A Field Guide to New York City Manhole Covers


Empire City Subway Co. Limited

cover image


The Empire City Subway Co. Limited was started in 1891 by Jay Gould's Western Union Co. It was meant as a competitor and spur to the Consolidated Telegraph and Electrical Subway Co. for the construction of underground conduits (ie. subways) to replace the ever widening web of overhead wires that were hung throughout Manhattan. Through the distribution of much of what the New York Times described as "boodle" in Albany and City Hall, The Empire Company brought about the Solomanic decision in 1898 to divide the New York underground electric world in two. The "high tension" AC electric cables went to CT&ES Co and the "low tension" telegraph, stock ticker, telephone and Edison DC cables went to ECS Co. - And so it remains today!


This is an early example of the double-strand basket-weave design that was to become the most ubiquitous design in the city. Differing from later examples, the dashes here each have rounded ends.


The original ECS Co conduits were 2 to 4 feet under the surface and had access every few hundred feet. In addition to cables for Western Union, cables for various telephone and stock-ticker companies were accommodated, as were the DC cables of the Edison Electric Illumination Co. (until the purchase of the Edison company by Consolidated Gas in 1901)


This cover is located on the lower east side near the corner of Columbia and Broome Streets, and is the only ECS Co. cover I have encountered with the LIM abbreviation.

Related Images Follow

Don Burmeister -- Photographs