The curious fireplace in McSorley’s back room

Mcsorleys2016McSorley’s Bar on East Seventh Street in the East Village is the keeper of wonderful old New York relics.

There are framed newspaper clippings from the 19th century, Harry Houdini’s handcuffs, a collection of wishbones left by soldiers who never returned from World War I, and of course, that pot-bellied stove that has kept generations of drinkers toasty.

In the back room is another curious artifact: a fireplace that spells out “Bible House” in gold capital letters under the wood mantel.


What was Bible House? In the late 19th and early 20th century, you wouldn’t have to ask.

This six-story building at Astor Place and East Ninth Street between Third and Fourth Avenues was the imposing headquarters of the American Bible Society, an organization devoted to printing and distributing millions of bibles.


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 this artifact, preserving it amid the sawdust floors and dusty frames in the bar’s back room.

Hat tip again to Dean at the History Author Show for this story! [Third image: King’s Handbook of New York via the Village Alliance; fifth image: MCNY]

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6 Responses to “The curious fireplace in McSorley’s back room”

  1. St. Mark’s Ale House Is Closing; Bowery Gets an Outdoor Market Says:

    […] a short history of the backroom fireplace at E. 7th Street’s legendary McSorley’s Bar. [Ephemeral NY] Tags: Bushwick, East Village, Lower East Side, Williamsburg « Get […]

  2. Bible House is bygone, but one of its fireplaces is being used in an old saloon… | Bygone NYC Says:

    […] from Ephemeral New York: “The curious fireplace in McSorley’s back room” […]

  3. Dan Says:

    Actually, the hearth itself is original to McSorley’s, as you can see in this (lovely) 1912 painting by John Sloan.

    It looks like the marble “Bible House” sign was what was saved, and mounted into the fireplace.

    Also in that painting, you’ll notice that there’s a window to a backyard where the kitchen door is today.

  4. ephemeralnewyork Says:

    Love it. Thanks for the clarification.

  5. Joel Says:

    I have two pieces of art that has the following wording on the back label. ” M. LANDESBAUM 45 ASTOR PLACE BIBLE HOUSE NEW YORK ETCHINGS ,PAINTINGS FRAMING” Upland on listing these on Ebay soon and from the info on this site that the building was razed in 1956.

  6. A moment in McSorley’s by an Impressionist artist | Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] McSorley’s Old Ale House, on East Seventh Street since 1854 (or thereabouts), has long been a magnet for artists. […]

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