City Hall Library – New York, New York - Atlas Obscura

New York, New York

City Hall Library

An accidentally hidden library containing the ephemeral history of New York. 

Sorry, City Hall Library is permanently closed.

The City Hall Library has existed for over 100 years, and over that tenure has cobbled together a collection of close to 66,000 books and a staggering 285,000 magazines, newspapers and assorted pieces of ephemera dating back to the 19th century.

The library is tucked just inside the historic Surrogate’s Courthouse in Lower Manhattan and visitors can find it with little more than a Google search, yet many locals and tourists are oblivious to this historic gem due to its lack of external signage, a result of the building’s untouchable landmark status.

Seekers who do locate the library can browse the stacks of massive, worn and weathered tomes on scintillating subjects such as the laws and charters of New York, or biographical files on the city’s many mayoral personalities. While the various annual reports and bound logs cannot be checked out, there is a quiet (and mostly empty) reading room where interested parties can pore over their findings.Beneath the ground-floor rooms open to the public are the private municipal vaults containing hundreds of storage boxes filled with material chronicling the city’s history all the way back to the unification of the five boroughs.

In addition to clipped periodicals and delicate newsprint, the archives contain countless photos, letters and thousands of maps and blueprints from throughout New York’s long, architectural history. The maze of stacked boxes and rolled-up schematics is not open to the public but can be researched and viewed with the help of the location’s above-ground library staff.

The City Hall Library and its attendant archives are adjoined by a recently created visitors’ center which showcases many of the collection’s incredible finds including the original deed to Coney Island and Jazz-Age mug shots of famous mobsters.  

Update October 2017: The visitors’ center is closed, but the library is still open in room 111.