The American Bible Society’s First Home: 72 Nassau Street

72 Nassau Street

Last week the ABS, for all intents and purposes, left New York City. In order to remember this historic New York institution, we have decided to do a few posts on the various places in the city where the ABS was headquartered over the years.  Let’s start with 72 Nassau Street:

The ABS was founded in 1816 and it moved into its first permanent headquarters in 1822. The building was located on 72 Nassau Street between Beekman and Ann Streets.

The new home of the ABS was located in a part of New York City experiencing a small renaissance.  A dense collection of houses that The New York Mirror described as “very offensive to the eye” was about to give way to “several lofty and commodious edifices,” transforming the neighborhood into an “animated and lively scene” attracting a “resort of busy throngs.”  The newly construction Franklin building, with their stores and offices, including the offices of The Mirror, were an imposing site on the corner of Ann and Nassau.  The ABS building sat a few hundred feet north on Nassau, right next to Clinton Hall, a library and lecture hall built in 1830 by the New York Mercantile Library Association for the scientific and literary improvement of its members.  When an ABS employee stepped out of the front door of the Bible he or she could glance upward and see the steeple of the Brick Presbyterian Church. A short northeast walk past Clinton Hall led to the Chatham Street schoolhouse, the Brick Presbyterian graveyard, and a public park.

The Nassau Street property had four floors and was large enough to accommodate offices for the ABS General Agent, the Recording and Corresponding Secretaries, and the Treasurer.  It contained a Bible library, a storage room for paper, and a depository that could hold 100,000 Bibles.  The third and fourth floors of the building housed the Society’s binding and printing operations, although the sound of presses was a constant annoyance to those occupying the offices below.

In a few short years the ABS expanded its operations by purchasing two lots, located directly across the street, from Daniel Fanshaw, one of the New York City printers who handled the Society’s work. All of the printing operations moved to a new building constructed on these lots, freeing up more space at 72 Nassau Street for the bindery.  One can imagine some of the ABS’s 200 employees crossing Nassau Street pushing wheelbarrows or pulling carts full of freshly printed and dried sheets from Fanshaw’s shop that were ready to be stitched and bound.

By 1829 the American Bible Society had one of the most productive printing outfits in the country. Fanshaw’s building had twenty hand presses and eight Treadwell presses powered by a steam engine on the first floor.  The Treadwell press was the newest and most efficient press in the industry.  It did not require hand power to operate, did little damage to stereotype plates, and saved the Society money on paper and labor.  Fanshaw was a strong advocate of steam-powered printing and was happy to work with the ABS in the purchase and set-up of the Treadwell presses.  With the acquisition of the new buildings and Fanshaw’s equipment upgrades, the ABS could now produce up to 600,000 Bibles per year.

Next up: The Astor Place Bible House