The Cargill Superior Elevator is an abandoned grain elevator along the Buffalo River in Buffalo, New York.

Cargill Superior Elevator


History

In 1896, Buffalo businessman Edwin Husted and six others incorporated Husted Milling and Elevator to extend their existing business of buying and selling grain and other commodities. 5 The capital stock of the new business was $175,000.

Husted Milling took out its first mortgage in June 1900 with Buffalo Savings Bank for $50,000 for 2.46 acres of land on Prenatt Street (today’s Elk Street) and the New York Central Railroad. 5 It constructed a wood crib-binned elevator and mill, which featured concrete bin flooring and a cupola of structural steel.

In 1907, the company expanded by purchasing the Nickel Plate Transfer Elevator (at 845 Elk) adjacent to its operations (at 839 Elk), operating the site for the Nickel Plate Railroad. 5 Designed by the James McDonald Company, the elevator was the third concrete-binned elevator in the city and the first in the city to feature outer-space bins, in which the bins were behind straight curtain walls rather than convex quarter walls.

In August, 1907, Husted Milling and Elevator petitioned to change its name to Husted Milling Company. 5

An explosion in 1912, which killed 32 employees, destroyed much of the complex. 5

Rebuilding

Under the presidency of G. M. Husted, the company re-stablished operations on the Buffalo River and concentrated efforts on the transfer elevating and grain re-conditioning business. 5 The original circa 1899 and 1907 complex was sold to the Ralston Purina Company, which commissioned the A. E. Baxter Company to rebuild the circa 1907 concrete elevator and add a new concrete house with non-cylindrical bins. (The Ralston Purina complex was demolished in the early 1980’s.)

In April 1914, the Nickel Plate Elevator Company changed its name to the Superior Elevator Inc. 5 In May, Husted Milling acquired lots 62 and 63 of the Buffalo Creek Indian Reservation from the Buffalo Creek Railroad and its lessees, the Erie and Lehigh Valley railroads, for the location of its new elevator. The location of the new lots was far removed from its former site on Elk Street, which was landlocked. 5 The new site gave access to a new means of transport via bulk carriers and access to the Buffalo Creek Railroad and had plenty of land to expand upon.

Husted Milling suffered from financial problems, including delays in insurance payments, and the sale of the remains of its original complex to Ralston Purina. 5 The company was forced to sell itself to the Superior Elevating Company in December. 1 5

Elevators A, B and C

The Husted Company commissioned the Monarch Engineering Company on February 26, 1914 to design a reinforced concrete elevator with a capacity of 1.5 million bushels on a new plot of land along the Buffalo River. 1 5 Although the original plans were designed by Chief Engineer H. R. Wait in 1912, a building permit was not applied for until November 19. 5 It was granted on November 31 and Elevator A was completed in June 1915 at a cost of $317,800.

Elevator A featured a single movable marine tower, which was expanded with a second marine tower at a cost of $22,000 in 1917. The elevator was the first concrete elevator in Buffalo that was completed over the winter and spring period, rather than the summer building season.

Elevator B was constructed on a site immediately west of Elevator A, linked together with an integrated basement and bin floors. 5 Because of a 22° bend in the Buffalo River, Elevator B was built on a different alignment, served with a set of independent marine towers. The elevator, also designed by Wait, was constructed by Monarch Engineering in 1923 at a cost of $275,000. It boasted a capacity of one million bushels.

Elevator B featured Buffalo’s first mushroom-headed basement columns, rather than pyramid-headed pillars. 5

Elevator C, constructed in 1925 by the James Stewart Company with A. E. Baxter Engineering serving as the supervising engineer, was based on a design by Stewart’s Chief Engineer, T.D. Budd. 5 Finished at a cost of $250,000, Elevator C could hold a little over one million bushels.

In total, Elevator A, B and C had a capacity of 3.7 million bushels. Superior, however, faced a weak agricultural market for much of the 1920’s, and over-extended itself, resulting in its inability to repay its creditors. 5

After Edwin Husted retired from day-to-day operations of Superior Elevator in 1925, the company was re-established as Premier Elevator Corporation. 5 The operating purposes of Premier extended to grain handling, milling and storage, and the lending and exchange of money, futures and receipts. The paper-only company existed only to raise money and pass on new business activities without the burden of past debts. Premier lasted only one day before being reincorporated as Superior Elevator.

In April 1929, Superior Elevator was re-established as a subsidiary of Superior Forwarding Company. 5 The new company was able to secure a mortgage on Superior Elevator, which was used as collateral to underwrite the principal and interest on bonds that the company wished to issue. The mortgage did not generate sufficient cash flow for the company. The futility of Superior Forwarding, a paper company that was overextended with loans and devoid of any substance, mirrored that of many other corporations that led to the collapse of the stock market and the beginning of the Great Depression.

Superior Elevator was placed on the auction block on August 30, 1929. 5 Superior Forwarding was the only bidder at $2.35 million but had no funds to pay old creditors. The Superior Forwarding Company dissolved on October 31, 1930, only to be reincarnated as the Superior Elevator & Forwarding Corporation (SE&F) in December. The company, unlike its past incarnations, could not use its own funds or property for the purpose of its own capital stock due to newly passed legislation to curb rampant speculation.

In 1932, SE&F, though a foreclosure action, took control of the Dakota and the Great Eastern elevators. 5 In the spring of 1939, SE&F sold its flagship elevator, the Superior Elevator, to Cargill, an international grain trader.

The SE&F continued on as a company, becoming a passive investment firm, until October 1946 when it dissolved. 5

Cargill

In the spring of 1939, 5 the Cargill Corporation acquired Superior Elevator and used it as a transfer point between bulk ships along the Great Lakes and railroad lines in New York. 3

Cargill made it known from the beginning that it regarded its purchase of Superior Elevator as a stopgap measure. 5 Cargill complained of Buffalo’s high wages and the presence of strong unions that the company strongly disfavored. The company also complained of New York’s tax rates which were higher than surrounding states.

Buffalo did offer Cargill the holding capacity to hoard grain until prices improved, fast railroad routes to eastern port cities and a rapid turn-around delivery time to New York City. 5

With the build-up of World War II, there was great demand for grain exports that kept commodity prices high. 5 The postwar agricultural boom in the United States, partly because of the devastation of farming in war-torn countries abroad, and vast improvements in agricultural science, led to even higher prices that Cargill was able to capitalize on. Between 1955 and 1965, its sales boomed from $800 million to nearly $2 billion.

Grain trading and shipping dominated Cargill’s daily operations through the 1950’s, partly because of the passage of Public Law 480 in 1954 and the creation of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC). 5 Public Law 480 helped the federal government dispose of the postwar agricultural glut by opening new markets for private grain sales. The CCC was the avenue in which excess grain production in America was purchased by the government with federal dollars to keep commodity prices elevated. The CCC essentially became the source in which Cargill could contract with to store those surpluses for a fee, paid for by the government.

After a commodity price slump, Cargill announced that it would reopen its Superior Elevator in July 1963 after a 17 month shutdown. 5 The reopening coincided with a new 10.9-million-bushel CCC allotment of surplus grain to Buffalo. Superior, however, would receive none of the allotment; Cargill reserved the elevator for its own commercial grain reserves.

Decline

The St. Lawrence Seaway, a system of locks, canals and channels, was constructed from 1954 to April 25, 1959. It allowed ocean-going vessels to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes of North America.

Prior to the completion of the Seaway, goods heading westbound to Chicago, Detroit and other Midwest markets traveled first to Buffalo via the Erie Canal or by rail before being loaded onto ships for passage via Lake Erie. 2 Grain by the boatload made the return trip, to be stored in storage elevators, ground into flour and other finer materials, and hauled to the Atlantic Seaboard either by canalboat or train.

By the close of the 19th century, Buffalo had become the largest lake port and grain-milling center in the United States, and the second-busiest railroad hub after Chicago. 2 There were more than 50 grain storage units that lined the inner and outer harbors, Lake Erie and the Buffalo River. 4 Those were steadily replaced by reinforced concrete elevators with far larger capacities. By 1931, Buffalo had 38 elevators with a total capacity for 47 million bushels of grain.

Buffalo, then the largest inland port in America, was predicted to become one of the world’s largest ports, open to ships from every continent. 2 Demographers saw the Buffalo metropolitan area, which stood at 1.2 million in the mid-1950’s, explode to 2 million or 3 million by the 21st century.

The city was anticipating immediate success from the Seaway, much like what occurred after the Erie Canal opened in 1825. 2 A city directory from 1836 bragged about the Erie’s importance to Buffalo, as much of America’s trade flowed through the city. Railroads supplanted the Erie by the 1870’s, but the waterfalls in and around Niagara Falls blocked any passage to Lake Ontario and thus the Atlantic Ocean.

Planning to transform the St. Lawrence River into a deepwater link between the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes began with a joint commission between the United States and Canada to study the possibility in 1895. 2 Another commission was formed in 1909. Both faced immense opposition from leaders in western New York who feared the destruction of Buffalo’s industrial base.

Canada completed the Welland Canal across the Niagara peninsula in 1932, which provided the first step in completing the St. Lawrence Seaway. 2 Despite this, three events paved the way for the Seaway’s construction start in 1954:

  • The discovery of large iron-ore fields in Labrador, which piqued the interest in steel mills in Buffalo and other cities. The Seaway would be the most cost effective route to transport the iron ore to those mills.
  • Republican Dwight Eisenhower, who pledged a pro-business administration, voiced support for the Seaway.
  • Canada, who, after years of delays in completing the Seaway, hinted that it might complete the canal on its own terms.

Buffalo had not been prepared after the St. Lawrence Seaway opened in 1959. 2 There were no deepwater ports for the new massive ships that barreled down the new seaway and many opted to bypass the city to unload goods at ports closer to the Midwest. The Port of Buffalo, which had handled 24 million tons of cargo in 1957, dropped to 16 million tons by mid-1960’s and just 9 million by the 1970’s. Bethlehem Steel’s decision to close its steel mill in Buffalo in 1982 all but eliminated the Port’s traffic.

With the Seaway all but bypassing Buffalo, Cargill could abandon its western New York operations except for winter storage when the Seaway was closed. 5 The company also began to lose its preferential railroad rates to eastern port cities, which made winter storage too costly in Buffalo. Thus, it was no longer beneficial for Cargill to trade shorter delivery times to New York City for increased costs.

Cargill instead rented entire trains and rights-of-way from railroads, giving it the ability to transport grain directly from the Midwest to New York City without stopping in Buffalo. 5 By the 1970’s, Superior Elevator was moribund as Cargill was unable to sell it. The company eventually refused to pay taxes for the idled facility.

When Superior Elevator was put up for auction in 1982, Cargill re-acquired the property for substantially less than what it owed the city and county in back taxes. 5 In 1985, Cargill sold the elevator to the Bauer Corporation of Fort Collins, Colorado. Despite receiving tax-exempt status from the city, Bauer never reopened Superior Elevator.

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