Grain Dust Dreams: A Short History Of Grain Elevators

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Grain Elevator HistoryGrain Dust Dreams (SUNY Press, 2015) tells the story of terminal grain elevators – concrete colossi that stand in the middle of a deep river of grain that they lift, sort, and send on.

From their invention in Buffalo through a present-day operation in Thunder Bay, Ontario, David W. Tarbet examines the difficulties and dangers of working in a grain elevator – showing how they operate and describing the effects that the grain trade has on the lives of individuals and cities.

As Tarbet shows, the impact of these impressive concrete structures even extends beyond their working lives. Buildings that were created for a commercial purpose had a surprising and unintended cultural consequence. European modernist architects were taken by the size and elegance of American concrete elevators and used them as models for a revolution in architecture. When the St. Lawrence Seaway made it possible for large ships to bypass Buffalo, many Buffalo elevators were abandoned.

Tarbet describes how these empty elevators are now being transformed into centers for artistic and athletic performance, and into a hub for technical innovation. Buffalo has found a way to incorporate its unused elevators into the life of the city long after the grain dust from them has ceased to fly.

David W. Tarbet is a retired attorney who lives in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts.

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