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The Buffalo of Yesteryear: In Cheektowaga, from farmland to airport

Before the mid-1920s, the property where the Buffalo Niagara International Airport now stands was a swath of farmland in Cheektowaga.

It was only after a group of aviation enthusiasts convinced Buffalo city officials that “an airport was an indispensable element for any city intent on industrial and commercial growth,” according to the airport’s official website, that the airport began to take shape.

Airport officials assembled 538 acres in Cheektowaga between 1925 and 1929 and built what was then called Buffalo Municipal Airport. (The airport today comprises nearly 1,000 acres.)

In December 1927, passenger and airmail service began between Buffalo and Cleveland. Air travel to and from Buffalo increased from that point.

Spurring Buffalo’s aviation industry was the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co., which was based in the city and had large contracts with the Navy and Army to build military aircraft. The company had built a $4 million airplane factory, the largest in the world at the time, when the United States entered World War I. Curtiss’ main plant was at 2050 Elmwood Ave.

In the late 1930s, crews erected an Art Deco office building serving the airport, according to the 2012 book “Buffalo,” published as part of Arcadia Publishing’s Postcard History series. It has since been replaced, as improvements were made and Buffalo’s airport became the third-busiest in New York State.

The airport’s facilities were used heavily during World War II, spurring airfield, roadway and parking improvements in the immediate postwar years. The 1950s also saw the airport’s owner change hands from the City of Buffalo to the Niagara Frontier Port Authority, which later was merged into the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

In the late 1950s, construction began on the Kensington Expressway, which directly linked downtown Buffalo and the airport.

The airport’s current terminal opened in 1997 and cost $56 million to build. It originally had 15 gates but has since increased its capacity to 25 gates. The number of daily flights since 1997 has risen from 94 to more than 130.

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