Established in 1754 by a group of six civic-minded individuals, The New York Society Library opened 141 years before the public library system was created. The New York Society Library is a subscription library which first opened in a room in the old City Hall. For its first fifty years, the library was known as “the City Library.” It received a charter from King George III in 1772, and the document is housed in its collections.

The Assunta, Ignazio, Ada and Romano Peluso Exhibition Gallery displays historic books and materials and is open to the public whenever the Library is open. (Photo by Beth Perkins; courtesy of The New York Society Library)All photos courtesy of The New York Society Library, taken by Beth Perkins and Simen Kot

During the American Revolution, the Library’s books were looted by British soldiers occupying Manhattan. Some were torn up to make wadding for rifles and others were sold for rum. After the war, the Library reopened in its previous quarters in the old City Hall, then Federal Hall, where the United States capital and Congress were also housed. The library was used by such notable figures as George Washington, who failed to return two books!

Members'Room: The Library's elegant wood-paneled main reading room is open for quiet use most of the time and also hosts one or two events a week with authors and other presenters.All photos courtesy of The New York Society Library, taken by Beth Perkins and Simen Kot

In 2010, representatives from Mount Vernon formally presented the Library with another volume of one of George Washington’s missing books, The Law of Nations by Emer de Vattel. After a few moves around Manhattan, the library settled in its current location in 1937. Over the past 250 plus years the library has been visited by such illustrious writers and figures as Washington Irving, Henry David Thoreau, Herman Melville, Willa Cather, W.H. Auden, and many more.

The Members' Room on the second floor is a computer-free quiet haven with current magazines and newspapers. (Photo by Beth Perkins; courtesy of The New York Society Library)All photos courtesy of The New York Society Library, taken by Beth Perkins and Simen Kot

The library’s current home is a landmarked, Italianate townhouse built in 1917 by architects Trowbridge and Livingston (the architects of the Wall Street headquarters of J.P. Morgan & Co. and the St. Regis Sheraton Hotel) for John S. Rogers and his family.

On February 28th and March 1st, Untapped New York Insiders will be treated to a free tour of the New York Society Library.  Insiders will get to explore the historic reading, reference and research rooms of the library including spaces that are open to the public and spaces open just for members of the library, while learning about the history of the library and its exciting current programs. Registration opens at noon today (February 14th) for this tour! If you aren’t a member yet, join us today.

See our full list of Untapped New York Insiders member events  and our upcoming public tours.

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