Posts Tagged ‘New York City manhole covers’

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.


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.


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.


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.


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 most beautiful manhole covers in Manhattan

October 15, 2012

This site is a big fan of the 19th century cast-iron covers that dot the city’s streets and sidewalks—covers that once opened into utility holes or coal chutes.

Many survive to this day, some quite decorative and inventive.

But perhaps the loveliest of all are those built with ornamental design and colored vault lights—small bubbles of glass that allowed sunlight into the underground space.

Jacob Mark (later Jacob Mark Sons) was a leading manufacturer of vault lights and architectural iron work in the late 1800s. His whimsical covers—patented in 1870—with their six-sided stars still glitter a little when the sun catches the glass the right way.

The top one is on Waverly Place and MacDougal Street; the bottom cover, Madison Avenue and 37th Street.

More examples of Jacob Mark’s vault lights can be found here.

Manhole covers that left their mark on the city

May 31, 2012

Not everyone would agree that these cast-iron lids qualify as art. But there’s a certain beauty to the design of some 19th century examples still found all over New York.

This cover, spotted in Tribeca, looks like it hasn’t been opened since the neighborhood was the butter and eggs district.

It’s by Jacob Mark, “one of the oldest manufacturers of architectural iron work in the country,” states his 1904 obituary in The New York Times.

J.B. and J.M. Cornell goes all the way back to 1828, though it’s unclear exactly when this Chelsea manhole cover, with its low-key ornamental touches, was made.

Stars were a popular motif on manhole covers, like this one, found on West 145th Street. The McDougall and Potter foundry must have been quite an operation on far West 55th Street back in the day.

A lost alligator in an East Harlem sewer

March 27, 2009

Every New Yorker has heard urban legends about alligators skulking inside the city’s warm, wet sewer system. But there actually is at least one record of a gator spotted underground.

alligatorcolorIt happened on February 9, 1935. According to a next-day story in The New York Times, some teenage boys shoveling snow into the sewer on East 123rd Street peered through an open manhole and saw an 8-foot alligator “threshing about in the ice.” 

After getting some rope and lassoing the reptile, they pulled it to the street, where the gator started snapping his jaws. “Curiosity and empathy turned to enmity,” the article explained. The boys proceeded to beat it to death with their shovels.

So how did the gator get to Harlem? The theory was that “a steamer from the mysterious Everglades, or thereabouts, had been passing 123rd Street, and an alligator had fallen overboard,” the article reported rather dramatically. nycmanholecover.jpg

“Shunning the hatefully cold water, it had swum toward shore and found only the entrance to the conduit. Then after another 150 yards through a torrent of melting snow—and by that time it was half dead—it had arrived under the open manhole.”

All that way only to be clobbered to death with snow shovels.