Manhole covers that left their mark on the city

Looking up at New York’s buildings isn’t the only way to get a sense of the city’s past.

Cast your eyes down on the sidewalk and street, and you’ll start seeing an incredible variety of manhole covers—many from the 19th and early 20th centuries.


These iron lids serve a utilitarian purpose. But the men who made them at Ironworks across the city imbued them with a sense of pride and craftsmanship.


Jacob Mark created his signature covers with colored glass, which look like glistening jewels. The one at top of the page was discovered in Tribeca.


Charles H. Fox’s Hudson River Ironworks made the manhole cover above, with its lovely decorative stars. It’s in the ground in the West Village, not far from the Ironworks’ headquarters at 369 West 11th Street.

The big star in the center of this next cover must be the signature of John P. Weldon, who plied his trade down on Stone Street, when “New York” was still hyphenated.


This manhole cover made by Emilnick Ironworks is on Vernon Avenue in Long Island City. It certainly has seen better days, but it’s holding its own.

Some especially beautiful covers can be found here.

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9 Responses to “Manhole covers that left their mark on the city”

  1. S.S. Says:

    Fun Fact: Many of the new manhole covers are now imported from India.

  2. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Yes, “made in India” just doesn’t resonate like “Hudson River Ironworks.”

  3. Bankara Says:

    These are actually Coal Bin covers, the coal delivery cart would arrive in front of your house and dump your weekly heating allotment directly into your basement. Modern convenience!

    • S.S. Says:

      I think the coal bin covers that you are referring to are on the sidewalk. The manhole covers referenced here are in the street.

      SoHo has lots of those coal chute covers on the sidewalks, usually shaped like a pentagon, near the curb.

  4. Out Walking the Dog Says:

    I had an art teacher in high school who assigned us to notice, and sketch, the ordinary, designed objects of NYC with a special emphasis on manhole covers, and wrought iron brownstone railings. It instilled in me such an appreication for the unknown craftsmen and designers. Thanks to your post, now I know a little more about some of those people.
    Here is a post with more upper Manhattan manhole covers: Manhattan Mandalas: A Walking Meditation

  5. What a 19th century manhole cover has to say | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] York sidewalks and streets are a treasure of old manhole covers. Some are utilitarian, others decorative, but most are emblazoned with the name of the ironworks where they were […]

  6. Theresa Says:

    Jacob Mark was my GGGrandfather … so proud of him and the work he did in NYC.

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