Clay Hill Synagogues

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Today I am featuring two former synagogues in the Clay Hill area of the City of Hartford, Connecticut. As with the synagogues we’ve seen before, these buildings no longer serve the Jewish community. As the members of this community moved out of Hartford, synagogues were constructed in Manchester and West Hartford. The first building was originally constructed as a synagogue. As in previous weeks, the text below is from the National Registry of Historic Places (NHRP) nomination form.

Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue, a two-story brick building, is located in a dense Hartford urban neighborhood. In its Romanesque Revival style, the central entrance of three doors is approached by wide steps and flanked by projecting towers, in a manner consistent with Connecticut synagogue development. The 58* x 79′ building faces west, close to the street, in the middle of the block. Its neighbors are three-story contemporary brick apartment houses of about the same height and setback.

The historic photograph shows the east end of the interior. A wooden railing with quatrefoil frieze between paneled posts separates the main space of the sanctuary from the area of the bimah, lectern, and ark. Traditionally, the platform that is the bimah was located in the center of the room so that the Torah, when read from the lectern on the bima, was surrounded by people. In the; typical revised arrangement, as found in Beth Hamedrash Hagodol, the bimah is grouped with the ark for convenience and the Torah is carried up and down the aisles to continue the tradition of being among the people.The ark, a large stepped cupboarc^, is elaborately decorated with painted panels of foliate and urn designs, gilded and marbleized. The wall behind the ark is embellished with a mural of the Road to Heaven and Noah’s Ark. Above is a second wheel window, similar to that on the facade, but with a Magen David in its center.

The ark has been removed from the building and is now in the collection of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford.  

NRHP Registration Form, Multiple Property Listing – Historic Synagogues of Connecticut

I included a screen shot of a map of the area. You will notice that the four churches I’ve presented so far are in close proximity. There are other churches in the area. I’ll be back for those.

The Mather Homestead is a two-story brick Greek Revival farmhouse built between 1835 and 1843. The building, though facing Mahl Avenue, originally had a Main Street address before Mahl Avenue was opened in 1893. … The setting of the Mather Homestead itself is still quite open; set above the. street at the brow of a low rise, it is flanked by empty houselots.

The building has gone through a major use transformation from residential to institutional, reflected in its appearance through the years. The exterior retains most of its original features, while the interior has been extensively altered. From its construction until 1926, it was a residence, from 1954, a synagogue, and from 1954 to the present, a Masonic Lodge.

In November 1926, conversion to a synagogue began, the building was purchased on November 12, and on the 26th a permit for an addition was issued to builder L. Schwifiker. Exterior alterations consisted of a small, round-walled addition to the east wall for an ark to hold the Torah scrolls, changes to move the main entry from the central to the west bay of the main block, and a second-story. The Mather Homestead is significant because its history and architecture uniquely chronicle” a century-and-a–half of the socioeconomic history of Hartford’s North End. Four eras of neighborhood history are reflected in the building.

First, the house is a rare and fine representative of Hartford’s agricultural heritage; … Second, when the house and land became an entirely residential development in 1893, the homestead represented the transformation of Hartford’s outlying districts from farmland to suburb in response to the industrialization of the city. When converted to a synagogue in 1926, it marked the increasing ethnic diversity of the city and the decreasing dominance of the old Yankee families; this neighborhood, in particular, was a center of the Jewish community. The fourth, and most recent change in neighborhood and city character is reflected in the 1954 conversion to a Masonic Temple by a chapter of the black arm of the movement, the Prince Hall Masons.

NHRP nomination form

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    • Thanks Manja. I like “doorliday” that describes it well. Enjoy your daytrip, and point your camera at a few doors for us. Your post today was restful. I love the colors.


  1. The synagogue is impressive both inside and out. It’s interesting that each entrance door has its own entry through a gate in the surrounding fence instead of one wide opening. Good to see these buildings still have a purpose today.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s funny, Ginger. I didn’t notice the individual gates. I am glad to see the buildings have been saved, and at that the synagogue is still serving a community of faith.

      I hope you enjoy a cooler day today, and a few more to follow.


  2. I don’t know. I admire the preservation, but I have to admit that the images that draw me in are the old ones, that interior of the synagogue and the 1905 Mather, though I do wish Mr. Mather had been a bit more symmetrical with the windows. Still a very interesting way to look at community change.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I often have that feeling when I find the historic photos. I wish they had had some photos of the Mather homestead when it was a synagogue. I can’t imagine how they pulled that off. I worry about that building. Even being this list might not protect it forever. If this area ever gets the attention it deserves by the city, that is some prime property.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As long as they can preserve the buildings, that is always a good thing. Two Catholic churches in my town are now homes to a Vietnamese church, and one very old church downtown has been turned into ’boutique’ affordable housing. Yeah, not sure what that means, either. But it is a lot less expensive than the regular ‘affordable’ housing that I sure cannot afford.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I find buildings that have been once a place of worship to be very comforting. Maybe the walls are instilled with a little spirituality. But it’s nice when they are re-purposed as opposed to dismissed.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I love the old images and the interior showing the ark, and lectern. There’s a part of me that wishes it were a color image to see it in color.

    The first brick church has lovely arches and a great circle window. The history is fascinating as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I do wish the nomination forms had color photos, but I am grateful that they include some from the interior. Those photos would have been taken, perhaps in the 1980 but maybe earlier. The nomination form indicates that the building was no longer being used as a synagogue. I’m glad they have preserved some of this important history.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Dan, it’s interesting to know that members of the Jewish community moved away from this area…so much like Jew Town, in Kerala (where the synagogue remains). Also, the first picture of the synagogue in your post is very similar to the one I saw recently in Mumbai. I did not get to click pictures though as the area was crowded. Thank you for sharing.

    My post for this week – has some leftovers and some artwork :)

    Thursday Doors: ART- Forgotten


  7. I rarely get out these days, and when I do, it’s either the dr’s office, post office, or the grocery store. But I do so enjoy these photos of doors/buildings. They’re places I’ve never been and can’t hope to see in this lifetime. Thanks to all who continue to post photos. I enjoy every one of them!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love the name of the first two story red brick synagogue; Beth Hamedrash Hagodol Synagogue – now The Greater Refuge Church of Christ, Apostolic Overcoming Holy Church of God. Wow, that’s a mouthful. It is amazing how these structures are still standing. Beautiful! Hope you have a wonderful weekend, Dan. :)

    Here’s another post from Seville, Spain. I hope you enjoy!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As always, thanks for sharing! Love the history lesson, but more importantly the pictures old and new. I found the old picture of the bimah, lectern and ark mind blowing. The detail is incredible! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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