Great Jones Street is located between Lafayette Street and the Bowery and is named for Samuel Jones, who was born on July 26th, 1734. Jones was born in what is now Massapequa and educated in Hempstead. He spent part of his youth with the Merchant Marines before deciding to settle down and study law. At the age of 34 he married his second wife, Cornelia Herring, a wealthy lady from Manhattan (and the namesake for Cornelia Street), and together they had five sons.
Jones, who is also known as the “Father of the New York State Bar,” helped to revise the laws to govern New York State in 1782 and was the first New York State Comptroller. In 1788, he made his biggest contribution to the country by serving as a delegate at the Constitutional Convention in Poughkeepsie. Jones helped smooth over disagreements regarding New York State’s support for ratifying the constitution by assuring the state that a “Bill of Rights” would be forthcoming. Jones lived to the age of 85 and is remembered as “one of the most profound and enlightened jurists of this or any other country.”
The street that became Great Jones Street was originally a parcel of land that he and his wife donated to New York City, with the stipulation that the street be named for him. However, when the street was created in 1789, there was already a Jones Street in Greenwich Village, named for Dr. Gardner Jones, Samuel Jones’s brother-in-law. Any issues and confusion that would be caused by two streets with the same name were allayed when Samuel Jones suggested that his street be named Great Jones, an alternative that stuck.
Great Jones Street today is located in what is now NoHo. While for many years known as a hangout for junkies (with the term “jonesing” allegedly coming from addicts on that street looking for drugs), the street has also occupied a space in our popular imagination as a home for creatives. Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat had a home and studio on the street. Also, Don Delillo immortalized the alternative character of the street in his novel of the same name.