The Croton Distributing Reservoir was built near a field where George Washington’s army once scrambled to flee the British during the Revolution. The reservoir was critical to the growing city, providing safe water and, with the promenade on top, one of New York’s main attractions (Edgar Allan Poe recommended it to visitors as a "delightful scene at night, with the moonlight dancing on the water").


William Henry Vanderbilt, son of the shipping and railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, acquired the site of the old Croton Cottage and built an Italianate brownstone mansion for his family.


The obsolete Croton Reservoir was demolished to make way for the Central Building of The New York Public Library.


Joining Lord & Taylor and B. Altman in a push north, Arnold, Constable & Company built a dignified six-story limestone building on the site of the Vanderbilt Mansion, which had been demolished the previous year. (As The New York Times declared: “Wreckers Attack Vanderbilt House... much choice woodwork and marble pieces has been sold for use in country houses on Long Island.”)


The store leased space for stock rooms in the newly built office tower at 10 East 40th Street that adjoined the building—space later used to house Mid-Manhattan Library during renovations in the late 1970s.


At the same time that Arnold, Constable & Company was operating, The New York Public Library was coping with a massive spike in demand from New Yorkers for circulating materials. NYPL’s Circulating Department originally operated in the Central Building from the room now called the Celeste Bartos Forum. There was limited room for open shelves, so patrons had to call for books, stored in closed stacks.


NYPL bought the Arnold, Constable building. By 1970 several floors had opened as Mid-Manhattan Library, and, by 1976 (after Arnold, Constable fully moved out), all floors were occupied by NYPL.


Giorgio Cavaglieri, the architect known for repurposing the historic building that is now NYPL’s Jefferson Market Library and converting the old Astor Library into The Public Theater, led a full renovation, replacing the old display windows with full-length windows at the street level, among other upgrades. Despite the renovation, the building retained the look and feel of a department store, with low ceilings, high shelves, escalators, and lack of sightlines and natural light.


NYPL President Anthony W. Marx announced that Mid-Manhattan Library would undergo a complete renovation, utilizing $150 million in funding from New York City.


Mid-Manhattan Library’s collections and services temporarily moved across the street into part of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building so construction could begin. The same year, the Library announced a landmark $55 million grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) for the renovation, appropriately following in the Library’s long tradition of public-private partnership to strengthen the people of New York City.


Construction of the completely transformed building was completed on time, though opening was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.