On November 10th, 1902, a prestigious crowd gathered at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street for the laying of cornerstone for the New York Public Library, a newly-incorporated organization formed from the wealth and literary collections of John Jacob Astor, James Lenox, and Samuel Tilden. Among those in attendance for the historic occasion were Mayor Seth Low, Reverend W.R. Huntington, Catholic Archbishop John Murphy Farley, and John Bigelow, president of the library's board of trustees.

Construction had been progressing steadily at the former Croton Reservoir, and the foundations were largely complete. Within a niche carved into the cornerstone, a bronze box was nestled, filled with the day’s newspapers and coins, as well as items documenting the library’s history.

Representatives from Carrère and Hastings, the architecture firm that designed and built the main library, now known as the Schwarzman Building, presented Mayor Low with this Tiffany trowel. Its inscription marks a key moment in the history of the library and the city it serves:

“With this Trowel the Corner Stone of the New York Public Library Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations was laid by The Honorable Seth Low Mayor of the City of New York on the Tenth day of November 1902”

The Ceremonial Trowel and original Tiffany bag.

As part of our month-long Dear NYC series, we're looking at New York City gems hidden away at the New York Public Library. The NYPL’s four research centers offer the public access to over 55 million items, including rare books, manuscripts, letters, diaries, photographs, prints, maps, ephemera, and more. Integral to these robust collections is the Library’s extensive material related to New York City, and as NY works to come together, cope, heal and recover from the 2020 pandemic, economic uncertainty, and the many issues that divide us, it is important to look at that history and remember: New York is resilient. New York is strong. New York has seen its share of hard times. And, as always, with Patience and Fortitude (the names given to the Library’s beloved lions in 1933 by Mayor LaGuardia for the virtues New Yorkers needed to get through the Great Depression) we will get through it, together.