Stepping on Jackson, Mississippi in NOLA

Last week, while y’all were having fun trying to win the Name This Place contest, I was down in New Orleans slaving away. Well, I have to be honest, I was spending my free time and even some of my not-free time walking the streets of the French Quarter and the larger business district that began as the American Sector back when the Americans started taking over.

I have other pictures and thoughts to share from my trip south, but that will wait until next week. Today, I leave you with a few images of what I saw on the occasions when I looked down at the sidewalks upon which I was walking. I started taking pictures of manhole and other utility covers a few years ago, and really enjoyed seeing the great variety to be found in France, where each city and even small village seems to have its own design for these little pieces of metal in the sidewalks and streets.

Down in New Orleans, I picked my habit right back up because I found several examples of Jackson’s own Harper Foundry and Machine Company’s products as I walked along. You would think that New Orleans would have had plenty of foundries to produce all the utility and manhole covers they needed in the city, but maybe they were too busy pumping out the big architectural ironwork that define the balconies around town to be bothered with such lowly utilitarian products.

A tiny cover I have never seen before

Harper was located over on East Rankin Street in the southern part of downtown Jackson. I believe they closed down, at least the actual foundry, back around 2003 or 2004. I had heard, but would like to have verified, that their forms and some equipment went to the Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum in Meridian’s old Soule Steam Feed Works. I had posted a few of my earlier Harper images on Flickr and lo and behold one of the Harper family commented that they had found some Harper utility covers in the French Quarter, so with that in mind, I made sure to keep an eye out and snap some shots.

There may be two morals, not necessarily mutually exclusive, to this story. The first is to always look down while walking–you never know what interesting things you may see. The second is that something is seriously wrong with me.

Here are a few other interesting covers I saw around town, and now that I look more closely, I see that none of them were produced by NOLA foundries.

An interesting design by Alabama Pipe Co. from Anniston, AL

Lots of these, by Vulcan of Wilkes-Barre, PA (?)

A sweet New Orleans-themed meter cover, but by an Indiana firm.

Categories: Architectural Research

19 replies

  1. Fascinating!


  2. Great post. I have seen the smaller Harper valve shutoff in New Orleans before but had no idea Harper was based in Jackson. Unfortunately I had heard that the city has stopped using the New Orleans themed meter covers because tourist( and residents probably) were taking them for souvenirs. Someone more knowledgeable might know if there is any truth to this.


  3. Sometimes I look down just to make sure where my feet are going! It just goes to show there’s something interesting to look at no matter what direction you’re looking in, and historical as well! Enjoyed your post!


  4. The best source (that I’ve seen) on NO foundries is Masson & Schmalz’s _Cast Iron and the Crescent City_ (Louisiana Landmarks Society, 1975; reprinted 1995). It’s mostly a discussion of 19th century architectural ironwork in the city, but they do briefly discuss founders production of machinery. But no mention of manholes…


    • Thanks for that source, Blake–I’ll try to find a copy. I suspect there were low-end and high-end foundries, and the high-end guys who did the ironwork might have not wanted to get into the “common” utilitarian stuff. I need to learn more about Harper to find out whether they did any high-end work or was it mostly the kind that appears in sidewalks?


    • Grabbed the last one off abebooks! Along with several other things–it’s dangerous for me to go close to that site!


  5. I love this! Some of these would look great matted and framed.


  6. I notice it with brick sidewalks sometimes too – where there will be bricks stamped with information from other than where you are. Noticed this in Indianola not long ago – but I think the part of town I was in had “reclaimed” bricks for the sidewalk and they were original.


  7. I believe the second cover is not a manhole cover but an old water meter cover, like the type everyone has in their front yard (or at least like the type I’ve always had in my front yard). If you think about older buildings constructed up to the sidewalk, where else would they be able to put the water meter except in the sidewalk.

    I notice manhole covers; you are not alone in your weirdness. I focus on ironwork created in the various Sheffield, Alabama foundries. You can find just about everything made out of iron from Sheffield: cast iron cookware, manhole covers, cast iron storefronts, etc. I don’t have many photographs of manhole covers; I usually just take the manhole cover. Manhole covers are some of the many items that fill up the storage unit I have.


  8. Yes, it’s a water meter, or some type of meter–I just used the phrase “utility cover” to catch all of those without having to name every type of metal plate that might exist in a sidewalk.

    So you’re one of the ones we have to blame for the disappearance of interesting covers and the appearance of bland ubiquitous covers?


    • I haven’t “borrowed” any covers from Mississippi. The ones I have seen are far too plain. The only two New Orleans manhole covers you have photographs for that match up to ones in my collection are the Anniston and Indiana covers.


  9. I have an old pair of black Americana andirons that are signed “Harper” on the iron piece that holds the wood. I never have seen signed ones. Bob Sullivan in Baltimore.


  10. Both my dad and grandpa worked for harpers for a while and I’m pretty sure they closed in 93 or 94 not 03 or 04 because my grandaddy went to manning welding I believe once they closed


  11. Regarding fancier work from Harper Foundry, I recall from my childhood that my grandmother had wrought iron outdoor furniture, at her home in Natchez, that she said was made at Harper Foundry and was given to her by her brother, Buddy. I also recall that my great grandfather also had quite a few wrought Iron pieces on his property in McComb. I can’t imagine that he would have gotten wrought iron pieces from any other company since he was Robert W. Harper, himself. Growing up in New Orleans and Natchez, I made a point of noting the many manhole covers with my maternal grandmother’s family name on them.
    Thank you for bringing back to me this fond memory



  1. Stepping on Meridian in Itta Bena « Preservation in Mississippi
  2. “Harping” On About Water Meter Covers | Preservation in Mississippi

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