THE year 1909 was a momentous one for New York City. The Queensboro Bridge was opened, connecting the borough of Queens with Manhattan, and the Manhattan Bridge was opened, making another connection between Manhattan and Brooklyn.
It was also a momentous year for Jehovah’s Witnesses. Earlier, Charles Taze Russell, president of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society, the legal arm of Jehovah’s Witnesses, had seen the potential for expanding the preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom. (Matthew 24:14) He believed that moving the Society’s headquarters from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Brooklyn, New York, would be an important step in doing so. Preparations for the move had begun in 1908, and the move was made early the following year.
Why Move to Brooklyn?
Those taking the lead in the preaching work back then knew that evangelizing by sermons printed in newspapers was an effective way to spread Bible truth. In fact, by the year 1908, Russell’s weekly Bible sermons appeared in 11 newspapers with a combined circulation of 402,000.
However, Russell wrote: “Brethren familiar with newspaper methods . . . assure us that if the weekly sermons emanated from a [larger center] it would possibly result in the publication of the sermons all over the United States; that within a year there might be hundreds of papers publishing them regularly.” Therefore, the hunt was on for the best location to expand the preaching work.
Why Brooklyn? Russell said: “Altogether we concluded, after seeking Divine guidance, that Brooklyn, N.Y., with a large population . . . and known as ‘The City of Churches,’ would, for these reasons, be our most suitable center for the harvest work.” The results speak for themselves. In a short space of time, 2,000 newspapers were publishing Russell’s sermons.
New York was a good choice for yet another reason. By 1909, branch offices had been established in Great Britain, Germany, and Australia, with more soon to follow. Hence, it made sense to locate the world headquarters in a seaport city that also had substantial road and rail links.
Why Called Bethel?
The original headquarters of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society was established in the 1880’s, in Allegheny (now part of Pittsburgh), Pennsylvania. Back then, it was called the Bible House. By 1896, this facility was staffed by 12 members.
With the move to Brooklyn in 1909, though, the new residence for the staff members was called Bethel.a Why Bethel? The property that the Watch Tower Society purchased at 13-17 Hicks Street was owned by the prominent clergyman Henry Ward Beecher and was known as the Beecher Bethel. Beecher’s former residence, located at 124 Columbia Heights, was also purchased. The March 1, 1909, issue of The Watch Tower reported: “It certainly seems very remarkable that we should get the old Beecher Bethel and then by accident get his former residence. . . . The new home we shall call ‘Bethel,’ and the new office and auditorium, ‘The Brooklyn Tabernacle’; these names will supplant the term ‘Bible House.’”
Today, the greatly expanded facilities in Brooklyn and at two other locations in New York State, Wallkill and Patterson, including both the residence, the printery, and the offices, have come to be called Bethel. In fact, worldwide there are now Bethel homes in 113 countries. They are staffed by more than 19,000 ministers, who help to distribute Bible information.
A Warm Welcome to Visitors
The facilities were dedicated on January 31, 1909. Monday, September 6, 1909, was Reception Day at Bethel. Hundreds of Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known, toured the facility. Many of them came directly from a Christian convention held in Saratoga Springs, about 200 miles [320 km] upriver from New York City. Charles Taze Russell personally welcomed and greeted the visitors.b
Visitors continue to be welcome at Bethel. In fact, each year more than 40,000 people tour the Brooklyn facilities. Brooklyn Bethel continues to play a vital role in the expansion of Jehovah’s Kingdom interests, to the blessings of untold millions.
a The Hebrew word “Bethel” means “House of God.” In the Bible, Bethel was a prominent Israelite city. Only the city of Jerusalem is mentioned more frequently.
b For additional historic details, see Jehovah’s Witnesses—Proclaimers of God’s Kingdom, pages 718-723, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.