Manhole covers that left their mark on New York

To get a sense of modern, massive New York City, you have to look up and take in the scope of the bridges, apartment towers, and skyscrapers. But to uncover the city’s past, it helps to look down.

That’s where you’ll find manhole covers not stamped “Con Edison” or “Made in India” but embossed with a local manufacturer’s name and signature design motif. Instead of cookie cutter lids that all look alike, these covers turn a utilitarian object into something sublime.

One of my favorites is the one at the top of the page by J.B. and J.M. Cornell, a manufacturer of specialty and ornamental ironwork since 1828, according to

The address on the cover is that of the company; the cover itself was spotted in Brooklyn Heights. (Patented 1845!) The cover likely had glass over the holes at one time, allowing light through.

I love the large center stars the F.W. Seagrist Jr. company put on the iron lid in the second image, found on East 18th Street. According to fellow manhole cover fan Walter Grutchfield, the company was founded in the 1870s and went out of business in the 1920s, he wrote.

Stars were apparently a popular decorative element at the turn of the century, when these covers were installed. Here’s another cover from Frank & Bro, located on Sixth Avenue in Tribeca.

Grutchfield again has the backstory on these brothers, Max and David, and their hardware business that existed from 1888 to 1955. This cover appears to be so deeply embedded in cement, it’s possible it was installed before the 20th century.

This cover, from a hardware firm called Kasper and Koetzle, is part of a sidewalk in Greenpoint. The company operated from a store on Bushwick Avenue; they manufactured “heavy hardware” and began 12 years ago, according to this guide from 1914.

I’s a thrill to come across one of these rare Croton Water covers, which pay homage to the aqueduct built in 1842 that supplied the city with fresh, clean upstate water.

This lid was found in the 150s near Trinity Church in Washington Heights. (DPW: Department of Public Works.) Some of the Croton Water covers have dates on them, but unfortunately this one does not.

More city manhole and coal chute lids can be found here.

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11 Responses to “Manhole covers that left their mark on New York”

  1. Manhole covers that left their mark on New York ⋆ New York city blog Says:

    […] More city manhole and coal chute lids can be found here. Source link […]

  2. Bob Says:

    The Nov 12, 1845 patent was for the glass lights.

    “Thaddeus Hyatt [1816-1901] is the inventor of the bulls-eye vault light of 1845, designed to correct three problems with Rockwell’s 1834 single-lens design: Hyatt’s plate is safe to walk on even if all the glass is broken out, the glass is protected from scratching by raised bumps on the ironwork, and the glass in set in a band of lead or other soft metal to protect it from shock and isolate it from expansion and contraction of the metal frame.”

  3. David H Lippman Says:

    This is an unknown style of great art.

  4. nycnewsproducer Says:

    Thanks for this! I’m always discovering new manholes in NYC. Works of art in their own way.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      You’re welcome! It’s amazing how many old ones survive, and how different they are. You get in the habit of looking out for them.

  5. MizScarlettNY Says:

    Construction of the Croton Dam attracted many immigrant workers to
    Croton, NY. One episode of “Secrets of New York” focused on the dam’s underneath construction and claimed that an interior wall at NYPL is an original wall. In the tv-drama “The Alienist,” the dam’s parapets (42d and 5th) were highlighted as vantage points to solve crimes.

  6. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    I’ve seen that interior NYPL wall; it was part of the reservoir that once occupied the site.

  7. “Hugs and kisses” on a Murray Hill manhole cover | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Some feature glass bubbles that looks like jewels in the right light. Others are decorated with stars or similar emblems, and almost all have the name of the designer or foundry on them, advertisements for their […]

  8. The mystery manhole cover on Central Park West | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] two decorative stars feel very 19th century. “Water Supply” could certainly mean it was part of the Croton Aqueduct system; its […]

  9. michael Says:

    where is the oldest manhole cover in NYC?

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