A Field Guide to New York City Manhole Covers

D P W SEWER 1870

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The Mark of Boss Tweed

This well preserved cover is a small monument to an important moment in New York history. During the 1850's and 60's there were tremendous tussles between politicians in the city and the state over many issues including what today would be called infrastructure (sound familiar?) !n 1870, Tammany Hall in New York City wrestled control of the water and sewer distribution systems away from the slightly corrupt Croton Aqueduct Department to the new and soon even more corrupt Department of Public Works, with Tammany Hall leader, William "Boss" Tweed at its head. Historian JA Goldman writes that this had the salubrius effect of organizing and professionalizing the building of the city-wide sewer system.


The design of the cover is a direct descendent of the design used by the Croton Aqueduct Department, with a few changes (16 spokes not 17!).


This sewerline was one of the first to extend out beyond the bulkhead line of the Harlem River -- a extension necessitated by the change of sewer lines from primarily moving rain water to carrying waste from those newly installed "water closets".


This cover is in Thomas Jefferson Park in Manhattan. (Don't miss the nearby Croton 1866 cover!) Others lids with the same design with later dates are clustered in Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side.

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Don Burmeister -- Photographs