Electrical fire destroys Middle Collegiate Church, Reverend Lewis says Liberty Bell will ring again

The investigation into the fire that tore through several buildings along 7th Street and 2nd Avenue, including the Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village on Dec. 5, is complete.

After a thorough investigation into the six-alarm hell that gutted the beloved religious institution and forced the demolition of its nearby buildings, it is believed to be the result of faulty electrical wiring, according to the FDNY.

The fire spread to two buildings and to the Middle Collegiate Church. Two of the buildings have now been demolished.Photo of Dean Moses

The fire originated in a vacant building at 48 East 7th Street just before 5 a.m., then during the morning and until late afternoon the fire spread to Middle Collegiate Church . Similarly, in February, at the same location, a 3-alarm fire occurred, which was also ruled to be accidental electrical wiring of the building. On Twitter, FDNY said the two fires were unrelated.

News of the cause of the fire comes more than a week after the blaze, and while it doesn’t offer much comfort to those still mourning the crumbling monument, another emerging detail might.

The Middle Collegiate Church announced on Twitter on Sunday morning that the Liberty Bell had survived the fire and “will ring again”. This famous bell rang for the birth of the nation in 1776 before ringing 300 years later for those who perished in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on 9/11.

Church members and community members feared the historic relic would be lost in the fire, but after city engineers inspected the resting place of the bell in the upper steeple, it was found largely unscathed.

Reverend Jacqueline Lewis spoke with amNewYork about the heartbreak of seeing the place she ruled for 17 years destroyed. Photo of Dean Moses

Reverend Jacqueline Lewis told amNewYork Metro on Dec. 10 that the church plans to rebuild and thanks to donations from around the world, the effort has already raised more than $200,000 in relief funds.

Hailed as the North Lady of the East Village, the Middle Collegiate Church continued its virtual sermons and was able to visit the site to collect historic documents, artwork and other priceless memorabilia from their program building at 50 East 7th Street.

Reverend Jacqui Lewis has courageously led her congregation during this time and is awaiting further assessment before plans for reconstruction can be made.

“What a year it has been. In the midst of COVID-19, we cared for the sick, worked on voting rights, donated funds to those in need, and worked to dismantle racism. Now this fire. We haven’t seen the official report, but the fire marshal told us the cause was electrical in nature. We will wait to see the report before commenting further. Our building burned down and we are heartbroken. That the Liberty Bell is still intact brings us joy this Advent season, Reverend Lewis said in a statement to amNewYork Metro.

The outer shell of Middle Collegiate Church is charred and gutted on East 7th Street. (Photo by Dean Moses)

Trying to keep a positive mindset, Reverend Lewis has plans for a future that will involve groundbreaking education, an arts center and more to expand the reach of the church.

“This is what resilience looks like, what hope looks like. Of course, we will rise from the ashes with revolutionary love. Stay tuned at MiddleChurch.org,” Reverend Lewis said.

If you are interested in donating, visit middlechurch.org/rising

Martha J. Finley