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There is one thing we often miss in our daily excursions: lampposts, many of which are made out of cast-iron. In 1997, 62 of the 100 known existing original lampposts were landmarked by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

The earliest efforts to have the streets of New York illuminated began in 1697, when the Common Council of New York ordered homes to place lights in front of the windows facing the streets, but they finally upgraded to lampposts in 1762, when the city levied taxes to install plain wooden posts. However, these too were soon replaced by gas streetlighting in 1823. When the technology reached a plateau in the late 1800s, lighting companies began to focus on the artistic design of lampposts, and the first set of ornamental models were installed in 1892 along Fifth Avenue.

Though the city has since replaced many of these ornamental structures with modern steel and aluminum models, there are still some historic lampposts that survive today. Here’s a sampling:

1. Patchin Place

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This simple gas lamp, located in an easy-to-miss gated community in Greenwich Village, is actually the oldest working gas lamp (or second oldest) in New York City. It miraculously survived the mass replacement of the thousands of gas lamps in New York after the introduction of electric lighting, though nowadays it’s also sporting a modern light bulb.

2. Centre Street

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Appearing at the turn of the last century, the bishop’s crook lamppost is among the oldest designs that are still in use today, and one of the many ornamental designs that emerged. Some bishop’s crooks that you see around the city today are actually reproductions from 1980, but this lamppost, located at the intersection of Lafayette Street and Canal Street, is an original–likely more than 100 years old.

3. 23rd Street Madison Square Park

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Located at the northeast corner of 23rd and Broadway, this ornamental lamppost is one of the last remaining original lampposts intended for use along Fifth Avenue in the 1890s.

4. Thomas Edison’s Cast Iron Lamppost

New York City’s first ornamental street lamps were installed in September 1892 on Fifth Avenue between Washington Square Park and 59th Street and the Edison Illuminating Company provided the electricity. Beginning in 1913 the twin lamppost began appearing throughout the City. The last of the Type 24 Twin Lamppost can be found in Johnny Hartman Square, which is located  at the intersection of Amsterdam Avenue, Hamilton Place and West 143rd Street. See the fun design on its base here.

5. Greenwich Street

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Fashioned out of cast-iron, Corvington-style lampposts were a popular streetlight for large avenues due to their long reach. This particular lamppost is located on Greenwich Street and Trinity Place.

Stay tuned for our upcoming vintage photo post on lampposts styles that have been lost to time.

7 thoughts on “5 Historic Lampposts in NYC

  1. Aside from the city’s history and the Subway, few things in New York have fascinated me more than those ornate cast-iron lampposts. That’s mostly because I grew up at the corner of 13th Street and 7th Avenue, and we had a Bishop’s-crook directly on my corner. The city heartlessly tore it down and replaced it with a standard pole.

    At the age of 4, I wrote the mayor a letter, complaining about the lamppost’s destruction, noting that the new one didn’t even have any signs. They never wrote back — but at least they put some signs on the lamppost.

    There were three more bishop’s crooks near me, all at Mulry Square at 11th Street and 7th Avenue, and all got zapped. But Margot Gayle saved the Type F pole on my block, installed in 1931, which still stands, with a new solar sensor replacing its mechanical clock, surrounded by reproduction bishop’s-crook poles made of fiberglass.

    My favorite survivor is in this very page: the immense one with the ornate baronial base at Hamilton Square.

    Needless to say, the DOT can’t be bothered to replace the lamp fixtures with something more appropriate, and it could use both a good cleaning and an expansion of the sidewalk around it, otherwise it could meet the same fate as the bishop’s crook that guarded Patchin Place for decades.

    That one was highly unusual — it lacked the distinctive filigree. Apparently a truck backed into it one day and knocked it over. However, it was spared lamppost hell, because it was re-installed to illuminate the parking lot of the adjacent Jefferson Market Library, while a new bishop’s crook sands over Patchin Place.

    Too many of these lampposts were destroyed, which is a shame, as I regard them and the subway more iconic of New York than anything else we have. The Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the UN, Rockefeller Center, Broadway, and winos lying on the street begging for money are all for the tourists.

    Lampposts and subways are for New Yorkers.

  2. I knew Margot Gayle from The Friends of Cast Iron. I used to help her but never got credit. I remember two cast iron street streets, Bishop Crooks on Thompson Street .They were also known as Type 24A-W, circa:1945.I never got a chance to get photos. They were removed in 1977. Pleas see my web site. Regards, Robert

  3. I was called from The NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission in March of 1997 to testify for these old lampposts. I have photos of old and new lampposts going back to 1977. If you would like to see some of my photos, let me know and I will email you the photos.

    1. Hi,
      Robert I an a native New Yorker as were my parents. My Grand Parents settled in Greenwich Village and that is where I still live. (Right Now but might soon change) I would love to see the photos, I have the base from an old post that I purchased on EBAY. I wanted to use it as a table base but took ill and hav yet to finish the project. If I get your email I can send you photos of what I have and maybe you can fill in the blanks for me a but.
      Thanks Much Kevin

      1. I have lot s of photos of old and new street lights from New York City since 1977. Yes. please e-mail me the photo. Pleas see my web site. Best regards, Robert.

    2. Dear Robert,
      Many thanks for your photos! I went to high school in Manhattan in the 60s when the misguided city removed the handsome bishops crook and twin lamp posts. As I recall, I sent a letter of complaint to the city, but to no avail. Recent visits show that I am now vindicated with handsome reproductions everywhere. It is gratifying to know that I am not the only one who admires elegant street furniture and would be pleased if you could send me additional photos.
      Many thanks,
      Daniel Cronin
      Boston
      D_j_Cronin @msn.com

  4. Back in the 1970s, the late, legendary Margot Gayle – founder of Friends of Cast-Iron Architecture – worked out a deal with the Department of Transportation: she would arrange for a special marker – a small plaque that wrapped around like a bracelet, with the words “historic street furniture” or something along those lines – to be placed on historic cast-iron lampposts, and in exchange DOT would leave them in place. Didn’t always work – there was one on Thompson Street south of Spring Street, near my old apartment, that had one of Margot’s markers, and it disappeared anyway. But without her efforts, how many of the light posts would have survived long enough for the Landmarks Commission’s designation?

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