This Upper East Side school still has boot scrapers

It’s hard not to be charmed by New York’s turn of the century schoolhouses—those handsome buildings with oversize windows and proud entryways.

One of my favorites is PS 158 in Yorkville on 77th Street (above in 1920). The cross streets on the school’s facade still say “Avenue A,” the old name for York Avenue. It’s a wonderful anachronism.

But there’s another old New York relic at the school’s side entrances: boot scrapers.

Boot scrapers were a sanitary necessity in the muddy city without paved streets. How else could you remove from your boots the dirt, manure, and garbage found all over New York roads until late in the 19th century?

You can still find boot scrapers on the iron railings on front stoops of 19th century brownstones and townhouses. (At left, a boot scraper on a Morton Street walkup.)

Some are plain and functional, others decorative and unique, like the boot scrapers below on West 67th Street, at a former home for Swiss immigrants.

Though houses and public buildings like churches had (and some still have) boot scrapers, I’ve never seen them at the doors of a city schoolhouse. I don’t know if these boot scrapers as old as the school itself, but it’s hard to imagine administrators installing them in the last half century or so.

If the kids at what’s now called PS 158 Bayard Taylor Elementary School actually use them, it must be the most hygienic school in Manhattan.

[Top photo: NYPL Digital Collection]

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12 Responses to “This Upper East Side school still has boot scrapers”

  1. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    You just need a few spittoons and the place will look lively!

  2. Tom B Says:

    I can’t imagine how unsanitary life was back then. Nobody removed their boots/shoes until the end of the day. Trouncing around inside your house with residue of who knows what! Even today its appalling the lack of hygiene you see.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      If you rich, however, you had several outfits you’d change into throughout the day. I suspect the filth in the city was one reason why. Just going outside left you dusty and dirty.

  3. Benjamin P. Feldman Says:

    I wonder how many folks even wonder who the school is named after? Bayard Taylor was a ground-breaking 19th century American journalist, novelist and diplomat. I’ve read his “El Dorado; or, Adventures in the Path of Empire” (1850). Within two weeks of release, the book sold 10,000 copies in the U.S. and 30,000 in Great Britain, according to Wikipedia. It is an incomparable account of the Gold Rush in the United States, seen POV by the traveling author.

  4. Benjamin P. Feldman Says:

    *whom* the school is named after, lo

  5. Tom Jones Says:

    Great piece on NYC ephemera Thank you!

  6. petlover1948 Says:

    I think I remember “boot scrapers” at my old school; P.S. 51 in Richmond Hill, Queens…The building was just antiquated in the 1950’s when I attended. It was torn down to become an Early Education Public School. Which was a new idea in the 1990’s that didn’t quite take off. The back street of the school has the 102 Police Precinct. We would go to see the horses in the Stable…TheStable is now a garage I guess.

  7. JC Says:

    Such an enchanting and lovely relic of this city’s past.. Thanks!

  8. David H Lippman Says:

    Great stuff. I hope the kids (when life was normal) used them.

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