Mapping the Early Synagogues of the West Side

This is an unusual "tour", in that none of the buildings remain. In fact, most of the streets are long gone as a result of the city's plan to demolish over 500 structures located on the flood plain of the Mississippi River across from downtown. Map locations are approximate as most of the addresses and streets no longer exist.

The first Eastern European Jews arrived in the late 1880s and settled primarily in what was once called the “Lower West Side” of St. Paul. The majority of them were fleeing not just discrimination, but the pogroms and massacres deliberately inflicted by their governments. They came from Russia, Lithuania, Poland (these latter two part of the Russian Empire at that time), and Romania. Arriving by the thousands in New York, they traveled west and many settled in St. Paul. The West Side became predominantly Jewish by the end of the 1800s.

At first, just as in other areas of the city, Jewish congregations held their services in people’s homes or in rented spaces on the West Side. As they began to construct synagogues, the buildings appeared within just a few blocks of each other. There were at least eight synagogues established between Wabasha and the eastern bank of the Mississippi River, and between Concord and the Mississippi River to the north during the late 1800s to the early 1900s. For the most part each of these congregations catered to Jewish worshipers who may have spoken a different language or held services using slightly different practices. All were Orthodox.

An additional important organization for the Jewish population of the West Side was a school. Incorporated in 1910, the St. Paul Hebrew Institute and Shelter House building was dedicated in 1911. Its purpose was to provide a traditional Jewish education for the children of the West Side since most synagogues did not have the facilities within their own buildings. The school merged with two others in 1949, but left that group in 1954.

Only two buildings, the Agudas Achim synagogue and the St. Paul Hebrew Institute survived and were in use into the late 1950s. Fortunately some photos exist. The bulk of information about the locations of these synagogues comes from the 1904 and 1939 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, since records of the majority of these congregations haven’t survived. Even the founding date of most aren’t certain.

Some are mentioned in articles in the St. Paul Globe newspaper, and some of the locations are unclear or inaccurate. Many of the streets on which they were located no longer exist, as the area was later almost completely razed and reclaimed for industrial use as a result of the constant flooding, against which nothing had yet been constructed along the Mississippi River.

St. Paul Hebrew Institute, Apartments

Another building owned by the St. Paul Hebrew Institute was at 133 E. Fillmore. There were four apartments in the building, but there is no information about the tenants. They may have been used for the people who came to use the large bath…

Sons of Israel Synagogue

The Sons of Israel Synagogue was located at 110 Robertson Street, this street no longer exists and ran between and parallel to State and Eva Streets. The building is shown on the Hopkins 1916 map, but no other information has been located about…

St. Paul Hebrew Institute and Sheltering House

In 1888 Rabbi Herman Simon became rabbi of the West Side Congregations and proceeded to lead the effort to establish a Hebrew Institute on the West Side. The St. Paul Hebrew Institute and Sheltering Home was completed and dedicated in 1911 at 297…

Beth Midrash Ha Godol Synagogue

Beth Midrash Ha Godol Synagogue was organized some time in the late 1880s with Rabbi Isaac Lichtenberg serving as the congregation's rabbi. It is believed that the congregation worshiped at 165 State Street beginning some time later than that,…

Sons of Zion (B'Nai Zion) Synagogue

The Congregation of the Sons of Zion, or B'nai Zion, was organized in 1883 by newer Russian Jewish immigrants who were said to not want to affiliate with the already established Orthodox Sons of Jacob , a synagogue generally known as a “Polish”…

Agudas Achim Synagogue

The Agudas Achim Synagogue was founded by members of the Congregation of the Russian Brotherhood, though the locations and date of closure are not certain. It seems, however, that this building was in use by 1909. There were two addresses…

Congregation of the Russian Brotherhood

The Congregation of the Russian Brotherhood, founded in 1886, is shown on the 1904 Sanborn map at 202 E. Fairfield Ave., with “Agudas Achim” in parentheses below the building name; on the 1939 revised Sanborn map it is located at 282-84 Texas Avenue.…
These are some of the useful resources used in constructing the tour and the map:

Pierce, Lorraine E. “The Jewish Settlement of St. Paul’s Lower West Side.” American Jewish Archives Journal, V. 28, no. 2 (November 1976): 149.

Upper Midwest Jewish Archive, Special Collections, University of Minnesota Libraries

Paul Nelson, " Fairfield and Livingstone"

Ramsey County – St. Paul Port Authority Records

Laura Weber, MnOpedia “Talmud Torah”,

Laura Weber, MnOpedia “From Exclusion to Integration: The Story of Jews in Minnesota