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Jefferson Market Library : from jail to garden to courthouse to today

Walking around Greenwich Village during the day, one can hear a bell ringing every hour on the hour. This familiar sound originates in a large building at the corner of 10th Street and Sixth Ave known as The Jefferson Market Library.

The building, now known as the Jefferson Market Library, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Before that, it was a jail and courthouse that housed many scenes of crime and drama. The prime location on 10th street provided the inmates...

Walking around Greenwich Village during the day, one can hear a bell ringing every hour on the hour. This familiar sound originates in a large building at the corner of 10th Street and Sixth Ave known as The Jefferson Market Library.

The building, now known as the Jefferson Market Library, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Before that, it was a jail and courthouse that housed many scenes of crime and drama. The prime location on 10th street provided the inmates of the detention center with an amazing venue for inmates to hurl insults at the city dwellers. The jail itself was wracked with problems. Abuse of inmates, discrimination, and other nefarious allegations abounded throughout the prison.

Built on the site of the Jefferson Market, the site has been an integral part of lower Manhattan since 1832. Where the clock tower now stands was once a lookout point with a bell used to alert the people of fire. In the late 19th century the Jefferson Market Courthouse was added to the grounds, along with an infamous women’s detention center.

The courthouse played an integral part in the famous “trial of the century” in 1906. It was here that the assassin of architect Stanford White, Harry K. Thaw, was tried and acquitted on grounds of temporary insanity. His killing of White over showgirl Evelyn Nesbitt was successfully billed as a crime of passion. By 1945 the courthouse was no longer in use and shuttered, awaiting demolition. It was during this time period that the courthouse was rescued from the face of doom by Margaret Gayle, leading local residents to save the structure and put it to good use for the community, thus becoming the Jefferson Market Library.

The jail's history extends into the 1970s. Andrea Dworkin, the anarchist and anti-war activist was an inmate during the late Sixties. During a protest against the Vietnam War outside of the United Nations, Dworkin was arrested and incarcerated at the Women's House of Detention. When she was admitted, the “routine” medical exam she was administered was done so brutally and she bled for a long period of time after. Dworkin spoke out against this incident of abuse and raised public ire against the prison. Even though there was no indictment against the doctors during the case, the public outrage was enough to close the prison permanently in 1972. In 1973, the structure was demolished and turned into a garden.

Jefferson Market Library, New York City
Triangle Factory Fire