Buffalo is the second most populous city in the state of New York, after New York City. Located in Western New York on the eastern shores of Lake Erie and at the head of the Niagara River across from Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada, Buffalo is the seat of Erie County and the principal city of the Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area, the largest in Upstate New York. Buffalo itself has a population of 261,310 (2010 Census) and the Buffalo–Niagara–Cattaraugus Combined Statistical Area is home to 1,215,826 residents.
Originating around 1789 as a small trading community near the eponymous Buffalo Creek, Buffalo grew quickly after the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, with the city as its western terminus. By 1900, Buffalo was the 8th largest city in the United States, and went on to become a major railroad hub, and the largest grain-milling center in the country. The latter part of the 20th century saw a reversal of fortunes: Great Lakes shipping was rerouted by the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, and steel mills and other heavy industry relocated to places such as China. With the start of Amtrak in the 1970s, Buffalo Central Terminal was also abandoned, and trains were rerouted to nearby Depew, New York (Buffalo-Depew) and Exchange Street Station. By 1990 the city had fallen back below its 1900 population levels.
Today, the region's largest economic sectors are financial services, technology, health care and education, and these continue to grow despite the lagging national and worldwide economies. This growth has been maintained, in part, by major expansions of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (SUNY). A recent study found Buffalo's August 2011 unemployment rate to be 7.3% In 2010, Forbes rated Buffalo the 10th best place to raise a family in America.
Prior to the Iroquois occupation of the region, the region was settled by the Neutral Nation. Later, the Senecas of the Iroquois Confederacy conquered the Neutrals. In 1804, Joseph Ellicott, a principal agent of the Holland Land Company, designed a radial street and grid system that branches out from downtown like bicycle spokes. During the War of 1812, on December 30, 1813, Buffalo was burned by British forces. On November 4, 1825 the Erie Canal was completed with Buffalo strategically positioned at the western end of the system. At the time, the population was about 2,400. The Erie Canal brought a surge in population and commerce which led Buffalo to incorporate as a city in 1832, with a population of about 10,000 people.
The City of Buffalo has long been home to African-Americans. An example is the 1828 village directory which listed 59 "Names of Coloured" heads of families. In 1845, construction was begun on the Macedonia Baptist Church (commonly called the Michigan Street Baptist Church). This African-American church was an important meeting place for the abolitionist movement. On February 12, 1974 the church was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Abolitionist leaders such as William Wells Brown made their home in Buffalo. Buffalo was also a terminus point of the Underground Railroad with many fugitives crossing the Niagara River from Buffalo to Fort Erie, Ontario and freedom.
During the 1840s, Buffalo's port continued to develop. Both passenger and commercial traffic expanded with some 93,000 passengers heading west from the port of Buffalo. Grain and commercial goods shipments led to repeated expansion of the harbor. In 1843, the world's first steam-powered grain elevator was constructed by local merchant Joseph Dart, Jr. and engineer Robert Dunbar. The "Dart Elevator" enabled faster unloading of lake freighters along with the transshipment of grain in bulk from lakers to canal boats and, later on, rail cars.
Abraham Lincoln visited Buffalo on February 16, 1861 on his trip to accept the presidency of the United States. During his visit, he stayed at the American Hotel on Main Street between Eagle Street and Court Street. The Civil War years saw an increase in the population of Buffalo which grew from 81,029 to 94,210 by 1865. In addition to sending many soldiers to the Union effort, Buffalo manufacturers supplied important war material. For example, the Niagara Steam Forge Works manufactured turret parts for the ironclad ship USS Monitor.
Between 1868 and 1896, building on Joseph Ellicott's spoke-and-hub urban blueprint and inspired by the parks and boulevards of Paris, France, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux laid out Buffalo's public parks and parkways system, thereby creating the United States' oldest coordinated system of such recreational spaces and parkways.
Grover Cleveland served as Sheriff of Erie County (1871–1873), and was Mayor of Buffalo in 1882. He was later Governor of New York (1883–1885), 22nd President of the United States (1885–1889) and 24th President (1893–1897).
In May 1896, the Ellicott Square Building opened. For the next 16 years, it was the largest office building in the world. It was named after the surveyor Joseph Ellicott.
At the dawn of the 20th century, local mills were among the first to benefit from hydroelectric power generated via the Niagara River. The city got the nickname City of Light at this time due to the widespread electric lighting. In 1881, Buffalo deployed the first electric street lights in the United States. It was also part of the automobile revolution, hosting the brass era car builders Pierce Arrow and the Seven Little Buffaloes early in the century. City of Light (1999) was the title of Buffalo native Lauren Belfer's historical novel set in 1901, which in turn engendered a listing of real versus fictional persons and places featured in her pages.
President William McKinley was shot and mortally wounded at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo on September 6, 1901. He died in the city eight days later and Theodore Roosevelt was sworn in at the Wilcox Mansion as the 26th President of the United States.
An international bridge, known as the Peace Bridge, linking Buffalo to Fort Erie, Ontario was opened in 1927. The Buffalo Central Terminal, a 17-story Art Deco style station designed by architects Fellheimer & Wagner for the New York Central Railroad, was finished just weeks before the Wall Street Crash of 1929.
During World War II, Buffalo saw a period of prosperity and low unemployment due to its position as a manufacturing center. The American Car and Foundry company, which manufactured railcars, reopened their Buffalo plant in 1940 to manufacture munitions during the war years.
With the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1957, which cut the city off from valuable trade routes; deindustrialization; and the nation-wide trend of suburbanization; the city's economy began to deteriorate. Like much of the Rust Belt, Buffalo, which peaked at more than half a million people in the 1950s, has seen its population decline by almost 50 percent as industries shut down and people left for the suburbs or other cities.
Like other rust belt cities such as Pittsburgh, PA, Buffalo has attempted to revitalize its beleaguered economy and crumbling infrastructure. In the first decade of the 21st century, a massive increase in economic development spending has attempted to reverse its dwindling prosperity. $4 billion was spent in 2007 compared to a $50 million average for the previous ten years. New proposals and renovations are numerous, especially in the downtown core. As of 2008, the population has continued to decrease, despite the efforts of city officials. (See demographics section.)
A number of excellent external web pages exist to support family history research about Buffalo, NY: