East Village

Massive East Village Fire Destroys Historic 19th Century Church

The six-alarm blaze in a vacant building spread to nearby Middle Collegiate Church, which is almost 130 years old

NBC Universal, Inc.

A six-alarm fire in a vacant East Village building Saturday morning spread to the nearby Middle Collegiate Church, resulting in enough damage to leave both structures uninhabitable.

The fire broke out just before 5 a.m. at the vacant building on East 7th Street. It then spread to the nearby church that houses New York's Liberty Bell and whose congregation dates to the city's earliest days.

By 6 a.m. the roof was completely engulfed in flames.

“We are devastated. We are gutted like our building is gutted; our hearts are crushed like our doors are crushed,” said the Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis. “But we know how to be the church, and we know that God is God, yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

Nearly 200 firefighters were dispatched to the blaze. Four firefighters suffered minor injuries as a result of the fire, FDNY Assistant Chief John Hodgens said Saturday morning.

Built in 1892, the church is home to the oldest congregation of the Collegiate Churches of New York, which date to the Dutch settlement of the island in the 1620s, according to the church’s website.

The Middle Collegiate Church had been in two other locations in Manhattan since 1729.

The bell tower houses New York’s Liberty Bell, which pealed to mark the birth of the nation in 1776 and has since been rung for the inaugurations and deaths of American presidents and events such as remembrance of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the church.

“Our church has been worshipping digitally since March 15,” Lewis said. “And that’s what we’ll be doing tomorrow.”

Fire crews were still putting water on the fire around 9:30 a.m. as investigators worked to determine its cause.

The vacant corner building on East 7th Street and Second Avenue - were Saturday's fire originated - was damaged by a smaller fire back in February. The cause of that fire was ruled accidental.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the name of the church affected by the fire. It is Middle Collegiate Church on Second Avenue, not St. George Ukrainian Catholic Church on 7th Street.

Copyright NBC New York/Associated Press
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