'Tis a poor drizzly morning, dark and sad.
The cloud has fallen, and filled with fold on fold
The chimneyed city; and the smoke is caught,
And spreads diluted in the cloud, and sinks,
A black precipitate, on miry streets.
And faces gray glide through the darkened fog.
- George MacDonald, "A Manchester Poem"
The Larkin Power House smokestack—a landmark defining the neighborhood's character and place in time—is a signifier of industrial America.
The smokestack, a symbol of the Machine Age, is disappearing from skylines across the Rust Belt. In December 2006, the Buffalo region lost one of its stacks at Tonawanda's Spaulding Fibre plant, which at 250 feet could be seen for miles around and was an important symbol of Tonawanda's history. The smokestack of the Larkin Power House survives, so far.
When the Power House was built in 1902, the smokestack was the tallest in the city, at 275 feet. It rivaled the tallest stacks in the country. (Guess where the tallest stack in the world is today.) The height of the smokestack was halved by a lightning strike some decades ago.
With 50,000 tourists visiting the Larkin Co. plant every year a century ago, the Power House was a highlight of the plant tour schedule. The 1906 edition of the company's factory tour pamphlet, Home of the Larkin Idea, fills the reader in on the Power House:
The Larkin Power-House is equipped to furnish 10,000 horse-power. The stack is the highest in Buffalo, being 275 feet above bed-rock. The power by which the Larkin Factories are run is applied electrically, enough current being generated in the Power House to furnish light for a city of 25,000 inhabitants. There are 20 safety boilers of 500 horse-power each, and 125 tons of coal are consumed every twenty-four hours. So complete are the mechanical devices that the work of handling this immense quantity of coal and the cinders resulting from its consumption, is done by two men. One operates the great crane that lifts the coal from the pit into which it is dumped from the coal-cars and conveys it to a bin at the rear of the Power-House. From the bin the coal passes automatically into a trolley-car that runs to the different furnaces. This car's capacity is 2 1/2 tons. The furnaces are stoked automatically and as the coal is consumed, the cinders drop into a car that runs to the cinder pit. When the pit becomes full, it is emptied by the electric crane. A little steam engine attached to each furnace keeps the grate-bars gently rocking. This movement feeds coal into the fire from a magazine above the furnaces and dumps the cinders into cars in the basement. The scoop picks up a ton of coal at a time and makes the trip in a minute. Sixty tons of coal can be delivered into the Power-House every hour.
The Power House today still houses the boiler of the adjacent Seneca Industrial Center, which is connected to the Power House by an underground tunnel beneath Larkin Street. While the upper floors of the building remain vacant and windows have been filled in with cinder block, the opportunity for adaptive reuse of the building remains. The smokestack, a symbol of its industrial might, stands tall.