I realize that the title to this post is a little deceptive. No, I will not be speaking about The Bible Cause: A History of the American Bible Society in a New York City ale house. (Although I would be happy to do so if invited!)
Yesterday I learned about an old fireplace mantel from the Astor Place Bible House (which stood from 1853-1956) currently located in the back of the historic McSorley’s Old Ale House on East Seventh Street in the East Village.
After a few Twitter exchanges with Dean at The History Author podcast, I learned that McSorley’s had a Bible House mantel. And then historian Anne Boylan alerted me to this post at the Ephemeral New York blog.
Here is a taste of the post:
Bible House, the city’s first cast-iron building, went up in 1853, replacing the group’s older headquarters on Nassau Street.
Along with the Astor Library (now The Public Theater) and the newly formed Cooper Institute, Bible House helped make Astor Place a hub of intellectual and literary activity.
Because of its size and appearance, Bible House became a tourist attraction of its own in the late 19th century. The printing rooms inside ultimately cranking out 77 million bibles. Yet as the neighborhood’s fortunes slipped in the ensuing decades, so did the building.
In 1956, after Bible House was torn down and replaced by a Cooper Union building, McSorley’s apparently salvaged one of the hearths, preserving it amid the sawdust floors and dusty frames in the bar’s back room.
Here is what I wrote about Bible House in The Bible Cause:
In 1853 the ABS opened its new Bible House on Astor Place in New York City. It was a massive building. The Bible House cost $303,000 to build; it was six stories high, and its brick exterior walls fronted four different city streets. Much of the building was used for the production of Bibles, but there was also office space for ABS staff and secretaries and additional space at street level for “various business occupations.” The building committee concluded that the new Bible House was “congenial to all who love the Bible, and in themselves a beautiful development of that Christian civilization and ‘good will to men.'” The structure became the the center of print culture not only in New York City, but in the entire nation. Over the course of the next thirty years it was a regular stop for tourists. Mark Twain visited the Bible House in 1867 and claimed that he “enjoyed the time more than I could possibly have done in a circus.” Its size and facade sent a clear message: Christian civilization in the United States would advance, and the American Bible Society would lead the way.