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The Buffalo of Yesteryear: Schoellkopf's massive coal tar dye plant on 'Abbott'

What do Germany, Niagara Falls, coal tar dyes, leathermaking and the Buffalo River have in common?

They all factored heavily into the life of Jacob F. Schoellkopf, a German immigrant who became one of Buffalo’s most prominent citizens in the 1800s. Schoellkopf came to Buffalo in 1844 and opened a leather shop on Mohawk Street, according to the 1901 history book “Buffalo – Old and New.” He later started a tannery and expanded his business to Milwaukee and Chicago.

Schoellkopf eventually amassed a fortune by managing various flour mills, starting a brewery in Niagara Falls and helping organize the Niagara Falls Power Co.

But it was a coal tar dye manufacturing business he founded with his son, Jacob F. Schoellkopf Jr., that boasted a plant on the Buffalo River that was “the largest of its kind in the United States,” according to the “Old and New” authors.

The Schoellkopf, Hartford & Hanna Co., founded in 1879, was in the business of manufacturing anilines, which are compounds used to produce dyes and organic chemicals. It became one of the largest companies in New York State, with offices in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Milwaukee, Kansas City and Cincinnati, among other cities, the “Old and New” authors wrote.

The plant, which included more than 16 buildings and employed 120 men at the time, was located on 6 acres “in Abbott Road near the Iron Bridge,” the authors wrote, which could be confusing to a reader today. That stretch of what was then known as Abbott is now called South Park Avenue. A 1902 map of Buffalo shows the plant was on the downtown side of the Buffalo River, in the Valley neighborhood. Today, southbound passengers on South Park would see the property – with most of the buildings now gone – on the right-hand side before they cross the waterway and into South Buffalo.

Schoellkopf died in 1899, according to the “Old and New” book.

The Schoellkopf, Hartford & Hanna Co. was eventually absorbed into Allied Corp., which sold the property (along with other nearby sites) to the Buffalo Color Corp. in 1977, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Buffalo Color Corp. ceased production in 2003 and filed for bankruptcy two years later. In 2011, the Buffalo Color Corp. buildings, save for the handful that remain today, were demolished. The site is now a part of the state's Brownfield Cleanup Program.

The former Buffalo Color complex in South Buffalo. (Derek Gee/News file photo)

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