Souvenirs of Yesteryear: Personalized manhole covers

Most of the things that make urban life livable are taken for granted and go unnoticed. Not by me. Whenever visiting a city, I like to walk around and examine its visible infrastructure. Manhole covers are often characteristic of a location, especially in the older parts of our older cities.

In the photos are two of our personalized “NORWICH” manhole covers. Some merely state the city name while others elaborate with “NORWICH SEWER.” Thus far, I have tallied 53, so we have at least that many. Counting manhole covers is like eating potato chips; it is hard to stop. Unfortunately, I do not know when they were made and placed here, but I suspect the early 1900s. Having two different types would indicate that they were purchased at two different times. There are at least five up on the high land in the north part of the city, an area which was not developed until around 1960. I suspect that these covers get switched around over time. Perhaps they were made locally.

Some covers bear different embossments. “SANITARY SEWER” is comforting, because we certainly do not want (perish the thought) unsanitary sewers. A few say “STORM SEWER”. Many bear the names of the company that manufactured them. “NEENAH FOUNDRY CO. NEENAH, WIS.” and “UTICA STEAM ENGINE & BOILER WKS UTICA N Y” get their commercials in. Many covers merely sport patterns ranging from cross-hatches to polka dots to radial/concentric circle designs. Some covers look as if the names of other municipalities were ground off. A few have bizarre statements, such as “THE MADISIN FDR’Y CO. CLEVELAND, O.” and “( ) OF ( )HAUMBURG,” where ( ) is a splotch of asphalt. How many manholes of all designs do we have in the city? I do not know, but my guesstimate is at least 500. I suspect that generic covers are generally preferred because they can be sold and purchased by any municipality. However, I like the custom made ones that give a personalized unique touch to our streets.

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