Posts Tagged ‘Dreier Safety Coal Hole Cover’

Reading coal hole covers underfoot in Manhattan

July 27, 2020

You can learn a lot about New York’s makers and inventors just by coal hole covers—the decorative iron lids that lead to a storage space beneath the sidewalk where coal for heating a house or building was stored.

This beauty embossed with stars sits at Fifth Avenue and 30th Street.

“Dreier Safety Coal Hole Cover” it reads, listing an address in today’s East Village and a patent date, April 1919.

What’s a safety coal hole cover? A 1979 New York Times obituary for Abraham Dreier, the Polish immigrant who founded the Dreier Structural Steel Company in 1917, doesn’t explain it. But the obituary does say that Dreier patented the cover after he began his career making fire escapes.

Dreier’s company had an earlier address on the Lower East Side’s now-defunct Goerck Street.

What’s better than a coal hole cover than a coal hole cover with vault lights? This one was made by the Brooklyn Vault Light Company, once located on Monitor Street in Greenpoint. (The company had several addresses in the neighborhood, the ever-informative Walter Grutchfield says.)

Vault lights are basically glass skylights that allow sunlight into a space, though I’m not sure why that would be advantageous in a hole designed to store coal.

This coal hole cover is also a safety cover, patented in August 1905. The company operated from 1896 to 1958, according to Glassian. The company is gone, but the cover remains at East 73rd Street near Lexington Avenue, a quiet monument to the ironworks of another New York.

The coal hole cover of West 13th Street

June 21, 2010

This cast-iron cover outside the tenement at 241 West 13th Street looks like a regular  manhole cover. But because it’s a smaller in diameter and is actually built into the sidewalk , it warranted a closer look. 

Turns out it doesn’t lead to the sewer but to a coal hole: a storage area for coal when it was widely used for heat in the 19th century. A coal merchant could deliver the coal from the street without having to enter the building.

This cover was made by a company on Goerck Street, near the Williamsburg Bridge, renamed Baruch Place in 1933.

But coal holes had some other inadvertent uses. The New York Times archives contains many articles about prisoners escaping jail through a coal hole . . . as well as accidents involving a fall into one.