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Founded in 1754 as a subscription society, the New York Society Library is the oldest cultural institution in New York City. The library had four previous homes before moving to this building in 1937. The structure, also known as the John S. Rogers House, is a limestone-faced townhouse that was constructed in 1917 and listed in the National Register in 1983. The interior was remodeled in the mid-1930s to accommodate the need of the library, and in the process, 39 rooms were converted into into 24 rooms. The library houses a collection of 300,000 volumes on a variety of subjects and is operated as a non-profit. Non-members are welcome in the first-floor reading room and at some of the organization's events.

Main (south) facade of New York Society Library/ John S. Rogers House in 2009 (Jim Henderson)

Building, Window, Daytime, Property

Entrance to N.Y. Society Library in 2019 photo (Ajay Suresh)

Plant, Property, Building, Tree

Previous location of N.Y. Society Library, 67 (now 109) University Place, photo from 1893 out-of-copyright book

Building, Facade, Window, Arch

Main reading room in N.Y. Society Library in 1980 photo (Stephen L. Senigo)

Furniture, Table, Building, Chair

Members of the original New York Society in 1754 numbered only six and met in a room at City Hall. The Society was granted a charter from King George III in 1772. British soldiers occupied New York City for much of the Revolutionary War and evidently the Redcoats were not fond of reading. They reportedly looted the New York Society's library and sold some of the books for rum. Other book pages were shredded to use as wadding in their muskets. They spared the king's charter, which is still owned by the society. Six hundred stolen books were later found in the tower of St. Paul's Church.

The New York State Legislature recognized the charter of the library in 1783. This was the era when the U.S. Congress met in New York City in Federal Hall and the Society Library moved from City Hall to Federal Hall; this would make the Society Library the first "Library of Congress." The new nation's leaders, including George Washington and Alexander Hamilton, borrowed books from the library. Washington is said to have failed to return two books that were due in 1789! Maybe he took them with him when the Congress moved to Philadelphia.

The New York Society Library moved once again, taking its 5,000 volumes to its own building on Nassau Street. In 1840 the library relocated to Leonard Street and Broadway; the Society was combined with the New York Atheneum, a scientific and literary club. The collection outgrew the space by the mid-1850s and the library and its 40,000 volumes relocated to a new building at 67 (later renumbered 109) University Place. The collection had grown to 100,000 volumes by 1911 and the Society began to look for a new location. While the University Place had been in a location central to the city's social life, by the early twentieth century, the neighborhood was surrounded by big businesses and homes converted to stores. The move to the John S. Rogers townhouse on E. 79th Street took place after the Society purchased the property in 1937. By the 2010s, the membership grew to roughly 3,000.

The townhouse is five stories tall - the top floor is set back a few feet behind a balustrade. The main entrance is flanked by Doric pilasters. The second-floor front windows are the highest and widest and are topped by a pediment supported by curved brackets; this level's windows look out onto a balustrade. Some of the original features of the interior of the townhouse were retained in the 1930s remodel, including coffered ceilings, stone walls, wood paneling, and mantels. The building is significant architecturally as an example of neo-Italian Renaissance style architecture. The designers were the architectural firm of Trowbridge & Livingston, also known for the design of the Banking House of J.P. Morgan at 23 Wall Street and the St. Regis Hotel at 55th Street and Fifth Avenue. The house originally contained a ballroom; a newspaper article from 1922 described a meeting of the Maternity Center Association hosted by Mrs. Rogers in her 79th Street home, with attendees "overflowing the ballroom."

Anonymous. "The Literary Institutions of New York - Astor Place and Vicinity." New York Herald (New York, NY) June 23rd 1854. Morning ed, 4-4.

Anonymous. "Rare Old Books and Prints." The Sun (New York, NY) March 11th 1911. , 9-9.

Anonymous. "Maternity Center to Broaden Scope of Welfare Work." New York Herald (New York, NY) February 12th 1922. , 3 sec, 1-1.

Covell, Anne B. Dillon, James T. NRHP Nomination of John S. Rogers House, E. 79th St., New York, N.Y.. National Register. Washington, DC. National Park Service, 1982.

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