More manhole mysteries on city sidewalks

If you’ve never looked down and noticed them before, you’ll be surprised by the huge variety of manhole covers out there on city streets.

They’re clues to the industries and ironworks that built the modern city.

The one above, spotted in Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, was made by Howell and Saxtan, a foundry on Adams Street. James Howell served two terms as Brooklyn’s mayor.

An 1885 guide called New York’s Great Industries described E. McGuinness & Co. as “a leading house engaged in the manufacture of iron railings, etc.,” established in 1878. This cover was found in the East 70s, not far from where McGuinness’s factory was.

Fassler Iron Works made it at least until 1970, where a Google search turned up some legal documents. A tenement is at the 10th Street address, between Avenues C and D.

This cover comes from the West Village. H. Richter was Herman Richter, an immigrant from Saxony who founded Centennial Iron Works at 190 Elm Street. His son Albert was his partner.

Elm Street—where is it? Apparently it’s been de-mapped. It was the original name for Lafayette Street south of Houston Street, but the name was changed in 1905.

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13 Responses to “More manhole mysteries on city sidewalks”

  1. marinachetner Says:

    i always seem to photograph these 🙂

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    Glad I’m not the only one!

  3. Joe R Says:

    Re Elm Street, there is a little street opposite the Tweed Courthouse named Elk Street. I’ve read that the name was changed in the 1930’s from Elm to Elk in honor of the Elks Club. Looking at a map I can see that Elk (Elm) would have been a continuation of Lafayette, interrupted by the construction of Federal Plaza.

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Thanks Joe R. You know, I was sure a little section of Elm Street hadn’t been demapped and was looking at old maps for it. Now I see, it’s Elk Street! Makes sense.

  4. Nathan Says:

    Actually, if they’re on a sidewalk, most of those aren’t “manholes”…they’re coal chute covers.

  5. Nathan Says:

    Ooops. That link was borked.

  6. Nathan Says:


    As to size, I can’t really tell from your pics — there’s nothing to show scale — but coal chutes are usually about 15″ or so. Big enough to load up, but too small for 19th century burglars to get into. If it’s fairly close to the front wall of a building, just beyond the little front “yard”, it’s probably a coal chute.

  7. petey Says:

    re east 76th street: not an address that you’d nowadays associate with iron foundries, but before the FDR went in it was very industrial, here’s one picture of an east river shot tower, i’ve seen others. River (N.Y.) — 1800-1899&s=3&notword=&d=&c=&f=2&k=0&lWord=&lField=&sScope=&sLevel=&sLabel=&imgs=20&pos=2&e=w

  8. The incredible life of New York’s “strongest boy” « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] a hand injury at a pool hall ended his strongman career, he went to work at Fassler Iron Works on East 10th Street and helped build New York’s top skyscrapers. He trained dogs and later […]

  9. Sophia Says:

    I found one of these manhole covers with 190 elm street written on it and the infamous star right in the middle of the circle. It’s located right next to an abandoned church from the early 1900s in the way back of a cemetery in the wooded valley of Connecticut about 100 miles from NYC. It was very interesting so I did photograph it. I will try to upload to share with you guys!

  10. The man behind a manhole cover on 78th Street | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] More manhole covers from across the city can be found here. […]

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