5.21.2008

Walking Off the Lower East Side: Seward Park and the Branch Library

When Seward Park opened at Essex and Canal in 1903, it became the first permanent, municipally built playground in the United States. Shady, quiet, and peopled by residents of the multi-cultural neighborhood, the park is a nice place to sit and have lunch. On the south side of the park, there's a little statue of a dog, Togo, who, according to the NYC Parks website on Seward Park, "played a heroic role in the 1925 dash to bring an antidiptheria serum to Nome, Alaska." Fancy that. Way to go, Togo! I learned about the little EMS dog while firing up my laptop in the park, thanks to the free Wifi leaking from the Seward Park branch library. Several years ago, the park went through a major reconstruction, adding many new features, including new fencing and planting.

To get a good sense of New Yorkers in their habitats or to experience the flavor of a neighborhood, I highly recommend visiting the branch libraries. I go to these branch libraries to check out books and to read, but it's also where I feel like I'm part of the community. I enjoy sitting quietly with like-minded book-loving neighbors, looking at children's drawings and hand-made signs that are often scotch-taped on the walls, reading community notices on bulletin boards, and chatting with reference librarians.

The Seward Park Branch Library, also recently renovated, opened in 1909 to serve the local immigrant population. It's one of the largest among the NYPL branches, and the woodwork inside is beautifully restored. The branch is home to the Lower East Side special collection, available by appointment only, but the selection for general borrowing is quite good. I checked out a copy of the AIA Guide to New York City to carry around with me for the walk home. While on topic, I also like to visit the branch libraries near where I live in the Village, the Victorian Gothic Jefferson Market on 6th Avenue at 10th St., a former woman's prison, and the one-year old (today!) Mulberry Street branch, which is modernist chic, and subterranean.

Basic info: Seward Park Branch Library, 192 East Broadway (at Jefferson). One-half block from the East Broadway F train stop.

Here's a Map of New York Public Libraries (NYPL website):

Other NYPL branch locations in the Lower East Side:

Hamilton Fish Park, 415 East Houston (near Avenue D). Large collection of Spanish language titles, serving Hispanic community on East Side.

Chatham Square, 33 East Broadway (near Catherine Street). Home to the Chinese Heritage collection, especially materials about the Chinese experience in the United States.

Images: Seward Park, Togo, and Seward Park Library Branch (NYPL).

Part of a series about the Lower East Side. See related posts.

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