Posts Tagged ‘Boot Scrapers Greenwich Village’

Late winter was boot scraper season in 19th century New York City

February 27, 2023

In the 18th and 19th centuries, New York City roads were filthy. Garbage was tossed in gutters (sometimes consumed by free-roaming pigs, who left their own waste behind), dust got kicked up on dry days, and manure from the thousands of horses that pulled streetcars and wagons caked the streets.

Add in the snow and sleet typical of late February and early March, and the cityscape that appears so charming in old black and white photos was actually a muddy, grimy, soupy mess.

No wonder anyone who had a stoop and iron stairway railings also had a boot scraper. Built as a discreet part of the decorative railing, boot scrapers allowed people to scrape the gunk off their shoes before entering a home, business, school, or church.

These 19th century boot scrapers were all found in the West Village. The historic brownstone rows here seem to have more boot scrapers than any other section of the city, and all are still functional and quite lovely in their own old-timey way. But you’ll find them in any neighborhood where brownstones and town houses still have stoops.

Once you start noticing boot scrapers, you’ll see them every time you ascend the stairs, and you’ll realize that many of them are unique, even unusual and decorative. (A few examples can be found in this earlier post.)

Think of boot scrapers as utilitarian relics of an older New York City….right beneath your feet.

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

October 10, 2022

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!