The Life and Death of Buffalo's Great Northern Grain Elevator: 1897-2023

Archer Daniels Midland got lucky the night of December 11, 2021: a fierce winter wind took out a third of the brick curtain surrounding of Buffalo’s Great Northern Grain Elevator.

ADM had wanted to demolish the building since 1993, but each of its demolition requests to the city had been blocked. Six days after the storm, with no public hearings, the building was condemned. The ADM’s and the City’s rationale was that the damage to the brick curtain made the entire structure dangerously unstable. That was untrue: the brick curtain supported nothing; the Great Northern was in astonishingly good shape.

Preservationists objected in the press and in the courts, but to no avail. The Great Northern never had a chance. A unique piece of Buffalo’s economic and global architectural history was gone.

Grain elevators are part of Buffalo’s—and the nation’s—architectural heritage. Unlike earlier wooden structures, the Great Northern was made of steel; it was fireproof. The steel bins kept the grain dry and the rats out. The entire steel structure was riveted and bolted into a single entity. The Great Northern couldn’t burn down or blow up; it couldn’t be knocked down, and it was incapable of falling down. When the Great Northern was completed seven months after the shovels broke ground, it was the largest grain elevator in the world. It was built to last, and last it did until the eight-month task of tearing it apart began on September 16, 2022.

These photos of this exhibit show the Great Northern in its functional youth, its dormant old age, and during the long brutal process of its demolition.

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