A Field Guide to New York City Manhole Covers


NY Central & Hudson River RR

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Vanderbilt on the Street

This spectacularly preserved cover served Cornelius Vanderbilt's New York Central and Hudson River Rail Road. These were the railroads that in 1867 consolidated his grip on the famed water level line from New York City to Albany and on to Chicago. This cover is located in Port Morris in the Bronx. however, and so dates to sometime after Vanderbilt financed the bullding of the Spuyten Duyvil and Port Morris Railroad in 1871. A cover with an identical pattern but with only NYCRR inscribed on it is near the tracks in Manhattanville. Using the rubric that inscriptions are easier to change than designs, it dates both covers to a transition time. In this case sometime around 1914, when Vanderbilt consolidated all his railroads into the singular New York Central RR.


This exuberant starburst pattern exudes confidence and maybe even pride. Note also the detailed, almost watch-like, cogs around the rim of the seat.


The trains along all the lines in the city were electrified by 1908, and this cover is still probably part of the system that provides 750 volts DC to trains today. (Note the 18 vent holes around the center.


There are clusters of New York Central covers at a number of track overpasses in Manhattan and the Bronx. This one is on the sidewalk at E 138th St. under the tracks at Park Ave, in the Bronx.

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Don Burmeister -- Photographs