Posts Tagged ‘coal hole covers New York City’

The coal company helped the city survive winter

December 21, 2020

Stuart Davis was a New York artist of the 20th century best known for his playful Modernist paintings filled with bright colors and geometric shapes. But early in his career, he was influenced by the Ashcan School—and he stuck with the social realist style with this 1912 piece, Consumer Coal Company.

It’s a powerful painting that invites viewers to feel the sharp snap of snow whipping around a low-rise block somewhere in New York City. (I’m guessing Lower Manhattan, see the Federal-style houses with the dormer windows.)

Forced to work in the blustery weather, the men from the coal company shovel a load into a sidewalk coal hole, where it can be transferred to the furnace to keep residents from freezing to death.

It probably wasn’t Davis’ intention when he painted this scene to provide insight into how life was lived in New York in 1912. But the painting immortalizes the role the coal companies played in New York winters—when Gotham was still largely dependent on coal-burning furnaces (not to mention horse-pulled wagons).

Manhole covers that left their mark on the city

November 4, 2013

Looking up at New York’s buildings isn’t the only way to get a sense of the city’s past.

Cast your eyes down on the sidewalk and street, and you’ll start seeing an incredible variety of manhole covers—many from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Jacobmarksmanholetribeca

These iron lids serve a utilitarian purpose. But the men who made them at Ironworks across the city imbued them with a sense of pride and craftsmanship.

Charlesfoxmanholecover

Jacob Mark created his signature covers with colored glass, which look like glistening jewels. The one at top of the page was discovered in Tribeca.

Johnweldonmanholecover

Charles H. Fox’s Hudson River Ironworks made the manhole cover above, with its lovely decorative stars. It’s in the ground in the West Village, not far from the Ironworks’ headquarters at 369 West 11th Street.

The big star in the center of this next cover must be the signature of John P. Weldon, who plied his trade down on Stone Street, when “New York” was still hyphenated.

Emilnickironworksmanholecover

This manhole cover made by Emilnick Ironworks is on Vernon Avenue in Long Island City. It certainly has seen better days, but it’s holding its own.

Some especially beautiful covers can be found here.

The long-gone ironworks of an older Manhattan

March 29, 2013

You don’t always notice them underfoot as you walk down New York’s sidewalks. But these old manhole and coal chute covers—the ones with the name and address of the ironworks company that created it—provide clues about an older, vanished city.

IClamanstoverepairscover

Take this one above, made by the homey-sounding I. Claman Stove Repairs company. It was spotted on Washington Place in the West Village.

I. Claman was located at 94 Orchard Street, an address now occupied by a craft brewery that caters to a young, social, moneyed crowd.

BMasormanholecover

B. Masor & Co. used to make manhole covers like this one, found off the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, at 721-31 East 133rd Street.

I’m not sure if the address is for Manhattan or for the Bronx. Either way, the business is kaput.

Abbotthardwaremanholecover

Abbott Hardware, once at Columbus Avenue in the West 90s, created this coal hole cover. It’s still part of the sidewalk on St. Luke’s Place off Seventh Avenue South.

But the days of upper Columbus Avenue housing an ironworks company are long over. The old tenements there were razed decades ago to make way for big-box apartments—strangely all in the same shade of beige.