Jefferson Market Garden HISTORY
by Jack Intrator, Garden Historian
From Market to Jail to Garden: Chronology
The Jefferson Market Garden is bounded by Greenwich Avenue, West 10th Street and Sixth Avenue. Since 1833, fishmongers, fire watchers, judges, prisoners, librarians, gardeners and others have worked or lived on this small triangular city block at one time or another. In that year the block was first developed as the Jefferson Market to supply the food needs of the evergrowing population of Greenwich Village. The block’s triangular shape, unusual in a city of right angles, resulted from its location at the intersection of the ordered 1811 street grid to the east of Sixth Avenue with the older, circuitous street layout of the Village neighborhood to the west.
The evolution of this parcel of land from a food market to a library and garden is fascinating and complex.
The Catacombs of the Jefferson Market Library
On January 22, 2016, Jefferson Market Garden and Jefferson Market Library joined together for a celebration in the Catacombs of the Library. At the party, Jack Intrator presented the history of this special building.
I would like to tell you a little bit about the building we’re in. Let me start off by saying that it is very special—upon completion in 1877, The New York Times described it as “a jewel in a swine’s snout,” or to put it in contemporary terms, a really beautiful building in a very crummy neighborhood. In 1885 it was voted the fifth most beautiful building in America in a poll conducted by The American Architect and Building News; in 1969 it was designated a NYC Landmark. In 1972 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 1977 it was listed as a National Historic Landmark.
How the building got to where it is today is a fascinating story. Read more.
Jefferson Market Garden Fence
The beautiful fence you see bordering the Garden has not always been there. In 1998, the Vincent Astor Foundation helped fund this wrought iron and steel fence. It had long been hoped that the historic fence, which surrounded the Jefferson Market Library itself and was based on the design of the original 19th century fence, could be continued around the Garden. On October 13, 1998, Brooke Astor dedicated the fence at a ceremony attended by many.
The new fence replaced a deteriorating chain link fence surrounding the Garden since its creation in 1975, as seen in the picture of Andy Warhol visiting the Garden. The 1998 work was done by Architectural Iron Company of Pennsylvania which engages in the restoration and reproduction of 18th and 19th century cast and wrought iron work. The company had earlier recreated the fence around the Jefferson Market Library, and among its many other projects are the fencing at Blair House, Washington D.C., and, locally, cast iron work at Grace Church, St. Luke's Church and Saint Mark's Church in-the-Bowery.
Frederick Clarke Withers, Architect of the Jefferson Market Courthouse
Frederick Clarke Withers (1828 - 1901) is known for many landmark works, mostly ecclesiastical in style, but is best known for designing the Jefferson Market Courthouse which opened in 1877.
Jefferson Market Courthouse, America’s Fifth Most Beautiful Building in 1885
Gardens, Parks, Playgrounds Tonic for Urban Living
Jefferson Market Prison:
Beautiful but Not Very Nice.
Many persons know about the Women’s House of Detention, the 11-story art deco prison that was torn down in 1973-1974, paving the way for the Jefferson Market Garden in 1975. But few are aware that there was another prison that existed earlier. This one, the Jefferson Market Prison, was torn down in 1929 to make way for the Women’s House of Detention in 1932.
Jefferson Market Prison was built alongside the Jeffer-
son Market Courthouse and opened in 1878. It replaced part of the original food market, a police office and small jail.
At the time of its opening, the Jefferson Market Prison was considered the most perfect prison in the City. It was five stories high and had 96 cells -- 64 in four tiers for men and 32 in two tiers for women. Eventually, the prison housed just women. The building itself was quite beautiful, designed by Frederick Clarke Withers and Calvert Vaux in the same Victorian Gothic style they used for the Jefferson Market Courthouse.
While beautiful on the outside, the prison was not so beautiful on the inside. As the New York Times wrote in 1929, “In the old Jefferson Market jail the cells were steeped in a dungeon gloom, and were so narrow that no cot more than 2 feet wide could be put in them. As the jail was generally overcrowded, two women often shared a cell.”
Eventually, the City decided to tear down the prison and replace it with something modern and more humane -- the Women’s House of Detention. So happy were the women when they were being moved that newspaper reporters could hear the song “Hail, Hail the Gang's All Here” ringing out from the ventilators on top of a van. So that, in essence, was the finale of the Jefferson Market Prison.