If you could step into a time machine and go back to Manhattan in 1884, this is what you’d find where today the New York Public Library stands.
The Croton Distributing Reservoir was the above-ground reservoir at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue that provided the city’s drinking water for much of the 19th century. From Wikipedia: “The reservoir was a man-made lake 4 acres (16,000 m2) in area, surrounded by massive, 50-foot (15 m) high, 25-foot (7.6 m) thick granite walls. Its facade was done in a vaguely Egyptian style.”
The reservoir was a favorite destination for tourists because the view from the promenade was excellent:
In 1844 Edgar Allen Poe recommended the promenade:
When you visit Gotham, you should ride out Fifth Avenue, as far as the distributing reservoir, near Forty-third Street, I believe. The prospect from the walk around the reservoir is particularly beautiful. You can see, from this elevation, the north reservoir at Yorkville; the whole city to the Battery; and a large portion of the harbor, and long reaches of the Hudson and East Rivers.
Just across from the reservoir on Fifth Avenue was Rutger’s Female College, which was founded about 1840 (as a female ‘institute’) on the lower east side.
In 1860 the institution was upgraded to a college and moved to the buildings at 487-491 Fifth Avenue, built in 1856 as an early attempt at luxury apartments.