An unusual boot scraper in front of a Chelsea brownstone

Ephemeral 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 shoes before they entered a well-tended home.

New York City’s thousands of brownstones and townhouses often still have these sanitary necessities inside the wrought-iron railing or front-yard iron decorative fence. Sometimes they’re embellished; typically they are simple, functional, and meant to be discreet.

But while walking down a street of mid-19th century brownstones in Chelsea recently, I came across a boot scraper that wasn’t part of a fence or railing. It sat somewhat orphaned a bit away from the stoop and in front of a wrought-iron fence.

The boot scraper looked more weathered than the fence and stoop railing, and it doesn’t match either one the way most boot scraper do.

Could it predate the house it currently sits in front of and instead belong to an older home long vanished from Chelsea’s streetscape? I wish there was a way to know how long this boot scraper has been scraping the boots of New Yorkers.

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19 Responses to “An unusual boot scraper in front of a Chelsea brownstone”

  1. Mykola Mick Dementiuk Says:

    Nowadays who would even know what a boot scrapper was used for?

  2. Alex Says:

    A person would be holding to the railing with their right hand while scrapping the dung off their shoe. Convenient.

  3. andrewalpern Says:

    You can find boot scrapers everywhere if you look.

    • Lady G. Says:

      I love this! I imagine the owners might know the history of the house if they looked into it. Poor little orphaned boot scraper. It’s still so charming. And could definitely be useful in the winter months.

      • andrewalpern Says:

        Back when those boot scrapers were installed, horsepower was what drove everything on the city’s streets, and you know what a mess they make. Scraping one’s boots and shoes before entering a house was essential. Once the internal combustion engine replaced the horses, the pollution went into our lungs instead of onto the soles of our shoes.

      • ephemeralnewyork Says:

        Andrew, you make good points about how the move from horsepower to motor engines marked the end of boot scrapers. But I also agree with Lady G.: they are quite handy in the 21st century city on slushy winter days.

  4. AJ Schenkman Says:

    Great find! I see them in front of the older houses from the 1700s up here in the Hudson Valley.

  5. James Says:

    It looks like the same concrete pour as the rest of the fence, with no signs of patching like the area just above. It may have been set out for easier removal of the scrapings. Often the ones embedded in the steps/railing would have the scrapings fall into the property.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      Ah, thanks for the close look—and that makes sense to keep it off the stoop if the scraping would just collect on the steps or front yard.

  6. Andrew Porter Says:

    These are common in Brooklyn Heights.

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      I imagine so, considering how old the houses are there. I need to make a trip across the bridge and take photos.

  7. Julia Park Tracey Says:

    I love these little time-traveling orphans.

  8. Anna Lehr Says:

    Is there any way to ask the people currently living there if they know the history of the house?

  9. Robert Roth Says:

    “scrape the mud and dirt off” is only 2/3 of the truth. Before the horseless carriage, the other third was everywhere, and scraping it off into the garden would probably have been a benefit.

  10. Penelope Bianchi Says:

    What a delightful find! Thank you for sharing!

  11. Joe Mobilia Says:


    As you said, it’s not in the normal place. And in that location, it would be difficult to use it. And it defeats the purpose – since you’re not yet on the stair when you scrape your shoe.

    The stair railing clearly isn’t original. The concrete probably isn’t either. And the scraper material is unusual (brass?).

    My guess is that when they redid the rails and the concrete, they just didn’t want to part with it. Or maybe they just found it at an antique shop.

    Fiun to speculate

  12. velovixen Says:

    Ephemeral–I was unaware of boot scrapers until I read some of your earlier posts on them. Since I am always fascinated with things and people that were once part of the city’s landscape, but have been forgotten, I love reading these posts and others.

    It’s interesting that the boot scraper in this post, unlike some of the others you’ve shown, isn’t integrated into the design of the fence. Could it be that the owners of the building wanted to keep the dung as far away from their comfy confines as they could?

    • ephemeralnewyork Says:

      It certainly could be the reason it’s not integrated; I wish I knew. As Joe says above, it’s fun to speculate.

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