Sandwiched between nondescript high-rises and pleasant, if unremarkable, three storey shopfronts are the ornate, turreted walls of what could be mistaken for a European mountain castle. It is not a castle, however. It is Jefferson Market Library.
The Origins Of Jefferson Market Library
In the mid to late 1800s the wooden sheds and octangonal fire tower of Jefferson Market were torn down and replaced by a prison, housing and a courthouse. Today, only the courthouse remains, estranged from its original purpose, now Jefferson Market Library.
The Architectural Design Of Jefferson Market Library
The building was designed by Englishman Frederick Clarke Withers, one half of the firm Vaux and Withers, and is of Victorian Gothic style. It features red bricks, a yellow sandstone trim and patterened roof tiles.
The building having been determined to have a clock tower, Withers decided that it would look like a church no matter what he did, so he might as well embrace this. Consequently, it has many religious-looking features that, on closer inspection, are entirely secular. For example, it has a typanum that, rather than depicting Jesus or the apostles, show a scene from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, and stained-glass windows decorated with birds and animals.
The courthouse was completed in 1877 and, in 1885, was voted 5th most beautiful building in America by a panel of architects.
Jefferson Market Library As A Courthouse
To say that the building was well-used during its time as a courthouse would be an understatement. It served NYC's historical pleasure district, the Tenderloin, and, as such, it saw no shortage of custom. In fact, it was so busy that it became home of the country's first ever night court, so that it could dole out convictions around the clock.
Despite this, however, it ceased being used as a courthouse in 1945 and its future became uncertain.
The Campaign To Save Jefferson Market Library
Faced with the prospect of the building being torn down, a group of preservationists started a campaign to have it turned into a public library.
They were successful.
In 1961, the New York Public Library agreed to the plan. An architect was hired to restore the exterior and redesign the building's insides. After a $1.4 mil restoration effort, its transformation was complete. The library opened in 1967, the Police Court and Civil Court having been turned into children and adult reading rooms respectively.
Budget cuts almost caused the library to close in 1974, but public outcry halted these plans in their tracks. It has since been awarded Historic Landmark status and, as such, should be safe for future generations to enjoy for the forseeable.
One More Thing...
Jefferson Market Library is also rumoured to be haunted, New York Haunted Houses claiming it to be the home of a friendly ghost: a woman who is said to catch people's eyes, smile, wave and disappear.
Interested in finding more places like this? Try one of our NYC Scavenger Hunts - untangle cryptic clues as a team, as you are taken on a journey to the most unique, unusual and bizarre corners of NYC.