The Columbus Avenue African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church sits on the border of the South End and Lower Roxbury neighborhoods and is a great example of how the area evolved in the 19th and 20th centuries. The beautiful Romanesque Revival building was constructed in 1885 as the first synagogue of Congregation Adath Israel, which was founded in 1854. The congregation sought more space from its current location, and a closer place of worship for many of the German Jews who settled in Boston’s South End. They built this synagogue in 1885 and eventually moved west to a new Kenmore Square synagogue less than thirty years later as the neighborhood’s demographics began to shift. In 1903, the A.M.E. Zion Church purchased the former synagogue as their new home. This congregation had its beginnings in 1838 when seventeen African Americans withdrew from the communion of the Methodist Episcopal Church, then located on Joy Street in Beacon Hill. This group of Black worshippers wanted more religious freedom and desired to become part parcel of The African Methodist Episcopal Zion connection under the leadership of their own race. For many years, this church was the largest and principal Black church in the city of Boston. In 1903, shortly after moving to Columbus Avenue, the church experienced what was called the “Boston Riot.” The church hosted a debate between Booker T. Washington and William Monroe Trotter, editor and publisher of the “Boston Guardian”. Trotter, a Black Bostonian, opposed the gradual conservative approach to civil and political rights as promulgated by Mr. Washington. The debate took place on July 3, 1903 and the church was packed with over 2,000 spectators. Shortly after the opening prayer by Pastor McMullen of the AME Church, Washington was introduced. A disturbance then erupted with Trotter eventually being arrested for disturbing the peace. This building is the oldest synagogue building in Massachusetts and has been a center of Black life in Boston ever since the beginning of the 20th century.
Located just a short walk from the oldest extant Jewish synagogue in the United States, Touro Synagogue (last post), the Touro Jewish Cemetery and stately gate, showcase the significance and position Jewish residents held in Newport, going back to Colonial times. The earliest Jews in Newport arrived from Barbados, where a Jewish community had existed since the 1620s. They were of Spanish and Portuguese origin; their families had migrated from Amsterdam and London to Brazil and then to islands in the Caribbean. After the completion of the synagogue in 1763, the Jewish community in Newport realized the need to acquire land for a Jewish cemetery. Two of the original immigrants, Mordechai Campanal and Moses Pacheco purchased the lot at the corner of what is now Kay and Touro Streets for this purpose. In 1843, the cemetery funded the erection of a cemetery gate and fencing to surround the plot. They hired architect Isaiah Rogers to design the gate, which he took inspiration from his design at Boston’s Granary Burying Ground, completed just two years earlier. The Egyptian Revival gate is a very rare example of the style in the United States. On the granite gate, the torches turned to face downward are an acknowledgement of the ending of life’s flame.
While Newport is arguably best-known for the Newport mansions from the Gilded Age, there are soooo many amazing buildings from the Colonial era, including some of the most significant and historic in the United States. Touro Synagogue in Newport is the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States, the only surviving synagogue building in the U.S. dating to the colonial era, and the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America (for reference, second-oldest extant synagogue in North America was built in 1833, seventy years later)! Its history begins in the 17th century when the small but growing colony of Newport received its first Jewish residents possibly as early as 1658. The earliest known Jewish settlers arrived from Barbados, where they participated in the triangular trade along with Dutch and English settlements. By 1758, the Jewish population had grown sufficiently that there was a need for a house of worship. The Congregation now known as Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of Israel) engaged Newport resident Peter Harrison to design the synagogue. Harrison, a British American merchant and sea captain, who was self-tutored in architecture, studying mostly from books and drawings. By the time he designed Touro Synagogue, he had already completed iconic buildings including Newport’s Redwood Library and King’s Chapel in Boston. Construction began on the “Jews Synagogue” in 1759, which was completed years later in 1763. The building is one of the most significant buildings in America, and is open to tours where you can see the immaculately restored interiors.
In the early 20th-century, Hull was linked by ferry, railway and road to Boston and this resort town became a popular urban recreational destination. Between 1915 and 1920, Jewish Bostonians started buying property and building summer homes in the area. The new Jewish summer residents required a temple for worship when away from their main homes. In 1920, land was purchased just north of the bustling Nantasket Beach for the erection of a place of worship. This temple was likely built by a Jewish architect/builder Joseph Rudnick, who arrived in Boston from present-day Lithuania in 1886. Unable to speak English, he hired a tutor to teach it to him, and quickly began working on constructing apartments and other buildings all over the Boston area. Temple Israel of Nantasket remains a handsome and rare example of a 1920 American
wood-framed, stucco-clad synagogue, with an active congregation.
Built five years before the Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline, the Temple Kehillath Israel on Harvard Street employs a similar architectural aesthetic of the Byzantine Revival style. The Jewish community of Brookline had grown significantly since the early 1900s, reaching a population of 4,000 by 1921. The congregation which constructed this temple had temporary quarters in a building at Harvard and Thorndike streets. By March 1921, it was decided to build a temple, and in 1922, the cornerstone was laid for a building which would cost an estimated $150,000 and have a capacity for 1,000. Plans submitted by architects architects Albert MacNaughton and George E. Robinson showed the large structure with space to build outbuildings as the congregation was expected to keep up with growth.
In 1948, an Art Deco Community House, designed by Samuel Glaser, was constructed of stone replicated the materiality of the temple, but with Modern features, a connector addition was added in 1958. The congregation is currently in the midst of a huge building campaign, which began with the exterior restoration of the temple building, followed by a modernization and restoration of the interior. In 2019, the 1948 Community House was razed to make way for an affordable housing development, called the Brown Family House.
Congregation Ohabei Shalom was founded in 1842, and is the longest enduring Jewish congregation in Massachusetts and the second in New England after Touro Synagogue located in Newport, Rhode Island. The congregation grew from the original eight families to over a hundred and was forced to continually relocate around Boston for enough space until it purchased the former South Congregational Church on Union Park Street in the South End (now St. John the Baptist). The South End became a hub for Boston’s Jewish community and the congregation continued to grow, alongside catholic and other religious groups in the area, notably the Holy Cross Cathedral a block away. By the turn of the century, the jewish population began to shift outward to Brookline and other outlying cities, which only increased after WWII.
Land was secured on Beacon Street in Brookline in 1921 and the congregation hired the Boston firm of Blackall, Clapp and Whittemore to design a large new temple and sanctuary. The Byzantine-Romanesque edifice and its magnificent sanctuary were completed in 1928. Modeled on themes from Hagia Sophia and the Great Synagogue of Florence, Italy, it has a commanding presence on the busy street to this day. The temple was to even have a large corner tower, which never materialized. With its use of polychromatic masonry and Byzantine ornament, and capped by a great copper dome, the congregation boasts one of the most architecturally outstanding religious buildings in the area.