I was in Louisville, Kentucky in April of this year for one of my speaking engagements. The morning after my talk, like always, I wake up early with my fully charged camera and phone in one hand and a big cup of coffee in the other and hit the streets — it’s a pretty cool balancing act that I have learned. So, imagine my surprise as I’m walking along West Main Street in downtown Louisville and literally stumbled upon historic coal hole covers. I’ll spare you how I freaked out when I saw these (whatever you are imagining I’m sure is pretty accurate) and get right to it. First of all, what’s the difference between a manhole cover and a coal hole cover you ask (via wikipedia)? (I did).
Manhole Cover: A manhole cover is a removable plate forming the lid over the opening of a manhole, to prevent anyone or anything from falling in, and to keep out unauthorized persons and material. Manhole covers date back at least to the era of ancient Rome, which had sewer grates made from stone.
Coal Hole Cover: A coal hole is a hatch in the pavement (sidewalk, in US usage) above an underground coal bunker. They are sometimes found outside houses that existed during the period when coal was widely used for domestic heating from the early 19th century to the middle 20th century. The coal hole allowed the easy delivery of coal, generally in sacks and often from horse-drawn carts, to the house’s coal bunker. The location of the coal hole on the street minimised the distance the sacks needed to be carried and meant that dusty sacks and delivery men did not need to enter the house.
The historic coal hole covers are lined up in the sidewalk to display the different types of designs. One of them explains the story behind them. If you click on the picture, it should be fairly easy to read:The rest of these pictures are the coal hole covers that are on display. They are amazingly beautiful and the detail on some of them is incredibly intricate. First up: Snead & Co. Check out the interwoven letters S&CO in the middle:Here’s a close up:Wow, right?!
Here is Grainger & Co with a pretty sweet Psychedelic design in the middle:TMAIW circled in the middle of this one stands for The Merz Architectural Iron Works:I couldn’t see a company name on this one but it had the location with a teeny tiny comma so I was happy:This one not only had the city but the street too! Wayfinding coal hole cover FTW! Around the edge of the circle starting at the lower left it says ‘Snead Sayre &’ not sure what happened to the rest:Here’s a close up of the street and city:F.W. Merz:Here’s a detail shot of those crazy letters:This has been one of the most interesting finds I have ever come across. If you are ever in Louisville, check them out!