January 9, 1854: The Astor Library opens on Lafayette Street. It was a free public library, funded by John Jacob Astor. It was also a noncirculating research library. In 1895, the Astor Library consolidated with two other libraries to become the New York Public Library. What remains of the Astor’s collection are now housed in the so-called “main branch” of the NYPL, on Fifth Avenue.
The Astor building fell into disrepair, but it still serves a culturally significant role in NY life: it’s now the home of the Public Theater.