a project about the "agway" grain mills on military road.. if you see this, PLEASE email me at "anotherdisguise at", I would love to ask you some questions. There is little to no information like this floating around still and I am desperate for it.

    I remember the story on the top of the white tower - "let my ashes float in my universe" or something similar. Was always rumored that was a suicide note.. crazy times.

  3. Yes it was a scary yet a fun place to be when we were teens in the mid/late 70's. We had to be careful walking around so you wouldn't fall to your death down one of the holes that went all the way to the basement. I too knew Joe who committed "sewercide" as he called it in the day. I also had another friend Joe who fell down a hole to his death right after graduating from Ken West back in the early 80's and yes there was the fatal fall in the earlier 70's I believe - want to say is name was Joe too, but not sure. Seeing the fireworks from the roof was the best back then - you could see them from all around. I remember the "green room" because it had green carpeting in it and I remember one friend actually living there for a short period of time. Crazy. Funny, but I even have pictures of the inside of the place when we hung out there. Those were the days my friend!

  4. I also used to hang out there in my teenage years with a large group of friends. We called the red brick building the Bryant because it was on the building. I wish I had taken pictures of the inside. I loved going to hang out with my friends there but I would also wonder by myself so I could explore. I only went in the Silos, Grain Mills a few times. It was too creepy in there. During the time we would go and hang out at the "Byrant" there was a story of a girl who tied to a rope from the top of one of the silos, jumped with a can of red spray paint and sprayed a line on her way down. sounds far fetched now but back then it motivated our group to walk through and see if we could find the red line... we never made it through the whole thing to prove if that possibly happened or not. Can you post pictures from the inside? Being there was really a great memory for me, weird I know. But when I found out they demolished the Bryant and the grain mills, I was really sad about it.

  5. I would LOVE to see those pics you have....add me on facebook "anthony siracuse" i knoe all my friends i grew up with would get a kick out of it as well...we also refered to the red building as the "Bryant building"