Thursday, February 3, 2011

Questions for Curatorial - Coal

Where did the residents of 97 Orchard Street get the coal needed to heat their cast-iron stoves? Where was the coal stored and how was it paid for?

Coal was purchased from a neighborhood coal yard and delivered to 97 Orchard Street where it was deposited in the cellar of the building. During the late 19th century, the Dougherty Family operated 2 coal yards on the Lower East Side, one at Avenue B and 12th Street and the other between 280 and 282 Madison Street. It is possible that these were still in operation by the second decade of the 20th century.

At 91 Orchard Street, there is a coal vault under the sidewalk that was accessible via a manhole on Orchard Street. The front of the cellar at 97 Orchard Street also juts out underneath the sidewalk, but there is not a brick coal vault similar to the one at 91 Orchard Street. At 97 Orchard Street, there may have been a chute for coal to be delivered into the cellar, which was perhaps placed into wooden bins that look similar to horse stalls. 

Indeed, a recently discovered 1905 Department of Buildings drawing detailing existing and proposed alterations mandated by the 1901 Tenement House Act notes approximately eight “wooden houses.” These “wooden houses” may have been used to store coal delivered to 97 Orchard Street. While Museum researchers do not know how each resident paid for the coal they used from the bin, it is possible that the cost of coal was included in each apartment’s monthly rent.

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