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In 1803, a village was laid out on the site by Joseph Ellicott for the Holland Land Company, a Dutch enterprise that was active in the settlement of much of western New York and some of northwestern Pennsylvania. In the War of 1812, the settlement was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1813. Until the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, the town recovered slowly, but after that, development accelerated and Buffalo became a major Great Lakes port. Grover Cleveland became mayor of Buffalo in 1882. Between 1893 and 1897 he would serve as the 24th President of the United States. The Pan-American Exposition was held in Buffalo in 1901 and President McKinley was assassinated there. Theodore Roosevelt took the presidential oath in Buffalo not long after. The McKinley monument and the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site commemorate the two events. Millard Fillmore, who was the 13th President of the United States from July 1850 until March 1853, has his home in Buffalo.

Buffalo developed as a flour-milling center and later thrived on steel milling, automobile and locomotive manufacturing, as well as other heavy industries. These all fell into decline, however, and by the 1980's Buffalo had lost its traditional economic base. The area has since benefited from the free trade agreement between the United States and Canada, which came in effect in 1988. Canadian investment in real estate and manufacturing was attracted, but the city's population has continued the decline that began after World War II. Buffalo remains a major commercial and industrial port and railroad hub. It is a diversified manufacturing and financial center, with a large health-care industry.

Some of Buffalo's most interesting sights include the city hall, which dates from 1932 and the Guaranty Building, which was built in 1895 and 1896 and was formerly known as the Prudential Building. It was designed by Louis Sullivan. Buffalo has a music hall and a philharmonic orchestra and a noted park system created by F. L. Olmsted. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Buffalo Museum of Science are well worth a visit too. Buffalo also boasts more than 60 km (37 miles) of waterfront. The Peace Bridge connects Buffalo with Fort Erie, Ontario. It dates from 1927.

The Buffalo Bills play football in Rich Stadium in nearby Orchard Park and Memorial Auditorium is home to hockey's Sabres. Buffalo's educational institutions include the State University of New York, which is the city's largest employer. It has campuses at Buffalo and suburban Amherst. Also in town are Canisius College and D'Youville College.

There are several hotels and restaurants in Buffalo. The city is on Lake Erie and the Niagara and Buffalo rivers in the west of New York, some 420 km west from Albany and 480 km northwest from Washington D.C.

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