Wednesday, February 11, 2015

From the Archives: Liberty Corner

Today our 34th Street archivist Anne Kumer shares some history of the 34th Street district. This post also appears on NYC Circa.

The Broadway Tabernacle Church was formed as a pulpit for the reformist preacher Charles Grandison Finney in the mid-1830s. Finney was an advocate of social reform, primarily equal education for all people regardless of race or gender, as well as a proponent of the growing abolition movement.  The church auditorium was one of the city's largest public halls, and hosted rallies, scientific demonstrations, and lectures, as well as sermons.

In 1842 noted geologist Sir Charles Lyell gave a series of lectures on Uniformitarianism, the then groundbreaking theory that the earth is developed and shaped by slow moving forces still in effect. Two years later, the church hosted the first public demonstration of nitrous oxide used as an anesthetic.

Broadway Tabernacle auditorium at Worth Street and Broadway, 1850. Image: NYPL

For its many community functions, the Tabernacle was best known (and hated by some) for supporting the abolition and women's rights movements. Angry mobs attempted to burn down the church during construction, and at times the lives of its preachers and congregants were put at risk. Women's suffragette and activist Sojourner Truth famously spoke at the Women's Rights Convention in 1853 held at the Tabernacle. Boos, hisses, and protests were so raucous that the convention earned the nickname The Mob Convention of 1853. 

Sojourner Truth, 1864. Image: LOC
Frederick Douglass along with William Lloyd Garrsion spoke at the church several times before it moved again, this time to 34th Street where Broadway and Sixth Avenue meet. By then, the church was known as Liberty Corner for its commitment as " . . . a center for every good cause, civic or religious, that needed rallying," The Literary Digest, 1905-01-07.Pastor Joseph Parrish Thompson gave frequent anti-slavery sermons, invited black preachers to the pulpit, and with other members of the church, founded The Independent, a weekly anti-slavery newspaper.

NE Corner of Sixth Avenue and 34th Street showing the Broadway Tabernacle Church [1900], Image: NYPL
Pastor Thompson resigned in 1871, and soon after, William MacKergo Taylor took over pastoral duties. Taylor put an emphasis on missionary work, and advanced the rights of female congregants by giving laywomen the right to vote within the church. He also established Bethany Church on 33rd Street and Tenth Avenue, a mission church that was operable into the 1920s.

Broadway Tabernacle Church interior with a Ferris & Stuart organ, 34th Street, 1859. Image: via

In 1901, the church and congregation  moved to 57th Street and Broadway, and then later, again, this time to its present location at 93rd Street and Broadway. It is now called the Broadway United Church of Christ. In its place, at the NE corner of 34th Street and Broadway, the Marbridge building, an office building with retail space was built. (ed. note: Victoria's Secret is currently the anchor tenant of the building)

The Marbridge Building, 1941. Image: MCNY

Other Sources:
1. Sir Charles Lyell, Eight Lectures on Geology
2. Library of Congress, Sojourner Truth online resources
3. Ward, Susan Hayes. The History of Broadway Tabernacle Church, 1901
4. Judd, Lewis Strong. The Broadway Tabernacle Church, 1901-1915