Road Trip: Buffalo New York

Great American Road Trip

City of Buffalo, NY
City of Buffalo, NY

Destination: Buffalo, New York

Book: City on the Edge by Mark Goldman

My great aunt Maude Bartlett lived in Buffalo with her husband, dearCarlos.  She always referred to him as though his name had three syllables. I never visited Aunt Maude in Buffalo, and Carlos died before I was born.  He was a lawyer for the railroads, back when the railroads were very prosperous, so they lived a solid upper middle class life and Maude belonged to Women’s clubs and Shakespeare societies and hosted teas. DearCarlos died when he was only 42 years old, but Maude continued to live a comfortable life in Buffalo.

She finally moved back to the small town in Ohio where she grew up, and where my Grandmother Vera lived all her life.  Maude and Vera fought constantly. Two sisters were never so different. Apparently great-grandmother had shown  great favoritism to Maude, the older sister, the refined one, the one who played the piano and knew all the best brands of silver and china. But they called each other every day.

When my family moved back to the same town, I sometimes visited her, and as her eyesight failed, she wanted my brother and me to read to her. I dutifully spent summer afternoons one summer reading a book about Alaska to her, but I didn’t like doing it and soon got out of it.

I have always regretted that my self-centered teenage self didn’t have the sense to ask about Buffalo, and what her life was like in that city on Lake Erie. Because of these memories, for our road trip stop in western New York state, I chose to read City on the Edge: Buffalo, New York ,  a history and analysis of Buffalo by Mark Goldman.

I gobbled up the first few chapters about Buffalo’s peak days, when they idolized industry, glorying in giving away lakefront to shipping and manufacturing companies and allowing railroads to split the city. Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of Central Park, was invited to lay out boulevards and parks for Buffalo. Frank Lloyd Wright designed houses for the wealthy. But  industry eventually toppled from its pedestal and crushed the economy of the city along with other rustbelt cities in the northern tier of Midwest states.

Albright Knox Museum Buffalo
Albright Knox Museum, Buffalo

Despite a decade by decade retelling of grim mistakes and economic disaster,the book points out a rich cultural life.  The Albright Art Gallery, later to become the Albright-Knox, starting early in the 20th century, built what is still one of the best modern art collections in the country.  And in music,  Buffalo became known for supporting avant-garde music, and the Buffalo Philharmonic, founded in 1935, performs in a historic hall designed by Eliel and Eero Saarinen. Buffalo also boasts the 2nd oldest Chamber Music Society in the U.S.

It would have been wonderful to see the beautiful elm trees that crowded the edges of Buffalo streets before the Dutch Elm disease thinned out those trees. Today, Goldman says, volunteers are replanting trees and restoring the plazas and parks designed by Olmstead.


Yes, I wish I had asked Aunt Maude more about her life in Buffalo, which was at its hey-day when she lived there. But is this a book for road trip travelers? Is Buffalo even a city for travelers? The Buffalo-Niagara Falls web site proclaims “Be Surprised.” And the Albright-Knox Gallery site says “Experience the Unexpected.” As in, ‘you weren’t expecting anything, so whatever you find is going to be better than what you were expecting’?  Warning: unless you really love blizzards, do not visit in the winter.

As for this book,  the danger in writing history is the temptation to use every fact you uncover and City on the Edge is crammed with facts. I also got the feeling that Goldman, a investor and restaurateur when he’s not writing history, also used some of the book to settle some political scores. Let me suggest that you might use it as a reference, if you are going to stop in Buffalo. For more information on Buffalo, Goldman suggests Buffalo Rising, an on-line newspaper.

Music Road tells about three western New York songwriters for our road music to go with the road trip to Buffalo.

Photos by M.H.Baker from Flickr, used under Creative Commons license. Click on a photo to see more of this Buffalo photographer’s work.

So, have you stopped in Buffalo when you were on a road trip to Niagara Falls?  I shared the high culture, but what about the strictly fun stuff?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

11 thoughts on “Road Trip: Buffalo New York

  1. On a visit to Niagra Falls, my family made a quick stop in Buffalo to try out their famous buffalo wings. That’s about all I remember from my few hours there. Perhaps I should go back to explore what their might be to do for active baby boomer travelers. I might just be surprised.

  2. I think probably most areas hold some sort of appeal for travelers, so long as the traveler is in the right frame of mind. The part of this article I relate to the most is not getting firsthand stories from older relatives about what life was like somewhere. When we’re teenagers, our older relatives want to share stories of the past, and we don’t want to hear them. Then when we’re old enough to appreciate them and want to hear them, they either don’t want to talk about it, or aren’t around to talk about it. One of the ironies of life.

  3. I’ve lived here my entire life and I have to tell you that other cities in NY get a LOT more snow than we do. Consistently, every year,Rochester and Syracuse get more. We had a big blizzard in 1977 that was more about the wind than about the snowfall. There is LOTS to do here. The architecture is world class. We have a thriving theater community. The dining scene is diverse and wonderful. People just think about Buffalo wings, but we have excellent French, Italian, Lebanese, Indian, Japanese, Polish, German cuisine to sample. People in Buffalo are friendly and always ready to strike up a conversation or give directions.

  4. I’ve yet to visit Buffalo or Niagra Falls.

    As I survived a visit to Fairbanks, Alaska in the winter, perhaps I could handle a Buffalo winter visit? This California girls thinks its probably better to visit NY in the fall and watch the leaves change color.

  5. Let’s Go Buffalo! The best way to experience Buffalo is to spend a few minutes ask a native there. From going down the old Erie Canal, to Mumford Historical Village, to sporting events, to theater, to fishing and hiking, everyone has a favorite.

    Or if you are going that way, you can always ask me if you want a recommendation. lbaran. pcs @gmail. com

    1. Laura: I knew I could count on you to add some practical tips. And Nancy, having lived in Ohio, not far away from the Lake, I think you’re right about fall leaves preferable to falling tempertures. But do see Niagara. Jessie: I think that is probably the case with a lot of people, even though Buffalo tries to cross-promote, people don’t stop off in Buffalo.

Comments are closed.