The coal hole cover of West 13th Street

This cast-iron cover outside the tenement at 241 West 13th Street looks like a regular  manhole cover. But because it’s a smaller in diameter and is actually built into the sidewalk , it warranted a closer look. 

Turns out it doesn’t lead to the sewer but to a coal hole: a storage area for coal when it was widely used for heat in the 19th century. A coal merchant could deliver the coal from the street without having to enter the building.

This cover was made by a company on Goerck Street, near the Williamsburg Bridge, renamed Baruch Place in 1933.

But coal holes had some other inadvertent uses. The New York Times archives contains many articles about prisoners escaping jail through a coal hole . . . as well as accidents involving a fall into one.

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5 Responses to “The coal hole cover of West 13th Street”

  1. petey Says:

    coal is not so far in the past as an nyc heat source: the longest resident of my apt bldg (i’m the second longest) just does remember coal being fed in through the front chute. that would be in the 50s. also, recent construction in my area revealed the coal rooms under the sidewalks of old walkups being destroyed.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Interesting. Coal just feels so Victorian. But I have heard that some of the old city school buildings continue to rely on coal furnaces.

  3. ernie Says:

    When I worked for the NYC Board of Education, coal was delivered to their smaller central office (a 6-story building) at 131 Livingston Street, Brooklyn, through 2002. The truck would pull up (block off the sidewalk) and a gravity chute was rigged to run into the basement where the coal was stored.

    131 Livingston St. was the smaller of the two BOE central offices on Livingston. The main building (we used to call it “mother church”) was at 110 Livingston, which has now been converted to condos. One could probably find some plans relating to conversion from coal to oil or gas, whatever they are using there now.

    When my father worked as a super of a building in the Bronx in the early 1950’s, he had to get up at 4:00-4:30 to fire up the coal furnace to heat the building because it took time for the heat to come up. As a kid I tried shoveling coal and I can tell you it was hard work under any circumstances.

  4. Reading coal hole covers underfoot in Manhattan | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Dreier’s company had an earlier address on the Lower East Side’s now-defunct Goerck Street. […]

  5. A 1941 painting reveals a lost Brooklyn street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] fun to find references to them in the contemporary city. A few examples: the manhole covers embossed with “Goerck Street” across Manhattan or signs for the ‘Fourth Avenue Building” on Park Avenue […]

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