Horror or Monument? Conservationists fight to save grain elevator in Buffalo

Mr Jemal, whose firm has restored other old industrial buildings, including a Wonder Bread factory in Washington, said the Great Northern “shouldn’t be knocked over by a wrecking ball”.

“That grain fed the world,” he said. The elevator, he says, has character: “It has a soul, a 125-year-old soul.”

Built in 1897, the Great Northern is considered one of the last – if not the last – “brick” grain elevators in the world, with a brick exterior meant to protect dozens of steel silos inside.

Buffalo’s connection to grain runs deep: At one time, the city was one of the largest grain ports in the world, receiving tons of wheat from farms in the Midwest via the Great Lakes. Grain and flour companies have flourished — including General Mills, which still has a large factory near the grain elevator — so much so that locals would joke that the town “smelled like Cheerios.”

At its peak, the Great Northern hummed – powered by electricity generated by Niagara Falls, about 20 miles northwest of Buffalo – as grain was received from wagons and boats, then pulled up and into the silos by a series of hoppers and conveyors, essentially turning the entire building into a machine.

Buffalo’s primacy in the grain trade faded in the mid-1900s, and the building slowly fell out of use, finally closing in 1981. It was recognized as a local landmark in 1990 , and Archer Daniels acquired the building in 1992, along with an active flour-mill still next door.

Although the company has carried out repairs, the walls – made up of six million bricks – and the foundation are rapidly deteriorating, and pieces of the metal roof have blown off in the past, almost affecting one employee in December, according to the business.

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