A Brooklyn neighborhood’s coal hole covers

Coal holes are bunkers beneath the sidewalk in front of a house that originally used coal for heat: Delivery companies would drop a shipment down the hatch, and the coal could go right into the basement and wouldn’t dirty up the home.

You still see them dotting sidewalks all over the city, especially in neighborhoods with lots of beautiful brownstones built in the 19th century.

No surprise, then, that pretty sidewalks of Fort Greene and Clinton Hill are filled with decorative examples.

This one was made by Empire Foundry. A Brooklyn Daily Eagle ad from 1854 says they’re located “one block from the Fulton Ferry.”

The John Brooks foundry made this cover on Navy Street, right in the middle of where the Ingersoll Houses are today.

This lid was probably a lot prettier and more colorful back in the day. The address says 5 Worth Street; I wonder if it’s part of the Jacob Mark Sons Foundry at 7 Worth Street.

Even though it was spotted out of the neighborhood a bit on Atlantic Avenue and I think it’s a regular manhole cover, I wanted to include this one, with its wonderful lettering. Castle Bros. apparently paved most of Flatbush.

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20 Responses to “A Brooklyn neighborhood’s coal hole covers”

  1. Lady G. Says:

    Wow. Those are so gorgeous!

  2. Lady G. Says:

    Reblogged this on The Realm Of Olde Brooklyn and commented:
    Ephemeral New York has taken some gorgeous pictures of 19th Century Coal holes found along Fort Greene and Clinton Hill and other places. They certainly add historic character to the neighborhood!

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    I agree, beauty underfoot!

  4. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    We had coal delivered to our building in the 1960s and I can assure you it wasn’t a singly family domicile, 30-40 families lived in the building. We were on 13th street between 1st & 2nd Ave. A truck load of coal was delivered. The super used to spend days shoveling it afterwards, no wonder he looked so dirty, had a filthy job. By the 1970s coal delivery was at a decline.

    • mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

      Sorry, I meant we were in Manhattan, I didn’t realize you were after Brooklyn stories.

    • wildnewyork Says:

      I took that out, because you’re right, I’ve lived in tenement buildings that were never meant for single-family use but had a coal hole on the sidewalk. Thanks Mick.

      • Old New Yorker Says:

        Another option was a chute delivery from the coal truck through a basement window to the coal storage, i.e. 8th Street between Ave D. & C, Lower East Side, NYC. I recently Google Earthed the street. Couldn’t believe the old tenements are gone and trees along the side walks!

  5. r185 Says:

    There used to be similar covers in sidewalks in Sheepshead Bay, where I grew up, but they were below ground trash cans. At some point Sanitation refused to pick up from them and they were sealed up and / or filled in.

  6. Joe R Says:

    A friend who was an inspector for Consumer Affairs told me that the last big user of coal in the city is the Board of Education. It was too expensive to convert all the schools around town so many were still being heated by coal. This was in the 1990’s – don’t know if it’s still true.

  7. paul ruoso Says:

    You are right Joe R. I can recall a coal company out of I think the Bronx providing deliveries to NYC schools in the ’90’s. I believe they have completed conversions, as I haven’t seen those trucks in quite some time.

  8. snohoh Says:

    Do you recall where you found the 3rd chute cover?

    And yes, Jacob Mark was also located at 5 Worth St. I found another cover with that same address shown at 69 E. 125th St. in front of Covenant House Harlem. Unfortunately that one is in pretty bad shape.

  9. wildnewyork Says:

    I’m pretty sure it was on Lafayette Street, a sweet stretch with lovely old brownstones. I’ll try to see if I can narrow it down.

  10. Beth Says:

    My dad’s parents owned a small four unit apartment building in Borough Park and they got coal deliveries which he had to shovel. Now I wonder if the place had one of these chutes. I’ll have to ask my uncle.

  11. Bob_in_MA Says:

    We were watching a movie last evening, “A Night to Remember”. Not the movie about the Titanic disaster but one done in the 1940s. It’s a silly murder mystery that takes place in Greenwich Village. In one scene a women winds up in a coal cellar and a truck starts dumping coal through a round hole! These must have been pretty prevalent. I wonder if a lot got scrapped during WWII? That’s when a lot of old railroad track finally got ripped up.

  12. What a 70th Street coal hole cover has to say | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] you’re less likely to stumble upon coal hole covers. By popping the lid, a coal delivery company could easily get coal for heating into the basement of […]

  13. What a 70th Street coal hole cover has to say | News for New Yorkers Says:

    […] you’re less likely to stumble upon coal hole covers. By popping the lid, a coal delivery company could easily get coal for heating into the basement of […]

  14. Mark Satlof Says:

    there are a handful of these left on strivers row, 138th st. Including 3 in a row at 213-217. I’ve been protecting mine (at 217). They are not landmarked.

  15. Michael Healy Says:

    The brownstones of Boston share this feature. It was explained to me that the coal hole covers with inset glass helped to bring some much needed light down into the coal bin. Gas light and coal dust may not have been ideal.

  16. Henry Hultquist Says:

    Not just New York. My former house, built in the 1920s in Lincoln, Nebraska had a cast iron coal chute cover (although square, not round) to dump coal directly into the coal bin. Still had coal smudges on the concrete block walls in the 21st Century, although the hot water boiler had been converted to oil in the ‘fifties and natural gas in the late ‘seventies.

  17. The stars, bars, bubbles, and petals of Manhattan manhole covers | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] cover (above) on 23rd Street near Fifth Avenue, likely by Jacob Mark & Sons on Worth Street, once has colored glass embedded in that hexagram design. A century and then some of foot and […]

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