Gallery: The Art of Detroit Manhole Covers

July 12, 2015, 11:16 PM by  Michele Oberholtzer

Michele Oberholtzer, a Detroit freelancer, took all the photos.  

By Michele Oberholtzer

It’s easy to be critical of Detroit for what doesn’t work the way we think it should. But it’s just as easy to forget how complex and intricate the business is of making a city really work. 

Manhole covers are noticeable to most Detroiters for the billowing steam they release into the outside air, but if you take the time to notice, you’ll see that each cover is a porthole into our infrastructure. There are covers for electricity, gas, and steam, for street lights, for traffic signals and even bygone public agencies such as the "Department of Street Railways."

There are covers that range from pure functionality to beautiful works of art.

There are covers that represent every decade stretching back over 100 years, traversing the city’s transition from the age of agriculture to industry to automation to wherever it is we are now. Their worn out designs are a testament to the sheer volume of lives that this city has touched– the sturdy steel no match for millions of rubber tires wearing them down over time.

Enjoy this brief tour of the manhole covers of the city of Detroit.


An unmarked manhole cover


Bell System

Department of Parks & Boulevard

Unmarked manhole cover

The Detroit Edison Company

Michigan Consolidated Gas Co.

An unmarked manhole cover

Unmarked Manhole

MDOT Electric

The Year 1914 is displayed.

Public Lighting Department

Department of Street Railways

Detroit Edison

Traffic Signal

Water Supply Gate Dept.

Dept of Water Supply

Sewer Regulator


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