Tonawanda Power Company (435 Robinson)

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Tonawanda Power Company (435 Robinson)


National Grid transformer station in 2023. Photo by Dennis Reed Jr. National Grid transformer station in 2023. Photo by Dennis Reed Jr.First located on Tonawanda Island

Around 1889, what would be come the Tonawanda Power Company (Tonawanda & Wheatfield Electric Light company) supplied electricity to NT from a small steam unit on Tonawanda Island, fed by wood shavings from the Doebler Planing Mill. Their office was at the northeast corner of Main and Goundry in an old frame building. Arc lights on a few streets were run. A few "daring" homes and businesses ran its power.

Electrifying Buffalo-Niagara

In late 1895, The Niagara Falls Power Company builds a long-distance power line (mostly along the Old Mile Reserve) from Niagara Falls to Buffalo, the first of its kind in the world. It is operational by November 1896.

The long distance line uses Nikolai Tesla's breakthrough alternating current (AC) transmitted at high voltages, which could travel with minimal loss. A ‘transformer house’ like the one established on Robinson street would step down (transform) some of the high voltage lines to more manageable and safer levels for local distribution. Other lines passing through this North Tonawanda substation continued at high voltage to Buffalo and Lockport, to be stepped down at other transformer houses before being used locally. Much of the line followed a right of way established by the old New York State Mile Reserve, a mile east of the Niagara River.

Former switching tower

Where the new park is now, on the Twin City Highway side, was once a two-story “switching tower” connected to the transformer house. Added around 1902, this tower was actually owned by the Niagara Falls Power company. It helped engineers manage and troubleshoot defects in the multiplying lines. Most of the high voltage lines carrying electricity from the massive turbines at Niagara Falls ran into this tower.

Halloween disaster

In 1920, a horrific explosion kills 13 men early Halloween morning. An NT fire chief alleges the work was rushed in Safety News and Comment. The January 1921 Safety Bulletin provides more context and details (a storm and wind outside) and a photo of the ruined second floor of the switching tower. Rose Derby's suit. Superintendent Frank S. Wahl's (and others!) testimony in Yates's survivor's suit provides more tower details, tower role, and what he saw on the scene (where the dead were found).

In 1925 they become "associated with" Buffalo General Electric, Niagara Falls Power Co. and others.

In 1929, they open a new headquarters on Sweeney and Webster, today Buffalo Suzuki Strings.

The Robinson street transformer house and environs is now owned and operated by National Grid.


The Work of the Tonawanda Power Company, article excerpts (American Electrician, April 1900, vol. 12, no. 4, p. 155-162, col. 1-3,1-2).htm

Work of the Tonawanda Power Company, photo 1.jpg

Full article describes the role of the North Tonawanda substation.Photo captions: "Fig. 1. — the Exterior of the Transforming Station of the Tonawanda…

The Organisation of the Operating Department of the Niagara Falls Power Company, article excerpts (Cassier's Magazine, January 1902 vol. 21, no. 3, p. 179-205, col. 1-2).htm

House adjoining the Tonawanda dub-station, tower?, photo (Cassier's Magazine January 1902).png

Full article discusses the reliance of the area on the power of Niagara Falls, and has additional photos of call boxes, and view of the Niagara Falls…

Powerhouse - Niagara Falls Power Co.. illustration (Greater Buffalo NY Undustrial Commercial, 1914).jpg

Powerhouse - Niagara Falls Power Co.. illustration (Greater Buffalo NY Undustrial Commercial, 1914).jpg

The architecture in these Niagara Falls buildings is echoed by the Robinson Street power house in North Tonawanda.

12 now death toll from blast, article, transcription (Tonawanda News, 1920-11-01).pdf

12 now death toll from blast, article (Tonawanda News, 1920-11-01 2364 contd on2367).pdf


Another victim of power house disaster succumbs to injuries; only one person in building at time of explosion still…

Probable cause of blast found, article, transcription (Tonawanda News, 1920-12-07 2653).pdf

Probable cause of blast found, article 1.png


Power House Explosion Attributed to Holes Burned in Oil Tanks.



13 killed in electric power plant, statement of NT fire chief, article, transcription (Safety News and Comment, 1921)

Available on Google Books. 13 Killed in Electric Power Plant THIRTEEN men were killed as the result of an explosion and fire in the distributing…