Buffalo, New York

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Aerial view of downtown Buffalo, New York
Aerial view of downtown Buffalo, New York

Buffalo is an American city in western New York. With about 300,000 residents, it is the state's second-largest city, after New York City, and is the county seat of Erie County6. The Buffalo-Niagara metropolitan area has a population of 1.1 million. Despite its cold, industrial image, Buffalo is home to a diverse population and thriving arts, cultural, and nightlife scenes.

Buffalo has gathered several nicknames over the years. The most common - The Queen City - refers to its position at the turn of the 20th century as the second-largest city on the Great Lakes, after Chicago, Illinois. Buffalo has also been called The Nickel City due to the appearance of a buffalo on the back of american nickels in the early part of the 20th century. The City of Good Neighbors refers to the spirit of its inhabitants.

Distancing itself from its industrial past, Buffalo was named by Reader's Digest as the third cleanest city in America in 2005. In 2001 USA Today named Buffalo the winner of its "City with a Heart" contest, proclaiming it the nation's "friendliest city."

Buffalo, New York
Official flag of Buffalo, New York Official seal of Buffalo, New York
City flag City seal
City nickname: "City of Good Neighbors"
Location of Buffalo, New York
Location of Buffalo in New York State
Mayor Anthony M. Masiello
Physical characteristics
136.0 km²
     105.2 km²
     30.8 km²
     Total (2000)

Latitude 42°54'17" N
Longitude 78°50'58" W
Time zone
     Summer (DST)
     EDT (UTC−4)
Official website: Buffalo, NY



Origin of name

Curiously, the city's name arose not from the same-named animal, but from its location at the origin of the Niagara River. Some claim the name comes from the French "beau fleuve" ("beautiful river"). Other historians cite the fact that Buffalo Creek was so-named long before the naming of the city, and they suggest that the city's name more likely honors the Seneca Indian after whom this small waterway was named.

Early history of Buffalo

Most of western New York was granted by Charles II of England to the Duke of York (later known as James II of England), but the first European settlement in what is now Erie County was by the French, at the mouth of Buffalo Creek in 1758. Its buildings were destroyed a year later because of an impending British attack. The British took control of the entire region in 1763, at the conclusion of the French and Indian War.

The first American to settle in present day Buffalo was Cornelius Winney, who set up a log cabin store there in 1789 for trading with the Native American community. Dutch investors purchased the area as part of the Holland Land Purchase, and parcels were sold through the Holland Land Company's office in Batavia, New York, starting in 1801. The village was initially called New Amsterdam. In 1808, the new Niagara County, New York was formed (including what is now Erie County), and newly renamed Buffalo became its county seat. By 1811, the predominantly Anglo-American village had grown to 500 people.

The Electric Building - Buffalo, New York
The Electric Building - Buffalo, New York

The 19th century

Around 1804 the future city was planned by Joseph Ellicott, a principal agent of the Holland Land Company. His plan for the city included a radial street and grid system that branches out from downtown and is one of only three completed radial street patterns in the U.S.A. In 1810 the Town of Buffalo was formed from the western part of the Town of Clarence while still part of Niagara County. On December 30, 1813, during the War of 1812, British troops and their Native American allies captured the village of Buffalo and burned much of it to the ground. Buffalo was rebuilt and re-established as a town in 1816. In 1818 the eastern part of the town was lost to form the Town of Amherst, and in 1839, the northern part of the Town of Buffalo became the Town of Black Rock.

Upon the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, Buffalo became the western end of the 524-mile waterway starting at New York City. At the time Buffalo had a population of about 2,400 people; with the increased commerce of the canal, the population boomed and Buffalo became a city in 1832. Buffalo was re-incorporated as a city in 1853, at which time it had some 10,000 people. The re-incorporation included the Village and Town of Black Rock, which had been Buffalo's early rival for the canal terminus. After the Canal's completion, thousands of pioneers to western United States debarked from Erie Canalboats to begin their western adventure from Buffalo. During their hiatus in Buffalo, many partook of the pleasures of Buffalo's infamous Canal Street district.

Buffalo was a terminus of the Underground Railroad, an informal series of safe houses for runaway slaves who had escaped from the U. S. South in the mid-19th century. After hiding at the Michigan Street Baptist Church, the slaves could take a ferry to Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada and freedom.

Several U.S. presidents have connections with Buffalo. Millard Fillmore took up permanent residence in Buffalo in 1822 before he became America's 13th president; he was also the first chancellor of the University of Buffalo (later University at Buffalo). Grover Cleveland, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States, lived in Buffalo from 1854 until 1882, and served as Buffalo's mayor from 1882–1883. William McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901 at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, and died in Buffalo on the 14th. Theodore Roosevelt was then sworn in on September 14th, 1901 at the Wilcox Mansion (now the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site), becoming one of the few presidents to be sworn in outside of Washington, D.C..

John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the United States, was also born in Buffalo. Other historical personages of note include Nobel laureate Herbert Hauptmann, Iroquois leader Red Jacket, Wells Fargo founder William G. Fargo and Wilson Greatbatch, Inventor of the Pacemaker.

The city hall of Buffalo, NY - an art deco masterpiece
The city hall of Buffalo, NY - an art deco masterpiece

The 20th century

At the turn of the century, Buffalo was a growing city with a burgeoning economy. Immigrants came from Ireland, Italy, Germany, and Poland to work in the steel and grain mills which had taken advantage of the city's critical location at the junction of the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal. Hydroelectric power harnessed from nearby Niagara Falls made Buffalo the first American city to enjoy widespread electric power.

Main Street and Lafayette Square, Buffalo, from a 1922 postcard
Main Street and Lafayette Square, Buffalo, from a 1922 postcard

The opening of the Peace Bridge linking Buffalo with Fort Erie, Ontario on 7 August 1927 was an occasion for significant celebrations. Those in attendance included Edward, Prince of Wales (later to become Edward VIII of the United Kingdom), his brother Prince Albert George (later George VI), British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, Canada's Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, US Vice President Charles G. Dawes, and New York governor Alfred E. Smith.

Buffalo's new City Hall was dedicated on July 1, 1932.

The city's importance declined in the later 20th Century for several reasons, perhaps the most devastating being the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1957. Goods which had previously passed through Buffalo could now bypass it using a series of canals and locks, reaching the ocean via the St. Lawrence River. Another major toll on the city was the suburban migration trend, which occurred in many American cities at the time. The city, which boasted over half a million people at its peak, has seen its population decline by some 50 percent, as industries shut down and people left the Rust Belt for the more moderate winters and air-conditioned summers of the South and Southwest. The metropolitan area as a whole has not shrunk by nearly as much, but it is still one of the few metropolitan areas of over 1 million population that has been losing population.


Buffalo is located on the eastern end of Lake Erie, at the beginning of the Niagara River, which flows northward over Niagara Falls and into Lake Ontario. It is located at 42°54'17" North, 78°50'58" West (42.904657, -78.849405)1. The city is geographically closer to Toronto, Canada than it is to any major US city. The city is opposite Fort Erie, Ontario in Canada.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 136.0 km² (52.5 mi²). 105.2 km² (40.6 mi²) of it is land and 30.8 km² (11.9 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 22.66% water.


Buffalo has a perhaps undeserved reputation for severe weather. In fact, Buffalo is the sunniest and driest of any major city in the Northeast in the summer, but still receives enough rain to keep vegetation green and lush. Of course, this causes the area to be quite humid in late summer, which is why many residents have backyard pools and air conditioners, a fact that surprises many visitors, who expect Buffalo is all about snow and cold.

Winters are a bit longer than in other areas, and due to the lake effect, Buffalo averages more snowfall than most northern cities, but they are not extremely cold and include frequent thaws and rain as well. Ski country south of Buffalo receives about twice the amount of snow as the metro area each winter, making it one of the best winter recreation centers in the northeastern USA.

The occasionally heavy snowfall in the region is caused by below-freezing winds blowing over the warmer water of Lake Erie. Often the resulting meandering "snow belts" are only ten or fifteen miles wide, with sun shining in one spot and raging lake effect snow falling only a mile or two away. Lake Erie is much shallower than the other Great Lakes, and portions often freeze over in the winter. When this occurs, lake effect snowfall ends. Perhaps the best known snow storm in Buffalo history is the Blizzard of '77. The city is an annual competitor for the Golden Snowball Award between large Upstate cities.

Often obscured by media frenzy over winter snowstorms is the fact that Buffalo benefits from the moderating influence of Lake Erie. Its summers are delightful, with cooling southwest breezes from the lake tempering the warmest days. Buffalo's official weather station has never in recorded history logged a temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or more. The city has the highest per-capita number of private swimming pools of any major American city; and sailing, waterskiing, and swimming are popular summer pastimes, not to mention sport fishing, which has at its disposal one of the greatest varieties of fresh-water fish in the nation, in the Niagara River, Lake Erie, and tributary streams. These include walleye, perch, large- and small-mouth bass, trout and steelhead, northern pike, muskellunge, and imported salmon.


M&T Center & The Liberty Building - Buffalo, New York
M&T Center & The Liberty Building - Buffalo, New York

As of the census2 of 2000,the city had a total population of 292,648. Erie and Niagara Counties have a combined population of 1,170,111 (2000).

At that time there were 292,648 people, 122,720 households, and 67,005 families residing in the city. The population density is 2,782.4/km² (7,205.8/mi²). There are 145,574 housing units at an average density of 1,384.1/km² (3,584.4/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 54.43% White, 37.23% African American, 0.77% Native American, 1.40% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 3.68% from other races, and 2.45% from two or more races. 7.54% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 122,720 households out of which 28.6% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 27.6% are married couples living together, 22.3% have a female householder with no husband present, and 45.4% are non-families. 37.7% of all households are made up of individuals and 12.1% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.29 and the average family size is 3.07.

In the city the population included 26.3% under the age of 18, 11.3% from 18 to 24, 29.3% from 25 to 44, 19.6% from 45 to 64, and 13.4% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 34 years. For every 100 females there are 88.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 83.5 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $24,536, and the median income for a family is $30,614. Males have a median income of $30,938 versus $23,982 for females. The per capita income for the city is $14,991. 26.6% of the population and 23.0% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 38.4% of those under the age of 18 and 14.0% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.


Buffalo is home to two State University of New York institutions, each the largest of their type in the system, Buffalo State College, a comprehensive college, and the University at Buffalo, a university center. The city also is home to Bryant and Stratton College, Daemen College, D'Youville College, Medaille College, Canisius College, and Trocaire College. A campus of Erie Community College and a site of Empire State College are also located in the downtown area.



Residents and expatriates alike speak the praises of the Buffalo area's cuisine, which is a unique conglomeration of Irish, Polish, Greek and American influences. Beef on Weck, Sahlen's hot dogs, Pierogi, and Haddock Fish Fries are among the local treats. Teressa Bellissimo, the chef/owner of the city's Anchor Bar, first prepared the now-widespread Buffalo chicken wings there on October 3, 1964. Buffalo pizza is also of unique design; perhaps due to Buffalo's being geographically located roughly halfway between New York City and Chicago, Illinois, the pizza made here is likewise about halfway between thin-crust New York style and deep-dish Chicago style. Several websites exist that will ship Buffalo pizza (and other local foods) anywhere in the country.

Buffalo also boasts a several specialty grocery stores in old ethnic neighborhoods and is home to an eclectic collection of cafes and restaurants that serve more cosmopolitan faire.

Buffalo is home to several well-known food products companies. Whipped topping, similar to Cool Whip, was invented in Buffalo in 1945 by Robert E. Rich, Sr. The food company that produced this first whipped topping, Rich Products Corporation, is today a major employer in Buffalo. General Mills was organized in Buffalo, and Gold Medal brand flour, Wheaties, Bisquick, Betty Crocker mixes and Cheerios are produced there. Freezer Queen Foods, a well-known producer of frozen food dinners, also operates from the Buffalo waterfront.


Buffalo is home to over 50 private and public art galleries, most notably the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, home to an world-class collection of Modern art. The local art scene is also serviced by the Burchfield-Penney Art Center, Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, and countless small galleries and studios. Two street festivals - the Allentown Arts Festival and the Elmwood Festival of the Arts - bring thousands of people to the city to browse and purchase original artwork.


Darwin Martin House, Buffalo, New York
Darwin Martin House, Buffalo, New York

A plethora of architectural treasures exist in Buffalo, including:

The largest intact system of parks and parkways designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in the country, including Delaware Park, said to be a model for Olmsted's Central Park in NYC.

Buildings by famed American architects August Esenwein and Henry Hobson Richardson.

The Guaranty Building, by Louis Sullivan, was one of the first steel-supported, curtain-walled buildings in the world, and its thirteen stories made it, at the time it was built, the tallest building in Buffalo.

The creme-de-la-creme of Buffalo architecture, however, are several buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright, including the Darwin Martin House, George Barton House, William Heath House, The Graycliff Estate, as well as the now demolished Larkin Administration Building.


Last call is 4 am in Buffalo. Several distinct and thriving nightlife districts have grown around clusters of bars and nightclubs in the City. The most visible nightlife district is Chippewa Street, between Main Street and South Elmwood Avenue, home to high-energy dance clubs, crowded bars, trendy coffehouses, a sex shop, and restaurants. Bohemian Allentown, where bars are as numerous but the atmosphere is a bit more relaxed, is a 20-minute walk to the North. Allentown has other "alternative" fare, such as the film-arts organization, Squeaky Wheel, and several tattoo parlors. The Chippewa Strip and Allentown hold nearly all of Buffalo's gay bars, a number of which are popular among the "straight" crowd as well, due to the music and atmosphere. Another 20-minute walk north on Elmwood Avenue from Allentown is the Elmwood Strip, which runs from about Bryant and Elmwood to Elmwood and Forrest. Most Elmwood Strip places are more bars than clubs, crowds tending to preppy, or college students.

Famous Entertainers

Buffalo has a thriving theater and music scene that has spawned several national acts worth noting. Famous historical musicians of note include Jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., seminal 1940s harmonic group the Modernaires, all graduates of the city's oldest public school still in its original building, Lafayette High School, singer-songwriter Willie Nile, and songwriters Harold Arlen and Jack Yellen. (Arlen's career was recently commemorated in Buffalo's twenties-era theatre, [Shea's Buffalo Theater]]), and Nino Tempo & April Stevens. Popular modern musicians from Buffalo include funk singer Rick James, keyboardist Stan Szelest, bassist Billy Sheehan (of Mr. Big and Talas fame), folk singer/songwriter Ani DiFranco,"American Idol" contestant and recording artist John Stevens, The Goo Goo Dolls (colloquially known as "The Goos"), 10,000 Maniacs (Natalie Merchant is from nearby Jamestown), and hardcore scenesters Snapcase and Every Time I Die. Spyro Gyra started in Buffalo and included many natives in its original lineup. Musical theater director and choreographer Michael Bennett is also from Buffalo, as is Vincent Gallo, who cast a jaundiced eye on the city and its sports obsession in his film Buffalo 66.

Television news hosts Tim Russert and Wolf Blitzer were raised in the greater Buffalo area, as were Howdy Doody host Buffalo Bob Smith and political satirist Mark Russell. Several prominent actors and actresses also hail from the Buffalo area, including William Sadler, James Whitmore, Gary Sinise, Christine Baranski, Chad Michael Murray, Wendie Malick, Nick Bakay, Tom Mardirosian and both John Schuck, and Amanda Blake, both of whom were graduates of nearby Amherst High School. Noted TV writers Tom Fontana, David Milch and Charles LeFevre also hail from the Buffalo area. Lucille Ball hails from nearby Jamestown.

Other famous residents

Several well known authors hail from the Buffalo area, including Paul Horgan, Joyce Carol Oates, Taylor Caldwell, and playwrights Ruben Santiago-Hudson ("Lackawanna Blues") and A.R. Gurney (The Dining Room and Love Letters).

Mark Twain lived in Buffalo as a part-owner and managing editor of The Buffalo Express from 1869 to 1871. While not technically a Buffalonian, he's remembered by his readers for his time in Buffalo due to his stories "A Day at Niagara Falls" and "The Diaries of Adam and Eve", the latter being a humorous play on the nearby town of Eden.

Other writers who lived in Buffalo included Leslie Fiedler, John Barth and Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee. In addition, Charles Burchfield, among the most important water color painters, lived in Buffalo for many years.

Buffalo's best-known athlete is probably baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn. In the early 20th century, Buffalo was a boxing mecca, and spawned world champions including light-heavyweight Jimmy Slattery and lightweight Jimmy Goodrich.

Points of interest

Sports teams

Current Teams

The Buffalo Bills, of the National Football League.

The Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League.

The Buffalo Bisons of Minor Leauge Baseball's International League, AAA team for the Cleveland Indians.

The Buffalo Bandits of the National Lacrosse League.

The Buffalo Rapids of the American Basketball Association.

Former Teams

The Buffalo Braves played in the NBA from 19701978

The Buffalo Destroyers of the Arena Football League from 19992003

The Buffalo Blizzard of the defunct National Professional Soccer League from 19922001.

The Buffalo Stallions of the defunct Major Indoor Soccer League from 19791984.

The Buffalo Bills from 19471949 and Buffalo Bisons in 1946 of the defunct All-America Football Conference.

Baseball pitchers Warren Spahn and Orel Hershiser are originally from Buffalo.


The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, or NFTA, operates public transit throughout the Buffalo area. The NFTA runs a number of buses throughout the city and suburbs, as well as a 6-mile Metro Rail light rail rapid transit system in the city. The NFTA also operates Buffalo Niagara International Airport and Niagara Falls International Airport.

The city is served by Buffalo-Depew (Amtrak) and Buffalo-Exchange Street (Amtrak) stations.

Downtown Buffalo is also served by The Buffalo Bike Taxi Co.


  • "Names on the Land", by George H. Stewart
  • "A Short History of Buffalo", from the "Buffalonian"
  • "Mark Twain: A Biography", by Albert Bigelow Paine; Harper & Brothers, New York, 1912

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