The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for May 19th, 2017

oblique realizations

with one comment

It’s National Chicken Nuggets Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, obligation found one heading into accursed Manhattan.

As is my habit, I stare at the sidewalk whilst walking through the Shining City lest its gaudy lures and attractions infect or tempt me. Of course, given my predilection and interest involving manhole – or access – covers, this habit often pays out certain dividends for the wandering and historically minded mendicant.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted along the Hudson River just north of Houston Street, a fairly old (as indicated by its shape) access cover for the Consolidated Telegraph & Electrical Subway Company. It’s an electrical one, as indicated by the hatch marks.

Part of the modern day Consolidated Edison company, Consolidated Telegraph & Electrical Subway Company was organized in 1885 with the intention of moving overhead carrier wires off of utility poles and then burying them in subterranean conduits which wiggle about beneath the streets. I would presume that Consolidated Telegraph & Electrical Subway Company was brought into the larger CONED conglomerate back in 1913, along with a bunch of other smaller companies and systems, but that’s just an educated guess.


In the year 1884, the legislature of the state of New York required that ‘all telegraph, telephonic, and electric light wires’ in certain cities-New York and Brooklyn-should be placed under the surface of the streets (Laws of 1884, chap. 534). Under the authority of a statute passed in the next year (Laws of 1885, chap. 499, amended by Laws of 1886, chap. 503), the board of commissioners of electric subways adopted a plan by which the city of New York should enter into a contract with a company to construct the necessary subways, etc., which other companies operating electrical wires should be compelled to use, paying therefor a reasonable rent. Under contracts made accordingly and ratified by the legislature ( Laws of 1887, chap. 716), subways, etc., were constructed by the Consolidated Telegraph & Electrical Subway Company.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Over in the Greenwich Village section, this similarly ancient sewer hatch was observed, bearing the screed of “Borough of Manhattan – Bureau of Sewers.” Now, here’s how you “do some of the math” on these things: “Borough” indicates that it dates back to no earlier than 1898 when the consolidated City of Greater New York introduced the concept of the five boroughs to the world. My guess would be that this hatch was placed sometime between 1898 and 1910. You’ll also notice that the identifying system seen on the more modern manholes covers is absent, which would require hexagons as part of the design to indicate its purpose as a wastewater pipe. 

As I’ve said before – Federal Roadway regulations state a preference for State and Local governments to either replace an access cover with an exact copy from the original foundry, or just leave the old one in place. This means, since most of these things were put in place before the World Wars of the early 20th century, there are iron or steel discs adorning the “via publica” which can tell the tale of Municipal organization, consolidation, dissolution, and indeed gentrification which are scattered about and barely noticed by most.

A precursor agency of the modern day DEP was the Borough of Manhattan – Bureau of Sewers. The DEP was formed in 1983 during a City Charter revision, incidentally, consolidating several independent bureaucracies into one massive agency that handles the delivery of potable water to the City, the operations and maintenance of the storm water and sanitary sewers, and a bunch of stuff that doesn’t involve getting wet – like noise complaints, air issues, chemical spills, all those sorts of things.

Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek Alliance Boat tour, May 21st.

Visit the new Newtown Creek on a two hour boat tour with NCA historian Mitch Waxman and NCA Project Manager Will Elkins, made possible with a grant from the Hudson River Foundation – details and tix here.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

May 19, 2017 at 11:00 am

%d bloggers like this: