Demolishing the Pan-American Exposition

When the Pan-American Exposition closed on midnight of November 2, 1901, then what happened? The process of dismantling Exposition buildings, clearing the grounds, filling in the canals, and subdividing the parcel into streets and house lots took several years. Today, the former Exposition grounds are completely replaced by residences, commercial and industrial buildings, and parking lots. 

Apart from our Museum, built as the New York State Building, no other structures designed and built for the Exposition remain on the former Pan-Am grounds. The closest runner-up is the wood frame cottage at 1950 Delaware Avenue, which is now emblazoned with a large “Pan-Am House” sign. This cottage predates the Exposition and was on the grounds when the land was acquired. It was repurposed during the Exposition as part of the Indian Stockade, then returned to private residential use.

Here are selected events in the long process of demolishing the Pan-American:

November 2, 1901: Almost 125,000 people witness the closing of the Exposition. Buffalo Morning Express, Nov. 3, 1901

November 9, 1901: The Exposition closes with a $3,000,000 deficit. Literary Digest, Nov. 9, 1901, p. 561.

November 15, 1901: Representatives from the Chicago House Wrecking Co. arrive in Buffalo to negotiate a contract to demolish the Exposition. Buffalo Enquirer, Nov. 15, 1901.

December, 1901: Chicago House Wrecking Co. bids $132,000 to dismantle the Pan-American, anticipating that the project can be completed in 150 days. The Radford Review, December 15, 1901, p. 36.

December, 1901: Many smaller buildings are already salvaged for lumber to satisfy creditors; extensive vandalism of statues and grounds. The Exposition is fenced and guarded to prevent unauthorized entry. Collier’s Weekly, December 28, 1901, pp. 19, 23.

February 26, 1902: Chicago House Wrecking Co., frustrated by battles among creditors, withdraws from negotiations to purchase Pan-American buildings. Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, Feb. 26, 1902.

February 28, 1902: Chicago House Wrecking Co. finalizes the purchase of the Pan-American buildings for $80,000.  Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, Feb. 28, 1902.

March 5, 1902: Chicago House Wrecking Co. begins demolition of the Pan-American. Buffalo Enquirer, March 5, 1902.

March 7, 1902: Park Commissioners petition the Buffalo Board of Alderman for a $28,500 appropriation to restore Delaware Park grounds damaged by the Exposition. Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, March 7, 1902.

March 16, 1902: Grounds reportedly littered with the rubble of broken columns, statuary, lamp posts, and carvings. Exposition paths disfigured by mud; canals filled with ice, mud, and chunks of plaster. Buffalo Daily Courier, March 16, 1902.

May, 1902: Chicago House Wrecking Co. issues a special Pan-American catalog listing materials available for sale from the Exposition. The Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site owns a copy of this catalog and has digitized itScience & Industry, May, 1902, p. 271

July 1, 1902: After a buyer fails to materialize, the Goddess of Light statue is toppled from the top of the Electric Tower, shattering on the ground. Buffalo Sunday Courier, July 13, 1902.

July 1, 1902: Pan-Am Company President John Milburn successfully lobbies Congress to pass the Pan-American Relief bill, which will compensate creditors and bondholders. Buffalo Sunday Courier, July 13, 1902.

August, 1902: Amherst Street restored as a public right-of-way. Buildings still standing include the Temple of Music, Ethnology, Liberal Arts, Service, Machinery, Electricity, Acetylene, Emergency Hospital, and Bismarck Café. The Clay Worker, August, 1902, p. 158

October, 1902: Chicago House Wrecking Co. predicts that removing all buildings from the grounds of the Exposition will be completed by January 1, 1903. Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, Oct. 6, 1902.

April, 1903: Temple of Music, Ethnology, and Acetylene buildings still standing. About 50 feet of the base of the Electric Tower still standing. The Clay Worker, April 1903, p. 461

April 9, 1903: Chicago House Wrecking Co. employee Bert Marren falls to his death from the Electric Tower. Buffalo Morning Express, April 10, 1903.

August, 1903: George W. Jennings assumes the contract from the Chicago House Wrecking Co. to clear the grounds of the Exposition, anticipating that the process will take another year.  The Temple of Music is finally demolished. Buffalo Enquirer, Aug. 1, 1903.

February, 1905: John Milburn’s portrait in the Buffalo Club is defaced with a chalk inscription, “For God’s sake, let us forget.” New York Times, Feb. 14, 1905

1909: The S. B. Nye Company begins residential development of the former Exposition grounds between Elmwood, Nottingham, Lincoln Parkway, and Amherst Streets, calling the subdivision Nye Park. The Buffalo & Erie County Public Library has digitized a Nye Park promotional brochure.

You may also like our Pan-American Exposition Buildings Guide, which gives the fate of individual buildings, as best as we could tell.

Cynthia Van Ness is the Director of Library and Archives at The Buffalo History Museum. This article originally appeared in our member newsletter The Album, Spring 2018.

142 years old and still in service: Buffalo’s oldest bridge


International Railroad Bridge, opened in 1873.

Thousands of Thruway drivers pass it around the clock with a quick glance at best. It has been in service for over 51,000 days, built before the invention of the automobile, airplane, and Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone.  It shares a birth year with the first typewriter to have a QWERTY keyboard. It opened for business in 1873 during Ulysses Grant’s administration as the International Railroad Bridge.

The need for a rail crossing between Buffalo and Fort Erie became evident after the Suspension Bridge opened in Niagara Falls (1854) and the area was soon overwhelmed by rail traffic. Negotiations between the State of New York and the Dominion Parliament began in 1857 but were interrupted by the Civil War. Finally, in 1870, Congress and Parliament agreed on terms and budgeted $1,500,000 for the project. The International Bridge Company, formed by the Grand Trunk Railroad, was awarded a charter to design and construct the bridge. The Gzowski-MacPherson Company won the contract and began work, supervised by Polish-Canadian engineer Sir Casimir Gzowski (1813-1898).

Gzowski must have been a gifted child, because he entered the Military Engineering College at Kremnitz at age 9. As a young man, he took part in Polish uprisings against the Russian forces. Exiled to New York after the defeat of these efforts, Gzowski learned English, studied law, and eventually settled in Toronto, where he supervised public works on roads and harbors in Ontario and Montreal and developed an interest in rail engineering.

When Gzowski began work on the International Bridge, a crossing at this point was considered impossible. The currents of the Niagara River were too swift and treacherous, the water levels too unpredictable, the ice build-up too heavy, and the storms too intense. Gzowski was almost 60 when he took on the challenge.

In spite of construction challenges and setbacks, the 1.11 mile bridge opened on November 3, 1873 without the loss of any lives. It quickly became one of the busiest international crossing points in North America. In 1890, Gzowski was knighted by Queen Victoria.

While the bridge mostly carried freight trains, until 1934 it also carried one daily passenger car. It had wooden plank sidewalks until 1900, when the trusses were fully redesigned and replaced. Its busiest day was July 10, 1916, when 264 trains crossed. Today it serves 15 trains per day and is a handsome, sturdy reminder of 19th century engineering prowess.

Read more about it:
Gzowski, Casimir Stanislaus
Description of the International Bridge: Constructed over the Niagara River, near Fort Erie, Canada, and Buffalo, U.S. of America
Toronto: Copp, Clark & Co., 1873

TG445 .I6
The international railroad bridge, Fort Erie to Buffalo, 1873-1973 and Colonel Casimir S. Gzowski
Buffalo, NY : Published by Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario, Engineering Institute of Canada, N.Y. State Society of Professional Engineers, Erie-Niagara Section, American Society of Civil Engineers, Buffalo Section, ©1973

Cynthia Van Ness, MLS
Director of Library & Archives

*This article was featured in The Buffalo History Museum‘s Fall 2015 issue of The Album.