Boot scrapers are a hidden relic of 19th century New York City

Late season hurricanes, mean nor’easters, and regular rainy days: all this wet weather makes autumn boot-scraper season in New York City.

If you routinely look down when you walk though New York City, then you’ve seen boot scrapers. These charming remnants of a dirtier Gotham can often be found on the iron railings of brownstone stoops. Before entering his own or someone else’s home, a gentleman would scrape his boots against the blunt end, so he wouldn’t track mud and dirt into the house.

It wasn’t just wet weather that necessitated boot scrapers. Think of what Gotham’s streets looked like before asphalt paving and automobiles: dirt and mud on the streets and sidewalks, debris from toppled ash barrels, and piles of horse manure from the thousands of equines who pulled wagons, carriages, and streetcars.

Some boot scrapers are quite fancy, like these on West 67th Street outside a former home for Swiss immigrants and these outside a school in Yorkville. I spotted this fairly utilitarian boot scraper between Fifth and Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village. In such a posh and lovely neighborhood in the 19th century city, I’m sure it got lots of use!

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6 Responses to “Boot scrapers are a hidden relic of 19th century New York City”

  1. countrypaul Says:

    On certain winter days, there’s still enough cruddy slush in town to make these little devices still come in handy! Thanks for the post.

  2. velovixen Says:

    Countrypaul–So true! I just hope that if the buildings are renovated, they’re not trashed.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I’m pretty sure these brownstones are in the Greenwich Village Historic District, which hopefully means no trashing of these iron railings!

  3. Lady G. Says:

    I knew I should’ve kept looking down when everyone would constantly say look up! See what i missed? What wonderful little details!

  4. An unusual boot scraper in front of a Chelsea brownstone | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] New York readers know that this site has a fascination with boot scrapers—those iron blades on front stoops that allowed gentlemen to scrape the mud and dirt off their […]

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