Buffalo is a city in the U.S. state of New York and the seat of Erie County. 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 principal city of the Buffalo-Niagara Falls metropolitan area, the largest in Upstate New York and 45th largest in the United States. As of the 2010 U.S Census, the city proper had a population of 261,310, making the city the 69th largest city in the United States and the second most populous in the state after New York City. 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 1960 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. In recent years, expansions of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and the The State University of New York have led to private and public investment throughout the city and region. A recent study found Buffalo's April 2014 unemployment rate to be 5.8%. In 2010, Forbes rated Buffalo the 10th best place to raise a family in the United States.
Residents of Buffalo are most commonly called "Buffalonians." Nicknames for the city of Buffalo include "The Queen City", Buffalo's most common moniker; "The Nickel City," due to the appearance of a bison on the back of Indian Head nickel in the early part of the 20th century, "The City of Good Neighbors," and less commonly, the "City of Light." Colloquially, Buffalo is often referred to as "(The) B-Lo" by locals.
The city of Buffalo received its name from a nearby creek called Buffalo Creek. John Montresor references 'Buffalo Creek' in his journal of 1764. There are several theories regarding how Buffalo Creek received its name. While it is possible that the area was called "Buffalo" as a result of French fur traders and American Indians having called the creek "Beau Fleuve," or "Beautiful River," in French, it is also possible that "Buffalo" was named for the bison as they did once roam Western New York.
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 began on the Macedonia Baptist Church, commonly known as 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 in search of 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 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. By 1850, the population was 81,000.
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. 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, one of his largest works.
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. 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 on August 7, 1927, The Buffalo Central Terminal, a 17-story Art Deco style station designed by architects Fellheimer & Wagner for the New York Central Railroad, opened in 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.
Like other rust belt cities such as Pittsburgh, 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. As of 2012, the population has continued to decrease, despite the efforts of city officials.
In the early 2010s, new project proposals and renovations to historic buildings started to emerge, especially in the downtown core. Entrepreneurs, such as Buffalo Sabres owner Terrence Pegula, have helped with larger scale projects such as HarborCenter, a mixed-used complex near the Erie Canal Harbor. Other Buffalo-area developers have helped revitalize and repurpose abandoned buildings within the city, such as the Larkin Square project, and projects similar to this continue.
A number of excellent external web pages exist to support family history research about Buffalo, NY: