A Field Guide to New York City Manhole Covers


High Pressure Fire Service

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HPFS in Brooklyn

In 1904 the rage for High Pressure Fire Service water lines was as strong in Brooklyn as in Manhattan, perhaps even more so given the lower overall water pressure. Landowners liked them because it promised to lower their fire insurance costs, politians liked them because there were so many important decisions as to exactly which streets would get the service, not to mention all the contracts that would need be let.


The shaped letters were a popular design motif in the early 20th century, more often seen as the center badge on larger covers. As an artistic side note, a very similar cover is in one of the earliest direct from cover prints (c.1953) by artist Sari Dienes, and is featured at a current show (2021) at the Whitney Museum .


This small survivor (it's about 12 inches across) was probably a valve cover for a connection to an HPFS hydrant - similar to the ubiquitous WSNY boxes near normal pressure hydrants throughout the city today.


This cover is in the middle of Hudson St. between Fulton and Dekalb, in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. When the HPFS hydrants were finally removed in the 1980's the associated manhole covers were to be removed as well, but a few survive.

Related Images Follow

Don Burmeister -- Photographs