History of the Larkin District
The Hydraulics, The Larkin Soap Company and The Larkin District: 1827 – Today
The neighborhood surrounding Larkin Square has seen many transformations as Buffalo’s first business and manufacturing district. In 1827, the Buffalo Hydraulic Association was established, along with the construction of the Hydraulic Canal, Buffalo’s first source of industrial waterpower. By 1832, the neighborhood was a thriving mill district all powered by “The Hydraulics.”
In 1876, John D. Larkin, manufacturer of Plain and Fancy Soaps, began making soap in a small factory building at 663 Seneca Street. The J.D. Larkin & Co., established in 1875, became the dominant mail-order business in America. Their director of marketing, Elbert Hubbard, developed the innovative sales idea, from “Factory to Family,” which enabled the company to successfully sell everything a homemaker would need to run a happy home. Elbert Hubbard went on to become the founder of the Roycroft Movement in East Aurora.
Another Larkin Co. executive, Darwin Martin, was the great patron of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Martin commissioned Wright to design two of his homes, both now restored and open to the public for tours: The Darwin Martin house, his residence in Buffalo, and Graycliff, his former summer home in Derby, New York. Other Wright-designed homes in Buffalo were commissioned by former Larkin Co. executives. In 1906, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Larkin Administration Building opened. Sadly, this building was demolished in 1950.
By 1901, there were 87 retail businesses on Seneca Street between Larkin and Smith streets. Today, many of the warehouses and buildings still standing have undergone restoration by the Larkin Development Group and other local developers.
In 1912, the Lockwood, Greene and Co-designed Larkin Terminal Warehouse opened. In 2002, the Larkin Development Group acquired the Larkin Terminal Warehouse building and fully restored it to become Class A office space. This was the start of significant redevelopment of the Larkin District neighborhood. Neighborhood improvements have included a quarter mile of new streetscape. The restoration of the neighborhood received significant support from First Niagara Bank, now KeyBank.
In 2012, Larkin Square opened along with The Filling Station restaurant, which is housed in a former 1930s-era Larkin Company filling station. Redevelopment along Seneca Street has continued with The Hydraulic Hearth Restaurant and Brewery opening in 2014 in an 1890s-era building. In 2016, Buffalo Distilling Co. opened in the LDG-renovated 1890s Duchmann building. In 2017, the Swan Street Diner opened. The Diner is a 1937 Sterling Co.-manufactured diner. Formerly operating as the Newark Diner, it is now fully restored and moved to Larkinville from Newark, New York.
Since the opening of Larkin Square, numerous buildings in the district have undergone restoration and transformation, attracting numerous businesses and new residents. For a roster of businesses in the district, visit Larkinville.com.
Larkin Development Group continues the revival of the neighborhood with the construction of Mill Race Commons, a 140,000-square-foot, mixed-use building located at 799 Seneca Street, opening in early 2021. A variety of additional mixed-use buildings are also under construction to transform empty lots into residential and commercial use.