Search This Blog

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Bible House (1889 - 1909)

Headquarters at the Bible House

The Bible Students in Allegheny, associated with the publishing of the Watch Tower, were considered the most experienced in doing the Lord’s work and were looked to by all the ecclesias, or congregations, as those taking the lead. At first they had headquarters offices at 101 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, and later at 44 Federal Street, Allegheny. In the late 1880’s, however, expansion became necessary. So Russell arranged to build larger facilities. In 1889 a four-story brick building at 56-60 Arch Street, Allegheny, was completed. Valued at $34,000, it was known as the Bible House. It served as the Society’s headquarters for some 19 [20] years.

As of 1890, the small Bible House family was serving the needs of several hundred active associates of the Watch Tower Society. But as the decade of the 1890’s progressed, more showed interest in what these were doing. In fact, according to an incomplete report published in the Watch Tower, on March 26, 1899, the Memorial of Christ’s death was observed at 339 separate meetings with 2,501 participants. What, though, would help to keep the growing number
of Bible Students united?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Moving to Brooklyn

As the newspaper preaching gained momentum, the Bible Students looked for another location from which to originate the sermons. Why? The Bible House in Allegheny had become too small. It was also thought that if Russell’s sermons emanated from a larger, better-known city, it would result in the publication of the sermons in more newspapers. But which city? The Watch Tower of December 15, 1908, explained: “Altogether we concluded, after seeking Divine guidance, that Brooklyn, N.Y., with a large population of the middle class, and known as ‘The City of Churches,’ would, for these reasons, be our most suitable center for the harvest work during the few remaining years.”

In 1908, therefore, several representatives of the Watch Tower Society, including its legal counsel, Joseph F. Rutherford, were sent to New York City. Their objective? To secure property that C. T. Russell had located on an earlier trip. They purchased the old “Plymouth Bethel,” located at 13-17 Hicks Street, Brooklyn. It had served as a mission structure for the nearby Plymouth Congregational Church, where Henry Ward Beecher once served as pastor. The Society’s representatives also purchased Beecher’s former residence, a four-story brownstone at 124 Columbia Heights, a few blocks away.

The Hicks Street building was remodeled and named the Brooklyn Tabernacle. It housed the Society’s offices and an auditorium. After considerable repairs, Beecher’s former residence at 124 Columbia Heights became the new home of the Society’s headquarters staff. What would it be called? The Watch Tower of March 1, 1909, explained: “The new home we shall call ‘Bethel’ [meaning, “House of God”].”

“Newspaper gospelling,” as it was called, gained momentum after the move to Brooklyn. But it was not the only way of reaching masses of people.

- Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, WTB&TS

The Bible Students had headquarters offices first at 101 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, and thereafter at 44 Federal Street, Allegheny, Pennsylvania. By the late 1880’s, however, the accelerating work of publishing the good news and gathering sheeplike ones made expansion a necessity. So, Jehovah’s people built their own structure. Completed in 1889 at a cost of $34,000, this four-story brick building situated at 56-60 (later renumbered 610-614) Arch Street, Allegheny, was known as the “Bible House.” Originally it was held in title by the Tower Publishing Company, a private concern managed by C. T. Russell that for some years published literature for the Watch Tower Society at an agreed price. In April 1898, ownership of this plant and real estate was transferred by donation to the Watch Tower Society, its board of directors evaluating the structure and equipment at $164,033.65.

The Bible House served as the Society’s headquarters for some twenty years.

“What was it like at the Bible House in 1907?” asks Ora Sullivan Wakefield. Answering her own query, she says, in part: “There were only thirty of us in the ‘family’ and being small it was truly a family. . . . We all ate, slept, worked and worshipped in that one building. The chapel also had a place for baptism under the platform.”

Just think of it! Back in 1890 there were only about four hundred active associates of the Watch Tower Society. But Jehovah’s holy spirit was at work and was producing fine results. (Zech. 4:6, 10) Accordingly, the 1890’s were times of increase. In fact, hundreds gathered, on March 26, 1899, to memorialize the death of Jesus Christ, an incomplete report citing 339 groups with 2,501 participants. Indeed, sheeplike ones were flocking ‘into the pen.’—Mic. 2:12.

Growth of the preaching work had been spurred on by. C. T. Russell’s trip abroad in 1891. This 17,000-mile journey took him and his party to Europe, Asia and Africa. Thereafter a publications depot was set up in London. Also, arrangements were made to publish the Society’s literature in German, French, Swedish, Dano-Norwegian, Polish, Greek and, later, in Italian.

- 1975 Yearbook of Jehovah's Witnesses, WTB&TS

By end of the ‘80’s they had outgrown the quarters at 151 Robinson Street (earlier designated as 44, and then 40, Federal Street), Allegheny, Pennsylvania. They decided to build, and in 1889 they moved into their own large, handsome four-story brick structure costing $34,000, located at 58 and 60 (later renumbered as 610-614) Arch Street, Allegheny (North Side, Pittsburgh), containing quarters for a small “Bible House family,” printing works, shipping rooms, an assembly place for about 200, an office, an editorial department and a store front. They named it “Bible House.” Years later, the Society’s board of directors accepted the donation of title to this plant, the board valuing the building’s net equity and all of its equipment at $164,033.65.

- Feb. 1, 1955 Watchtower, WTB&TS

But to undertake an all-out campaign of world-wide proportions the Society’s twenty-year-old four-story “Bible House” headquarters in Allegheny (Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania, had become inadequate, besides being not strategically located for world shipping and communication. So in 1908 representatives of the Society, including its legal counselor, J. F. Rutherford, were sent to Brooklyn, New York, to negotiate the purchase of more desirable quarters. Those quarters Russell himself had found on an earlier trip to New York. They bought the old “Plymouth Bethel,” a mission structure completed in 1868 for nearby Plymouth Congregational Church. This mission, at 13-17 Hicks Street, Brooklyn, had long been used in connection with Plymouth Church (built in 1849 on Orange Street, near Hicks) where about half a century earlier antislavery sermons were preached by the noted Brooklyn clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher. They also purchased the old Beecher residence at 124 Columbia Heights, Brooklyn, where other notables, even Abraham Lincoln, are said to have conferred with Beecher in the 1860’s. On January 31, 1909, some 350 attended the dedication of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, the new name for the now-renovated former “Plymouth Bethel.” Its second-floor auditorium, seating 800, gleamed in soft color, olive green prevailing, with tastefully artistic Bible-text wall decorations. The street floor was altered to be the Society’s headquarters operating office. The large basement floor had been turned into a small printery, stock and shipping departments. Soon, too, the home at 124 Columbia Heights had been readied for occupancy by more than thirty full-time members of the headquarters staff. “The new home we shall call ‘Bethel,’ and the new office and auditorium, ‘The Brooklyn Tabernacle’; these names will supplant the term ‘Bible House.’” By 1911 a spacious new dormitory addition had been completed, adjoining the rear of Bethel and fronting on Furman Street, further enlarging the facilities.

- March 1, 1955 Watchtower, WTB&TS

Additional Reading:

Additional Reading: