Jefferson Market Library

The Village’s most eclectic and eccentric building, site of the 'Trial of the Century' in 1906.

TravelCurious Tip

Go and read. The library is housed in a grand building but eschews the severe atmosphere so often associated with such places

Found in Greenwich Village, where its bell tower stands head and shoulders above the surrounding buildings, the Jefferson Market Library was built in 1877. Since then it has seen several uses: it was originally the Third Judicial Courthouse, then it was a women’s detention centre, and today it serves as a branch of the New York Public Library.

It was set to be demolished in 1958 but the public, marshalled by Margot Gayle and the poet E. E. Cummings, petitioned and led to it being refashioned as a library. It’s still used today, and remains an iconic landmark in Greenwich Village. Its distinctive tower holds “Ol’ Jeff”, the affectionately named fire bell, which was silent until 1996, when it began to ring again. Now this serves as an hourly reminder of the value of architectural preservation, helping restore the notion of the village in Greenwich Village and providing a precious link to the area’s history.

Mad King Ludwig

The building’s design imitates that of Mad Ludwig II of Bavaria’s famous Neuschwanstein Castle. With its leaded glass, steeply sloping roofs, gables, pinnacles and Venetian Gothic embellishments, it is bizarre for New York, but strangely appropriate for The Village.

Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be Wonderful

By 1927 the courts were used solely for women’s trials. Famously the playwright Mae West was tried there on obscenity charges after her Broadway play “Sex” was targeted by the Society for the Suppression of Vice.

An Amoral Guide

The library holds some interesting and rare books about the history of New York, including the wonderful “New York Unexpurgated: an amoral guide for the jaded, tired, evil, non-conforming, corrupt, condemned, and the curious, humans and otherwise, to underground Manhattan”.

Nearby Attractions

See all attractions in New York
Greenwich Village
The bohemian capital of the world - and these days one of America's priciest neighbourhoods.
Washington Square Park
Dominated by a triumphal arch, this beautiful park has a tradition of celebrating nonconformity.
Chelsea Market
A food hall built inside the factory complex where the Oreo cookie was invented.
Meatpacking District
A commercial area filled with trendy restaurants and clubs, home to the Whitney Museum of American Art, designer clothing stores and the High Line.
Whitney Museum of American Art
Large collection of American art in an impressive building designed by Marcel Breuer
Hotel Chelsea
A historic hotel, home to many famous characters from the past including Jimi Hendricks and Dylan Thomas.

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