Library Visit: Jefferson Market Library, Greenwich Village, NYC

I had the pleasure of visiting the Jefferson Market Library in late February. It was a rainy day and the library was packed, so I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked (I do try try not to invade people’s privacy). I had plans to go back for a more thorough visit this week, but for now COVID-19 has delayed those plans.

This gorgeous Victoria Gothic style building started its life as a courthouse and was part of a complex that also included a prison and market.

It was built between 1875 – 1877 and cost $360,000. The equivalent cost in 2020 would be $7,108,708.40.

Near the top of the tower you can see the circular firewatcher’s balcony. In the 1870s when the tower was built it provided an unobstructed view of the entire Village.

A public fountain. I wonder if it flows during warm months.

Historic plaques.

The top is a Landmark of New York plaque placed in 1958 by The New York Community Trust and reads, “This building designed along Victorian Gothic lines by Vaux & Withers, was constructed in 1876 and served as the women’s court until 1932. Of particular interest are its turrets, traceried windows, ironwork and sculpture.”

The second plaque commemorates the bellringers for an Inaugural Ring on December 17, 1996. Perhaps the firewatcher’s bell was renovated in 1996?

The bottom plaque reads, “The American Institute of Architects has selected this project for 1968 Honor Award.” That was the year the building was renovated into a library.

Carved in stone: officially a New York Public Library.

The grand front entrance. It’s like walking into a cathedral.

The circulation desk is at the front door. Up the stairs ahead and through the arch is the Children’s Room and beyond that the Willa Cather room.

Hold shelves are to the right when you walk in the front door. Through this gothic arch are stairs to the basement.

Curved staircase leading to the lower level.

At the bottom of the stair case.

This shot is looking back toward the staircase. The lower level is the Reference Room and it was a hive of activity during my visit. There are public computers, worktables, a photocopier, printer, books, movies, and more.

The Greenwich Village Collection started in 1967 when the library opened. It is a collection of over 150 books about the neighborhood, some of which are rare. Notice the barrel brick ceiling.

Patrons busy at work on the public computers and work desks. I couldn’t take a photo of the entire room without capturing people’s faces full-on, but you get the idea.

Back up stairs on the main floor in the Children’s Room. It’s an open, well-lit room with lots of shelves, books on display, kid-sized tables and chairs (not pictured because kids were busy using them). Notice the gothic wood design above the doorway to the right.

One of the murals in the Children’s Room.

Beyond the Children’s Room is the Willa Cather Room. In this shot I’m in the middle of the room looking back toward the Children’s Room.

Cather lived in Greenwich Village from 1906 to 1932, after which she moved to the Upper West Side (where she lived until her death in 1947). The sign below her photo is a list of her published books.

After leaving the library, I took a walk around Cather’s old neighborhood, explored NYU’s library, and then met a friend for an early dinner. Before walking back to Grand Central Terminal, I couldn’t resist taking one more photo of the library at dusk.

For a detailed history of the building, check out the library’s website here: A few of the names you’ll come across are Stephen Crane, Mae West, e.e. cummings, and Marianne Moore.

And for you podcast listeners, Frank, the cohost of The Librarian Is In podcast, is the manager of the Jefferson Market Library.

I can’t wait for the COVID-19 crisis to pass to go back and explore the library more, both inside and out. It’s a stunning building and well worth a visit when you’re in the area.

Jefferson Market Library
425 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10011


  1. Fantastic! I enjoyed this post so much – what a wonderful surprise to discover another New York treasure – and in Willa Cather’s neighborhood! Thanks for posting.

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