Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Accident destroys significant marine tower in Buffalo

On 2 December 2011, while demolishing part of the Agway/GLF Complex on Ganson Road in Buffalo, New York, Ontario Specialty Contracting accidentally knocked the marine tower of the old Wheeler Elevator into the Buffalo River.

(Photo courtesy WIVB.)

This is a sad end for the oldest marine tower (the building in which an elevator that unloads grain from ships is installed) left in Buffalo, the city in which the marine tower was invented by Robert Dunbar in 1843. The shaft in which the conveyor-buckets were housed can be seen, in the photo below, pointing straight down into the water, rather dejectedly.

(Photo courtesy WIVB.)

Designed and build by Monarch Engineering in 1909, the Wheeler Elevator was a modern marvel. Powered by electricity from Niagara, its marine leg could unload grain at the rate of 18,000-20,000 bushels per hour. The main house -- one of the very first in Buffalo to be built out of reinforced concrete -- could store 700,000 bushels in bins that ranged in capacity from 4,000 to 40,000 bushels. Wedged between the river and several train spurs, the Wheeler could load grain into canal boats, rail cars and even wagons. In the words of The Operative Miller, volume 15 (1910), the elevator was also equipped with "a complete system of intercommunicating telephones."

(Above: The Wheeler at its prime. Photo courtesy WIVB.)

According to an article published almost two years ago in the Buffalo News, "the complex, which shut down in the mid-1970s, was acquired for about $90,000 by Ontario Specialty Contracting" -- the complex's next door neighbor -- "in October 2009, for the purpose of partial demolition, after the city and the property's [former] owner showed no inclination to deal with repeated building code violations." That former owner, a marina operator, had used the complex only for its access to the Buffalo River.

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