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
Fifth Avenue
The world's most prestigious (and expensive) shopping street.
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.
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.
Chelsea Market
A food hall built inside the factory complex where the Oreo cookie was invented.

Related Tours

Private Walking Tour of Little Italy, Soho and Chinatown
The different neighbourhoods of New York each have something to give the curious traveller. Go with your personal guide to see four of its most vibrant districts to see many of New York’s off the beaten path sights.
  • Enjoy avant-garde  Greenwich Village
  • Experience the artistic soul of Soho
  • See the impact of immigrants in Little Italy and Chinatown 
The Village

 Simply known as “The Village” and much loved by native New Yorkers, Greenwich has been, and still is home to America’s bohemian scene. You will start at Washington Square Park, a buzzing city hangout, where you will discover cobblestoned mews and 19th century brownstone carriage houses. You will glimpse some of New York’s rarest sights, for example, the home where John Wilkes Booth spoke openly of his plan to murder President Abraham Lincoln. Pass by such landmarks as the Jefferson Market Library and Bleecker Street, as well as where Hemingway, Edgar Poe, Jackson Pollack lived and worked. 

 Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown

You will proceed to explore New York City’s vibrant neighbourhoods of Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown. You will venture through Soho where you will learn about its transformation from its' humble beginnings as a centre for the rag trade industry, eventually becoming an extravagant artist community. You will see Soho's unique collection of cast iron buildings such as the Haughwout Building, home to the first safety elevator, and the Old Police Headquarters— the 1909 Beaux-Arts building.
While walking the narrow cobblestone streets in the heart of Little Italy, you will learn about Mafia hangouts, the most famous of which is Ravenite Club. You will pop into the oldest cheese shop in NYC and the first NYC pizzeria, as well as exploring Old Saint Patrick's Cathedral. Journey through NYC’s Chinatown, walk along Canal and Motts Streets, the former Five Points District, and the Old Opium Den, where you will hear stories of Chinese immigrants who came to Manhattan to build a future of their own. Your expert local guide will also tell you all about the violent gangs that sprang up around them, fighting for dominance. 


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