return to Home Anshe Chesed Synagogue - The Early Years  
Eagle Street Synagogue ─ Cleveland's First

Anshe Chesed, now Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, was founded in 1841 and chartered on February 28, 1842. It is Cleveland's oldest Jewish congregation. It was formed after 30 members of the organization of Cleveland's Jews which took the name the Israelitic Society (Israelitische Verein) and held  religious services, seceded in a dispute over ritual. Differences were overcome in 1845, and the groups merged under the name Israelitish Anshe Chesed Society of Cleveland.

More on Encyclopedia of Cleveland History and Rabbi Moses Gries history of Jewish Cleveland.

"As soon as resources permitted, the reunited Israelitic Anshe Chesed Society employed John Wigman, a master builder, to construct Cleveland's first synagogue building. The Eagle Street Synagogue, a modified version of the local Baptist church, was erected on the south side of Eagle Street and dedicated August 7-8, 1846." Text and the photo below are from Merging Traditions page 11.

Leonard Case was land agent for most of Cleveland's east side, selling the land his father-in-law Samuel P. Lord owned as an investor in the Connecticut Land Company, which had bought the 3.3 million acre Western Reserve. To advance the city's growth, in 1843 Case gave land for the building of several houses of worship. That included land for Anshe Chesed. (See our Great Gift page.) It was the son of Leonard Eckstein Case, Leonard Case Jr., whose estate founded the Case School of Applied Sciences.

The lot on Ohio Street (today Carnegie Avenue) was  exchanged for lot 38 on the south side of Eagle Street, between Erie Street (now East Ninth) and Woodland Avenue. There, in 1846, for a cost of $1,500 Anshe Chesed built the city's first synagogue. They would now be called the Eagle Street Synagogue.

Though it's hard to comprehend a $1,500 building, note that wages for a carpenter were then about $1.30 a day, roughly 1/250th of today's levels. Further, it was a simple building, without gas or electricity, central heating and indoor plumbing.

The building cornerstone was laid on October 6, 1845 and the synagogue was dedicated in April 1846. (See our description of the service.) The sanctuary was designed for the traditional custom of separate seating of men and women, with a ladies' gallery along three sides. Two years later dissension would split the congregation again and lead to the formation of Tifereth Israel.

Why was it so difficult to have only one congregation?

Tensions about seating men and women separately or in what was called family seating, about music in the service and more in later years would cause rifts in some Cleveland synagogues. But they were not why Anshe Chesed could not remain intact.

The early years of Jewish Cleveland are best described in historian Alan Peskin's 1973 monograph "This Tempting Freedom", published by Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple. It is online in CSU's Cleveland Memory website

He writes that the split that led Cleveland, with perhaps 100 Jewish families, to have two synagogues was caused by differences in custom -- "minhag". The first members from Unsleben had brought over worship practices from their isolated Bavarian town. Later, Jews from other German-speaking places arrived, with different customs. The Unsleben faction had control of such practices in Anshe Chesed and would not compromise. As a result, many of the others left to form Tifereth Israel.

Learning that the leaders of the faction that left Anshe Chesed were from northwest German-speaking cities gives Peskin's conclusion greater weight, for that is where what we call Reform Judaism began. The Unslebeners, from a village in Bavaria, far to the east and south where more traditional practices would prevail, were in charge. This suggests that the split was between those wanting change and  those wanting to worship as their fathers had.

Anshe Chesed grew and in 1860 it enlarged the building. The city had improved its water and sewage systems and the expansion probably included indoor toilets. In 1887 they moved to a new building 18 blocks east, at Scovill Avenue and Henry (now East 25th) Street. See history of Fairmount Temple. In 1887 they sold the Eagle Street Synagogue building to B'nai Jeshurun for $15,000. B'nai Jeshurun would occupy it until 1906. See the B'nai Jeshurun history page. In 1927 the original building became a freight depot. See a picture.

Where was the old Eagle Street Synagogue?

Shown below is an 1850 street map from the Cleveland Public Library Map Room. The vertical red line is Erie Street, now East Ninth Street. The synagogue is about 350 feet west of the center of East Ninth. Central Avenue, Broadway and Woodland begin at the Central Market.

Below: a Google Satellite view of the north-east corner of Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Guardians. The street running north-south is East Ninth. Eagle Street runs east-west, between the parking garage and ball field.

The gold circle on the above map shows what we first believed was the location of the Eagle Street Synagogue: near the circle of monuments that the team built in 2007 and named Heritage Park.

Then a website visitor emailed to say our page was had it wrong. Thank you Ned McFarland for reminding us that when the Gateway area was redeveloped in the early 1990s, to provide more land for the stadium construction, the city moved Eagle Street north. By measuring from the new Eagle Street, we were north of the true spot. An accurate measure must start at a fixed place, like the intersection of Bolivar and East Ninth.

Conclusion: the old Eagle Street Synagogue stood about 100 feet south of Heritage Park. Using a copy of an image from the team website, we show it below as a black rectangle, roughly where it was in 1846.

An early glimpse of Eagle Street is online -- the Eagle Street Normal School, three lots west of the synagogue. (A Normal School was a model school where high school graduates were trained to become elementary school teachers.) See the 1876 print.

Nate Arnold suggested that a plaque near the baseball stadium commemorates the Eagle Street Synagogue.  For our "In Pursuit of the Plaque", click here.

A memory of a Nate Arnold tour

No one gave better tours of old Jewish Cleveland than my history buddy Nate Arnold. A fourth-generation Clevelander, his tours were warm and informative, with humor once in a while to keep his group engaged.

I remember when he told a bus full of tourists that the bimah (pulpit) of the Eagle Street Synagogue was where the pitcher's mound at Progressive Field is today. Sitting next to him I whispered "Nate, it was in center field." He smiled and said nothing to me. Then in a loud, clear voice he said to the group "Imagine, sermons on the mound."

Much groaning and laughing followed.

Page by Arnold Berger    last revised 5/28/2024

Top of Page     In Pursuit of the Plaque     CJH Home