A Field Guide to New York City Manhole Covers
cover image
....... Photo by Pach Bros. Photos. 845 Broadway N.Y. "THE CONSOLIDATED TELEGRAPH AND ELECTRICAL SUBWAY COMPANY" View of Subway on Greene Street near Spring Street, showing manhole. 1889.

The Field Guide to New York City Manhole Covers is a compendium of the 160 years of the place-markers seen today on the streets and walkways of New York City. Manhole Covers (Maintanance-Access-Node-Hole covers), Coal-Hole Covers and Valve Covers can be found on just about every block of the city, and can help reveal a history and a sense of New York life far beyond their primary function, preventing small children and animals from falling off the surface of the earth. They are literally history you can step on.

The guide is designed from the point of view of someone who sees an odd inscription on a cover, say "B.P.M" and wants to know what that means. Typing the initials in the SEARCH page will then show a range of covers with those initials. Clicking on the one that looks interesting will bring up a page with information not only about the Borough President of Manhattan, but the purpose of the cover and often the date and aspects of its design and history. At the bottom of each page three related covers can be followed for more information.

The TEXT index brings you to a long index with the complete inscription of each specific cover in the guide, its borough, neighborhood, and street location, as well as the date of the photograph. You can use the Find function of your browser to search for specific terms. It's wonky, but if you're reading this you're in waist deep already!

Beta Warning 2.0!! The Field Guide is an ongoing project, with new covers and connections emerging all the time. There are still lots of things to tune in the program, and not all covers are written up or connected to links. Please feel free to wander as you choose around the site, but remember that you may have to backtrack at some points. Also, not all formats, operating systems and browser combos have been tested, if you find any problems please contact me and let me know.

See a new and different cover or want to report a cover that has been removed? let me know! Credits and links will be gratefully included in the lid write-ups.

Why not just take a plunge...?

Don Burmeister -- Photographs