Short Histories of Not-for-Profit Preservation Organizations in Buffalo, NY - Table of Contents

Explore Buffalo - A Short History

Explore Buffalo does not list preservation in its mission statement, but, in effect, it functions as an important educational wing of Buffalo preservation.

Existence:  2014-present
Reason for Formation: Formed by about three dozen experienced docents who wanted to develop their own tour organization to educate the public about Greater Buffalo’s architecture, history and neighborhoods
Mission: Explore Buffalo promotes Buffalo and Western New York history, architecture, and neighborhoods through quality education to learners of all ages.
Some of the leaders:

Ron Eaton
Cindy Gorski
Paul Gorski
Deborah Hall-Stonish -  first Treasurer
Chuck LaChiusa
Rosalyn Lindner
Suzanne Manocchio
Wayne Minear
Thomas Mudra
Ann Palmer-  first Secretary
Denise Prince
Rebecca Stadler
Michael Stock
Ed Sullivan
Board Presidents:
Chuck LaChiusa
Cindy Gorski
Duncan Hemink

Executive director:
Brad Hahn

The Origins of Explore Buffalo

Speech given on May 9, 2023, at the Explore Buffalo Tenth Anniversary Celebration

Held at the Buffalo Yacht Club, 1 Porter Avenue, Buffalo

By Chuck LaChiusa

In 2011, Buffalo became known nationally in the preservation world for its historic architecture. Here’s how it happened:

Before 2011, there were three preservation orgs in Buffalo: the Landmark Society of the Niagara Frontier, the Preservation Coalition of Erie County, and the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture.

The main mission, of course, was preservation, but each organization also had a tour program. The tour groups of the Landmark Society and the Preservation Coalition worked closely together, even the though the organizations were separate.

The three organizations, in concert, attempted to bid for the 2011 National Trust Conference, but the National Trust refused to entertain a bid that was being sponsored by three small preservation groups, so two of them – the Landmark Society and the Preservation Coalition - merged into a larger organization: Preservation Buffalo Niagara.

Preservation Buffalo Niagara won the bid to host the 2011 National Trust Conference, and this is when Buffalo became known nationally in the preservation world for its historic architecture.

By 1913, Preservation Buffalo Niagara had about 100 volunteer docents giving tours.  A conflict developed between the preservation group (wing?) and the tour group (wing?) over the direction and leadership for the tours.  In the fall of 2013 the docents decided to spin off and form their own organization. They called it Explore Buffalo.

About a dozen docents donated and loaned money to hire an executive directive who was a docent and who had graduated from UB the previous May:  Brad Hahn. 

Explore Buffalo began functioning publicly on Jan 1, 2014.

The office for the new organization was a broom closet in First Presbyterian Church. It cost $90 a month and included free Wifi and use of the church’s copier.

·      We decided against offering public memberships. Voting members are still our active volunteers.

·      The board, with one exception, was comprised of docents. The docent-only board policy continued until 2018

·      Board terms would be three years, and no one could serve more than two terms, insuring new blood into the organization.

Here are some other milestones in our history:

·          The first annual fundraiser gala was held in January of 2014

·          We started email alerts in 2014 and expanded them significantly during the pandemic in 2020.

·          Children’s tours were offered starting in 2014. By 2019 we provided tours to over 4,500 students.

·          We moved out the closet and into larger rooms in First Pres in June 2015. The former office is now used once again as a closet.

·          We started annual training for new docents in 2015. 22 new docents graduated in that class.

·          We added a docent-led speaker series at First Pres in January 2015. We thought we might get 30 people. 191 showed up.

·          We started selling annual Explorer Passes in 2015

·          We offered winter tours starting in 2016

·          We received our own 501c3 status in 2017. Until then we had been part of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo, led by the late Phil Haberstro.

·       Doors Open began in 2019

·             Houses of Worship tours were started in 2020

·              Because of Covid, we started training new docents partially by Zoom in 2021

·           We have added a full or part time staff member approximately every year.

·          Today we have about 150 active docents.

·          We offer about 200 tours each month during the summer. For a total of more than 1,500 tours annually.

And here we are 10 years later. Not bad.



2020 - Sells annual passes (no memberships)

2020 - More than 90 different tours available by foot, bike, bus, kayak, and boat: some tours available year-round

2020 - Tours provided for K-12 students from local schools, for local colleges, and for private groups

2020 - Three annual docent training classes for new volunteer docents: winter, spring, and fall

2020 - Winter Speaker Series features a variety of local history topics

2020 - Staff include the Executive Director, Deputy Director, Education Coordinator, and Development Coordinator


Annual Attendance:
2014: 6,219
2015: 13,268
2016: 17,281
2017: 18,994
2018: 23,917
2019: 25,748
2019: K-12 school tour attendance increased by 35% to 4,600 students, including more than 1,000 Buffalo Public School students who received a free tour.

2019: Explore Buffalo organized the first Doors Open Buffalo event, providing free access on a Saturday to 36 downtown locations for 3,800 people.

2019 -  Buffalo Spree Best of WNY - Best Tours (New category)

Visit Buffalo Niagara Volunteer of the Year:
2016 - Ann Palmer
2017 - Chuck LaChiusa
2018 - Ron Eaton
2019 - Cindy Gorski
2018 - Visit Buffalo Niagara Tourism Executive of the Year:  Brad Hahn

2015 & 2016 - Artvoice - Best of Buffalo - Best Tours (Awards Discontinued)
Additional online information:

2014 - Elizabeth Licata, Preservation: Explore Buffalo  (online April 2020)

August 2014 -  NY Magazine, "Weekend Escape Plan: Buffalo" (online April 2020)

July 2016 -  Toronto Star, "How to love Buffalo's Silo City"  (online April 2020)

July 2017 - USA Today, "Buffalo Builds on Architectural Tourism" (online April 2020)

July 2017 - The Globe & Mail, "Buffalo's past glory lives on in its architecture" (online April 2020)

July 2017 -, "Exploring Buffalo's Waterfront Renaissance (online April 2020)

Aug 2017 -  Toronto Star, "Restored classic architecture gives a window in to Buffalo’s prosperous past" (online April 2020)

2017 - Annual Report

Sept 2018 - Wall Street Journal, "Escape to Buffalo"  (online April 2020)

Dec 2018 - Washington Post, "Things to do in Buffalo" (online April 2020)

2018 - Annual Report

Aug 2019 - Boston Globe, "What better way to tell the story of a place than through its buildings?  (online April 2020)

Explore Buffalo 2020 Guidebook 2020

Page by Chuck LaChiusa in 2020
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