More sad news on the preservation front as a six-alarm fire destroyed the 1892 Middle Collegiate Church in Manhattan’s East Village on Saturday, December 5. The fire originated in an abandoned building next door at the southeastern corner of East 7th Street and Second Avenue, coincidentally across the street from the site of a gas explosion that leveled two buildings in 2015.
The fire began at approximately 5:00 a.m. before quickly spreading to Middle Collegiate Church next door, and by 6:00 a.m., the roof was reportedly already engulfed in flames. More than 20 firefighters responded, and 4 were eventually treated for mild injuries. Although the fire was eventually brought under control, both buildings were totally gutted and only the facades remain standing.
Twenty-two women living in the nearby Hopper Home were also displaced.
FDNY members continue operating on scene of a 6-alarm fire at 48 East 7th Street in Manhattan. pic.twitter.com/aGv9uDezxp
— FDNY (@FDNY) December 5, 2020
The 128-year-old Gothic church was both a historic New York City icon and home to a much older relic, the New York Liberty Bell, that hung in the church’s steeple. The bell was cast in 1729 (making it 25 years older than Philadelphia’s), and rung on July 4th, 1776, the deaths and inaugurations of presidents, and other momentous civic occasions into modern day. At the time of writing, it’s unclear whether the bell survived the blaze, as the belfry was seemingly spared.
However, inside the building, the church’s historic Tiffany windows and skylight dome were totally destroyed. Although the building at 112 Second Avenue was constructed in 1892, the Middle Collegiate congregation, originally organized in 1628, is the oldest of the Collegiate Churches of New York, according to the New York Times. The church established its first physical location on Nassau Street in 1729, moved in 1839, and then again in 1892 to its (previously) current home on Second Avenue.
Thankfully, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the congregation has been worshipping remotely since March.
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined. The church is currently fundraising on its website to help rebuild.