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[BN] Chronicles: Black Rock’s Pratt & Letchworth, Buffalo’s original ironworks

[BN] Chronicles: Black Rock’s Pratt & Letchworth, Buffalo’s original ironworks

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Pratt and Letchworth c1900.jpg

Pratt & Letchworth, Tonawanda St. in Black Rock, around 1900. The towers of the Richardson complex are visible faintly in the distance. 

As Buffalo grew from a small frontier town to one of America’s largest cities over the second half of the 1800s, one of the essential drivers of that growth was the ironworks of Pratt & Letchworth, founded in 1854 at 44 Terrace St. near the terminus of the Erie Canal.

pratt & letchworth 1850s.jpg

Pratt & Letchworth in the 1840s at 44 Terrace near Buffalo's waterfront.

Eventually expanding to 36 acres in Black Rock bounded by the New York Central Railroad and Scajaquada Creek (with easy access to the Erie Canal and Great Lakes), by the 1870s, Pratt & Letchworth had grown to become the nation’s largest producer of carriage, horse-rigging and saddlery hardware.

Around the turn of the century, Pratt & Letchworth sold off the saddlery business to focus on railroad components like gearboxes and couplings, and would be among the industry leaders for the next 80 years.

pratt & letchworth grinding steel 1946.jpg

Grinding steel at Pratt & Letchworth, 1946.

In 1911, an ad in the Buffalo Commercial read, “steel malleable iron castings, made in the acid open hearth process, constitute their product. During (the last half century), this establishment has had a remarkable career of development. Beginning in a small way, its square business methods and the quality of their product have resulted in time to an expansion of the plant, which places it in the foremost rank of those engaged in similar business.”

The plant was one of the largest in Buffalo, and one of the largest supplying the railroad industry anywhere in the country – employing as many as 1,000 men at one point.

Bought out by Dayton Malleable in 1952, the Tonawanda Street plant was the oldest continuously operating foundry when slowing orders closed the place with the loss of about 500 jobs in 1981.

laid off by pratt and letchworth 1982.jpg

Laid off workers stand on Tonawanda Street in front of Pratt & Letchworth, 1982. 

After PCB contamination was cleaned up on the site in the mid-'90s, it became the home of a short-lived “urban golf park” called Tee-To-Green.

Steve Cichon writes about Buffalo's pop culture history for BN Chronicles, has written six books, and teaches English at Bishop Timon - St. Jude High School. 

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