The Glenny Building
The Glenny Building has intrigued me ever since I learned that the entire facade of the building, all five stories, is made of cast iron. I have never heard of that before. The whole front of a building being built with the stuff of frying pans! I mean everyone who is of, ahem, a certain age, has owned a cast iron frying pan at some point in their lives. I still use the one my mother-in-law received as a wedding shower gift. They absolutely last forever! But buildings?
I guess it makes sense. Especially here in Buffalo, which happens to be located at about the halfway point between the iron ore fields of the upper Great Lakes, and the coal mines of Pennsylvania (coal to fuel the blast furnaces). Iron and steel works have long been associated with the Buffalo area. When the Glenny was built in 1873, Buffalo had at least three architectural ironworks firms, Tift Ironworks, Washington Ironworks, and Eagle Ironworks, all familiar names in this area. Due to renovations of the first floor facade, it is not clear where the iron on the Glenny is from. It is however, the only remaining building in Buffalo with a cast iron front.
The architect of the building is none other than Richard A. Waite, who was the owner of a well respected architectural firm here in Buffalo. He is also the man who hired and helped train the country’s first woman architect, Louise Blanchard Bethune. The Glenny is of the Italian Renaissance Revival style, evidenced by the broad openings in the first floor allowing for large plate glass windows to let light into the building, and the rounded arched windows in the upper floors.
The Glenny’s Namesake
The Glenny was built for William H. Glenny, an Irish immigrant who came to Buffalo in 1836. He found employment as a clerk at a bookstore before opening a small crockery store in 1840. He married Esther Ann Burwell in 1844, and together they had four children, William, Bryant, John and George.
The timing of all this was perfect for a crockery business in Buffalo, and Glenny’s business thrived. Buffalo was growing rapidly and money was being made; and spent. Glenny’s business is a perfect example of what I like to think of as a support business for Buffalo’s giants at the time, which were shipping, railroads, and grain. We tend to forget about all the other businesses that grew up around those giants.
Here’s what I mean. People moving to Buffalo and beyond needed general household items like simple crockery. Not to mention that those giants of industry who were building empires here in Buffalo, also needed crockery, fine china and crystal to fill their mansions. Glenny provided it at a time when it was not readily available here. The business took off, and W. H. Glenny, Sons & Co. went on to become one of the largest crockery businesses in the country.
William Glenny served on several boards in Buffalo, including Manufacturers and Traders Bank, Erie County Savings Bank, and was a trustee of the First Presbyterian Church, of which he was a regular attendee. He passed away a very wealthy man in 1882 at the age of 64. Glenny is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Who Owns It Now?
The Glenny Building was purchased in 2014 by Paul Kolkmeyer’s Priam Enterprises. It’s been transformed into modern upscale apartments and two story lofts, lending new life and energy to the downtown core.
The Glenny is a building that has its roots in a humble immigrant who arrived in Buffalo with virtually nothing and became a leader of industry through, by all accounts, hard work, integrity, and perseverance. His story is one of ‘rags to riches’ in the history of our city. One that was repeated over and over again in Buffalo. This parallels the history of the city itself. From its humble beginnings as a small fledgling village, into the rich gilded age of the late 1800s and early 1900s. And it’s being repeated again through the hard times of the late 20th century, to the resurgence we are enjoying today.
Looking at the building as I walk by it today, I’m glad William Glenny came to America and eventually to Buffalo. I am happy for his success, and the successes of Buffalo itself. I am also happy that we as a city still welcome immigrants and refugees with open arms, promising to them all that we have to offer. And I hope that we will always be a welcoming community. That to me is success.
Every building, every street, every neighborhood has a story to tell. They’ve all meant something to someone. Like William H. Glenny and his building on Main Street. These are the stories that mean something to me. These are the creative, hard working people who built our town. And it’s the same type of people who are rebuilding it even as I write this and as you read it.
Go See It
Next time you’re out and about downtown, take a closer look at 251 Main Street; the Glenny Building. While there, take a moment to think about what it may have meant to all the people who have spent time there.
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