Thursday, August 27, 2015

Red Hook Grain Elevator - New York State Barge Canal Grain Elevator

Red Hook Grain Elevator Historic Aerial Photo
Red Hook Grain Elevator Today
Red Hook Grain Elevator - West Side
Red Hook Grain Elevator - North Side
Red Hook Grain Elevator - South Side
Taking just 16 short months to build, the grain terminal was constructed in 1922 at a cost of 2.5 million dollars. The elevator is 70 feet wide and 429 feet long. Initially the structure also contained movable booms that transported the grain as it was rinsed, dried, cooled and stored. A 1,221 foot-long conveyor would deliver grain directly to freighters docked adjacent to the elevator.[1]

The grain elevator was built to serve the New York State Barge Canal System, a series of waterways conceived at the turn of the last century, and meant to replace the Erie Canal. The system connected Lakes Erie and Champlain to the Hudson River and the port of New York. By 1918 the Barge Canal system was being utilized at a mere 10 percent of capacity. It was theorized that part of the reason for lower demand of the waterway was that New York lacked the storage capacity for large volumes of grain. Grain was predominantly moved by barge and rail and while grain elevators existed in New York, the railroad companies owned them and weren’t interested in sharing the storage space. In theory, larger quantities of grain should have been reaching the Port of New York from the Great Lakes area. So, in an effort to increase shipping along the Barge Canal, the State commissioned the hulking grain elevator at the foot of Columbia Street.[1]

Red Hook Grain Elevator from Red Hook Park
Red Hook Grain Elevator Dance Party
Red Hook Grain Terminal
Most grain elevators in Brooklyn were built in the late 19th century and were half the size of the Red Hook facility. Oversized and built at a time when more shipping options existed, the Red Hook Grain Elevator was obsolete from its inception.[2] Moreover, storage capacity for grain was not the only problem facing the Red Hook terminal. Other problems included significantly cheaper costs for processing grain at other ports and the opening of the Saint Lawrence Seaway in 1959 reduced an already disappointing volume of grain freight. The facility was never profitable and only used for approximately 40 years. Closing in 1965, “Red Hook’s magnificent mistake” looms over Red Hook Park like a ghost from the past. The loading pier and conveyor structure were demolished in 1987.[1] Today the grain elevator is used as an occasional event space, and a playground for urban explorers and photographers on the ruin porn beat. In August of 2002 choreographer Joanna Haigood and the Zacho Dance Theater staged a large aerial performance with dancers scaling the silo walls, in 2013 David Bowie filmed his single for “Valentine’s Day” inside the terminal (see video below) and while I was shooting photos for this post there was a large dance party underway (see photo above).[2][3]

For those who are interested, it is easy to access the site from Red Hook Park. However, be warned, according to reports people are caught and fined often. I would love to access the elevator for some interior shots but for professional reasons, I cannot afford to be caught trespassing.

  1. Gray, Christopher “Red Hook’s 1922 Magnificent Mistake” New York Times 13 May, 1990
  2. "Inside Red Hook's Massive, Eerie Grain Elevator" Gothamist 17 February, 2014
  3. Hays, Elizabeth "Harvest of Dance at Grain Elevator" Daily News 21, August 2002

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