Saturday, April 7, 2012

The New York Public Library

One of my favorite stories of New York City history is that the Croton Reservoir once stood on the site of the 42nd Street library.
The reservoir was opened in 1842 as an above ground, man-made lake, holding 20 million gallons of water. It became a place for people to promenade.

There was a walkway on top of it. Edgar Allan Poe enjoyed strolling around the massive structure. In 1853, right behind the reservoir, The Crystal Palace was erected for an exhibition on what is now Bryant Park. The reservoir was no longer needed by the 1890s, and was torn down.

In 1911, the library officially opened. It is a great and beautiful building. Wikipedia informs that some of the reservoir's original foundation can be found in the South Court of the library. I'll have to look for it next time I'm there.

These early images of reservoir and library are taken from the New York Public Library Digital Archive.

The research room in 2006. Photo by David Iliff. Changes are pending in the beloved library. Will stacks of books be removed to open more of this glorious space to the public? Will it lose the peace and quiet and easy access to a deep archive that attracts scholars and researchers? After reading this article in The Nation, I am worried.

One of my childhood treasures.

Be sure to browse the other pages of Sepia Saturday; click below.


  1. I like traditional libraries and wish they could attract more money from taxes and wealthy donors. On the other hand, I find I have to buy most of the books I especially want to read. I also buy many books from the library's used book store that have been withdrawn from the library.

  2. I’m amazed that you still have your library card from your childhood, I wish I’d kept mine. I hope you’ve changed your signature since then. These are fine library pictures.

  3. The view of New York has certainly changed from then to now.
    Congrats on still having your old library card. I looked for one of mine but must have tossed all of them out.

  4. Such an interesting illustration of the NY public library. Looks kind of like an ant hill with all the activity going on in the different floors. Fascinating.

  5. Very interesting history. I can see I need to make a trip to NYC to enjoy the library in person.

  6. Enjoyed your post. I envy you getting to spend time at this library. The research room looks like an inviting spot - I could spend hours in there!

  7. I've two library cards in my wallet, but they are two boring bits of plastic containing bar codes that don't get me a drink. Fortunately they let me get books to read.

  8. I could only laugh when I saw your library card. You are INDEED the Paper Collector.

    Seeing the reservoir, this didn't fit with MY idea of 5th abvenue. Interesting to see how things evolved. I certainly didn't expect this.

    Thanx 4 sharing!!