Grain Elevators are ubiquitous buildings, yet there is little popular understanding of them and their origins.
The basic arrangement of a grain elevator fits into two main Type-Families based on whether it is a discrete building ("Self-Contained"), or a semi-dispersed cluster of structures (Annex).
Within those classifications, there are several distinctive types based on grain bin design and arrangement, and also evolutionary level. Construction materials and design then determine different subtypes or material variants.
An index to this and related typologies spells out the interrelationships concisely (without the clutter of images and descriptive text). Related and similar building and structure types are in a sibling websection.
These type(s) are not true Grain Elevators, and properly belong with their own building types - but are included here to show the start of the evolution of the Grain Elevator.
This "Tower" Granary is a granary type that, instead of being a large shed with grain 'Box-Bins' loaded and unloaded by scoop and shovel, is one large bin that feeds out by gravity. Its vertical tubular form clearly evolved into the bins of the early Grain Elevator and mature Grain Elevator.
When I first saw this illustration in Rees' 1810 American revision of Chamber's English 1780 Cyclopædia, I thought I had encountered an early Grain Elevator. Apparently this example is loaded by hauling bags or casks to the top doorway with the help of a hoist beam (hard to see in this reproduction). I presume a ladder is used to access the doorway. There appears to be a catwalk through the center at the door level. Presuming the lower doorway is about 7 ft. tall, the building is about 16 by 45 ft.
The first image is a cross-section showing reinforcing bars through the bin chamber, and a double-funnel arrangement at the bin botton. The second is an elevation, showing the top doorway with shadowed hoist beam inside, the ends of the reinforcing bars, and the lower doorway. The third is a view downward of the funnels, and the fourth a view downward of the reinforcing bars from the upper door.
Above and between the latter two is an inverted V-shaped reinforcing bar. With 32 reinforcing bars, presumably of wrought-iron, there appears to be considerable fear of rupture from a full load of grain.
Essentially a specialized Warehouse, appearing before the development of the full-fledged grain elevator.
The Pre-Grain Elevator "Grain Warehouse" was no different from an ordinary warehouse of its time, except that its primary use was storage of sacks or casks of grain. It had no structural modifications for the use, especially no conveyors or "grain elevators" - and that is the main difference between this type (or types) and the following "Grain Warehouse with Grain Elevator."
I am unclear if the grain was sometimes emptied from its containers and stored in bins. If so, I suspect that was rare, and that the bins were not very big - and the only difference from the typical grain bins in a farmer's barn may have been a chute or door in the bottom to ease in unloading the grain.
The first example above is the M.R. Bartlett Warehouse, built 1836 or 1837 at 27 North Mulberry Street, Chillicothe, Ohio, USA. It was demolished about 1986. Photo source: The Canal - Its Rise and Fall in Ross County, John Grabb, 1985.
The second example above, in northwest Ohio, was apparently converted into a Feed Elevator in the mid-20thC. Author's photo.
Essentially a specialized Barn, appearing before the development of the full-fledged grain elevator.
This example, the Rutherford Barn, is a long "English" Barn built in the 1830s or 1840s with a driveway under the center of the building. Mules for "horse-power" were housed in the ground level, and two upper levels held sacks of grain shipped on the adjacent Illinois & Michigan Canal. [cf. John M. Lamb, Pioneer America Society Transactions vol. 26 (Annual Meeting for 2002) 2003: pp. 40-41.] Photo source: HABS/HAER via the Library of Congress online HABS/HAER collections
These types are buildings with enclosed shapes - not semi-dispersed structure complexes (i.e., the "Annex" Grain Elevator Master Type, below). They were the first developed, in the 1840s, and their designs survived through World War II, after which construction the Annex design probably became far more numerous.
This type is a grain elevator not fully formed - too close to a warehouse, but the last step on the way to true grain elevators. I do not place these in the Square-Bin class because I'm not sure what the interior design was.
Essentially a Grain Warehouse but now with an integrated Grain Elevator mechanism. The overall characteristic is that the relatively horizontal warehouse still dominates the relatively minor elevator headhouse - the vertical aspect of the elevator has not caught up with the storage space of the warehouse. (The "Erie Basin" is broader than typical.)
Some examples of this type - and probably most of the earlier ones - were the result of an addition to a pre-existing warehouse (such as the Gaylord). Some were built integrated as new buildings (such as the Evans and Norton), which are clearly more advanced, larger designs. These are furthermore indicated by the increasingly full-depth ridge cupola (becoming a headhouse), and increasing verticality. The verticality also appears to indicate taller bins, thus approaching a true "Vertical Square-Bin" type elevator.
The Gaylord Building is an early, smaller Grain Warehouse with Elevator, built only two blocks away from the Norton on the Illinois & Michigan Canal. It was originally an ordinary warehouse built in 1838 by the canal builder, who later sold it. I presume the front (left) part was a residence or office since it had/has a two-tier porch facing the canal. The warehouse was modified sometime probably between 1848 and 1853 with the addition of the headhouse and Grain Elevator, and arched wagon doorways cut into the side walls.**
The Oswego Grain Warehouse(s) are a detail of an 1855 bird's-eye-view map of Oswego, New York, available as a zoomable image online from the Library of Congress. In the shadows of much larger Dart-like grain elevators, these buildings appear to be the previous generation of grain warehousing.
The 'Boat-Thru' Elevator (I can't decipher the name) and 'Boat-Thru 2' each appear to be a warehouse raised up to allow boats to slip under for loading and unloading. The core body has the typical proportions of a warehouse.*
The Chicago view is a detail of an 1857 bird's-eye-view map of Chicago, Illinois, available as a zoomable image online from the Library of Congress. This appears to be a row of Grain Warehouses with Grain Elevator cupolas along the Chicago River. (Another brick one is two buildings farther beyond the image.)
The "Mari[ne] Elevator" has curious assortment of cupolas all on one side of its warehouse roof.*
The unnamed 'Island Elevator' reveals the tops of the foundation pilings that most of the shoreline elevators probably had. It's getting tall, but still has the early short cupola. It also has tie-rod ends on its end walls.*
The "Ewings(?) Elevator" (I can't quite decipher the name) appears to be a Grain Warehouse plain and simple, but for the external elevator leg standing up like a smokestack at at far gable. Since it lacks the typical cupolas, I presume the equipment is housed within the roof*.
The "Exchange Elevator" may be a little more advanced and closer to the mature Wooden Square-Bin Grain Elevator, but with the small cupolas and irregular footprint, I'll leave it here for now.*
The "Erie Basin Elevator" is a large lake-shore building. Its may not be as asymmetrical as it appears; or, the visible side may be merely a large lean-to*.
The original Evans Elevator, on the Evans Ship Canal in Buffalo, burned in 1862. The long, gable-roofed warehouse form is clearly apparent, even with the head house or clerestory on the roof ridge and elevator leg for offloading from ships at the rear. Its replacement was a Large Wooden Square-Bin Grain Elevator.
The "City Elevator" has a muture full-depth ridge cupola, but gangly extrusions in front on a warehouse body.*
Hiram Norton built his Grain Warehouse in load-bearing stone in 1848 on the Illinois & Michigan Canal near Chicago. His is a flat-roofed, 3.5 story stone warehouse-looking building. It actually looks more like a Steel-Frame grain elevator - which post-date it by 30-40 years. A recent trend may be back towards this building's appearance, with sprawling single-level pole barn/warehouse-like buildings - perhaps "Elevator Warehouses."**
This 1842 building is apparently more "Grain Elevator" than "Grain Warehouse" - it is well along the evolutionary path - and is usually considered the first true Grain Elevator. Because of that, I have placed it a step past the "Grain Warehouse with Elevator" - and in its own listing.
The illustrated model (apparently in a Buffalo museum; photo in a Buffalo website) appears to be of a typical mid-19thC gabled multistory Warehouse, but with the addition of the newly developed "marine leg," a movable and retractable bucket conveyor to unload from a ship up into the warehouse. (See also Dart's entry in Grain Elevator Chronology.
Since the internal arrangements are unclear to me (so far) - vertical tube-like bins? - and the form is not quite entirely self-contained - I have placed it in the "Incipient Grain Elevator Type" for now.
Dart's revolutionary building spawned many imitators. These have generally the same appearance as Dart's:
If the buildings are isolated and have at least two sides open to water, there are usually two attachments, one on each side, apparently one for uploading and another for unloading into different ships. These increasingly hood-like attachments appear to be directly influenced by the hoods sheltering hoist beams on typical warehouses.
The first and second images are from an 1855 bird's-eye-view map of Oswego, New York, available as a zoomable image online from the Library of Congress.
The last Elevator (name undecipherable) is similar to the Watson Elevator with what appear to be added flanking lean-tos.*
*Images from the 1863 bird's-eye-view of Buffalo.