Temple Beth Torah (former Methodist Church)
Now home to a synagogue, this structure was originally built on Main Street in 1824 as a Methodist church. Methodist history in Connecticut dates back centuries. In 1790, Jesse Lee preached the earliest known Methodist sermon in the town. During the 1950s, the expanding congregation moved to a new, larger building, and the recently formed Jewish Community Group of Wethersfield purchased the old church. They converted the former church into a synagogue named Temple Beth Torah and dedicated it in 1961. The temple remains in use today.
Backstory and Context
Methodists have been active in Wethersfield since the late 18th century, as evidenced by Jesse Lee's sermon delivered in North Brick School House (now Standish Park). Traveling preachers visited the town until the 1821 installation of Rev. William S. Pease as circuit preacher for the area (serving Westherfield, Kensington, New Britain, and Newington).
Construction on a Methodist church began in 1824. The completed building still exists today (as Temple Beth Torah), although it has undergone many renovations and alterations over the years. The structure moved onto a new foundation in 1882. A Sunday school was added in 1913, but it burned down in 1941. Regardless, the Methodist community continued expanding, and by the 1950s was in need of a larger space. Congregants moved to a new location on Prospect Street and sold the old building to the Jewish Community Group of Wethersfield.
Jewish Community Group of Wethersfield
This group comprised 18 families who gathered in late 1954 to form a cohesive Jewish community. They elected a president and began to organize services and events, initially held in civic centers, churches, and members' homes. In addition, they established a religious school in 1955.
The Jewish Community Group purchased the former Methodist church in 1960 and began carrying out extensive renovations: converting the church into a synagogue sanctuary; integrating Jewish symbols and aesthetics with traditional Wethersfield design; adding a raised Bimah with lectern; updating the lighting, carpeting, and acoustics; strengthening the foundation; and building a downstairs classroom. In May 1961, Temple Beth Torah opened and has been in use ever since.
"A History of Temple Beth Torah." Temple Beth Torah. Accessed January 07, 2019. https://www.templebethtorahwethersfield.org/a-little-history.
"Temple Beth Torah (1824)." Historic Buildings of Connecticut. December 01, 2014. Accessed January 07, 2019. http://historicbuildingsct.com/temple-beth-torah-1824/.
Image credit: Historic Buildings of Connecticut, http://historicbuildingsct.com/temple-beth-torah-1824/.