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Eagle Street Synagogue - 1846

Anshe Chesed builds Cleveland's first synagogue

Anshe Chesed (now Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple) was founded as a German Orthodox congregation in 1841 and chartered on 28 Feb. 1842. It is Cleveland's oldest Jewish congregation. It was formed after 30 members of the Israelitic Society of Cleveland, the city's first congregation, seceded in a dispute over religious 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." The above quotation and the photo below are from Merging Traditions page 11.

Leonard Case Senior was an official with the Connecticut Land Company, which at one time owned all the land of the Western Reserve. Perhaps Cleveland's first philanthropist, Case gave land for the building of several houses of worship. (Twenty-five years later his son, Leonard Jr., would found what the Case School of Applied Science which would become the Case Institute of Technology.)

Anshe Chesed Society received a lot on Ohio Street (today Carnegie Avenue) which they exchanged for lot 38 on the south side of Eagle Street, between Erie Street (now East Ninth) and Woodland Avenue. There, in 1846, they built the city's first synagogue. The cost: $1,500.


What would $1,500 buy in 1846?
Here are two ways to estimate this. First, wages for a carpenter were then about $1.30 a day, roughly 1/250th of today's levels. Second, as recorded in congregation minutes of the early 1850's, member dues ranged from five to ten dollars a year. Thus our estimate is about $350,000 - $400,000 in today's economy. Buildings in 1846 were much simpler. There was no electricity, gas or central heating and no indoor plumbing.

The building cornerstone was laid on October 6, 1845, the synagogue was dedicated in April 1846. (See a detailed description of the service.) The sanctuary was designed for the traditional practice of separate seating of men and women. A ladies' gallery ran 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 separate or family seating, music in the service and more in the 1870s and later would split some Cleveland synagogues. But they were not why Anshe Chesed was unable to remain intact.

The most careful study of the early years of Jewish Cleveland is Dr Alan Peskin's 1973 monograph "This Tempting Freedom", which was written in 1973 and published by Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple.. [It can be read on CSU's Cleveland Memory website ].

He concludes that the split was caused by differences in custom -- "minhag". The first members from Unsleben Bavaria had brought over worship practices from their small isolated town. Other members, from Bavarian and other Central European German-speaking towns, had different customs. The Unsleben faction had control of such matters and would not compromise. As a result, many of the others left.

Anshe Chesed grew and in 1860 they 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.

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 Indians. 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 Cleveland Indians built in 2007 and named Heritage Park.

Then we received an email from Ned McFarland who told us that we had it wrong. After checking we realized that he was correct.

What had we missed? When the Gateway area was redeveloped in the early 1990s, to provide more land on which to build the stadium, Eagle Street was moved north of where it had been for years. By measuring from the new Eagle Street, we were north of the true spot. An accurate "fix" would have to start by measuring from a point that had not moved, for example the intersection of Bolivar and East Ninth.

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


Webkeeper's note:
Nate Arnold, who leads tours of old Jewish Cleveland and has furnished much of the information on our list of old shuls, has heard that at Progressive Field there is a plaque that commemorates the Eagle Street Synagogue. I decided to take on the challenge of finding that plaque. For more on "In Pursuit of the Plaque", click here AB

Links to old Eagle Street scenes

Eagle Street Normal School on the same street, three lots west 1876 etching (A Normal School was a model school where high school graduates would be trained to become teachers.)


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