On Tuesday, September 20, I was part of a panel at the Jefferson Market branch of the New York City Library. It was a really enjoyable event, organized and moderated by writer Catherine Maiorisi, and featured panelists Maiorisi, Ann Aptaker, Nell Stark, Sheryl Wright, and myself. It was a small but enthusiastic crowd and everyone agreed that it ended much too soon.
The library is in a beautiful historic building on Sixth Avenue and 11th Street. Here’s a brief description of it from the NYPL site:
Originally a courthouse, the Jefferson Market Library has served the Greenwich Village community for over forty years. The building, a New York City landmark, was designed by architects Frederick Clark Withers and Calvert Vaux (who also assisted in the design of Central Park) in a Victorian Gothic style. It was erected—along with an adjacent prison and market—between 1875 and 1877 and cost the city almost $360,000. What the city got for its money, in addition to an architectural gem—voted one of the ten most beautiful buildings in America by a poll of architects in the 1880s—was a civil court on the second floor, now the Adult Reading Room, and a police court, now the first-floor Children’s Room. The beautiful brick-arched basement, now the Reference Room, was used as a holding area for prisoners on their way to jail or trial. Scattered about the building were offices and chambers, and looming a hundred feet above ground was the firewatcher’s tower. The tower, still intact, commands an uninterrupted view of Greenwich Village, and houses the bell that would summon volunteer firemen.
The interior of the library just exudes history. It’s adorned with stained-glass windows and iron railings and fixtures. There’s a spiral staircase that leads up to the tower, and you can almost feel the presence of the guards and prisoners that passed through those halls.
The reason it’s called the Jefferson Market Library is because that area was already known as the Jefferson Market, where merchants served the Greenwich Village and Chelsea neighborhoods.
In fact, right on the next block was the “Jefferson Market,” a full-service store that served the community for 81 years. It first opened in 1929 and was family owned until it shut down in 2011, much to the dismay and great sadness of the locals.
That building was part of my everyday world for four years while I went to school at Eugene Lang College, part of The New School University (then The New School for Social Research), right across the street. I used to look at it and think, what a pretty, unusual building. But in those days, I had school, work, and a budding personal life to worry about and didn’t really concern myself with the history of the building. But now that I know it, I’m totally fascinated.
If you’re ever in New York City, I encourage you to visit the Jefferson Market Library. It’s not a terribly large building, so it wouldn’t take up too much time to stop in and take a look around. It will be worth it.
And because I love historic photos, especially of New York City, here are a few more I found of the Jefferson Market Library.