This talk presents a brief history of the building which housed the Shiloh Welsh Methodist Episcopal Church and, later, the Jewish Community Center, in Bangor, PA. This building is now the home of Brian Carroll and Anna Maria Caldara. It has been a centerpiece of the town and was used by various groups in the following incarnations:
The Shiloh Welsh Methodist Episcopal Church
The Jewish Community Center
The Bangor Cultural Center
Proposed Funeral Home
New Life Baptist Church
We will start with the Shiloh Welsh Methodist Episcopal Church.
The Shiloh congregation formed in 1889 as a member of the Welsh branch of the Philadelphia Conference of Methodist Churches. It met on the second floor of the factory located at N. 1st Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (shown here). The congregants used this building for about a year until they outgrew the space. They then decided to purchase some land and erect their own church.
In 1890, they started digging the cellar. Construction ended in the summer of 1891. This is the cornerstone of the church, which is now in the collection of the First United Methodist Church on N. 3rd St. We'll talk more about that connection shortly.
The first service was held August 16th, 1891. The dedication of the church was in October of that same year. Seven years later, the membership was up to 86 people.
In the early days, all of the services were conducted in Welsh. The bibles and hymnals were also printed in Welsh. English was incorporated as the generations born in America came of age.
The Shiloh church prospered for the next half century, attaining the status of a leading religious institution. In 2004, a former congregant, Eleanor Hughes Hicks, related that her sister Joyce had married a Shiloh pastor. Reverend John M. Owen had emigrated from Wales. He commuted to Bangor from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. He was the pastor at Shiloh in 1932.
In 1921, a severe electrical storm damaged the church. On July 3rd, 1934, lightning struck once again. It destroyed much of the steeple, so the remainder was removed. This happened during the wedding reception of Idris Williams and Eleanor Owens. Oddly, according to the Bangor Daily News, this wedding was the first ever performed in the church. The steeple was rebuilt some time in the future.
In 1940, the Shiloh church celebrated its 50th anniversary. This is the list of its pastors. Note that between 1914 and 1915, and again after 1932, there was no full-time pastor. During the last seven years of its operation, the members were led only by visiting pastors, as the congregation had shrunk.
In 1945, the Shiloh Welsh church merged with the First United Methodist Church (FUMC) on N. 3rd Street.
The FUMC dedicated a chapel to the Shiloh Welsh congregation in 1946. In this chapel are some of the only artifacts to have survived from the original building.
This is the original pulpit. It is marbleized slate and has two bible verses in Welsh carved on the front panel. On the right side is a picture of a shining cross. On the left side is a gold crown. Also in the Shiloh collection are one of the original Welsh bibles and the two chairs shown on either end of the table. You will see pictures of these on the next few slides.
In 1945, the Welsh congregation sold the building. That sale initiates our next period, when the building was rededicated as the Jewish Community Center.
The photos you are about to see were all donated by Jennifer and David Blau. David was a son of one of the founding members of the Jewish Community Center, Walter and Gertrude Blau. To begin, this is a late 1940's photograph of Bangor's Jewish Community Center, the smallest organized Jewish Community Center in the United States. From the first documented Jewish settler in Flicksville in 1803, to 1917, when Jewish merchants in Bangor were discussing the need for a synagogue, the opening of this building was a culmination of much dedicated effort.
At the time of this picture, South 4th Street was a two-way thoroughfare. This can be deduced by the car in the photo parked the wrong way today. David Blau also reflected that those letters on the road spelled, "Beat Pen Argyl". (Bangor High School was directly across the street.)
The Jewish people bought the building in 1945 and began the necessary renovations. This photo is of the Ark, which was set on the east side of the main room. The Ark is the large central cabinet where the Torah scrolls were housed. Note the Star of David on the cloth in the center and the two large menorahs. The one on the right is not very visible. It is still a mystery where these artifacts are today.
Next is a photo from the dedication ceremony of the synagogue, which took place on September 26th, 1948. Rabbi Harold Schulweis, who served until 1950, gave the dedicatory address, and town dignitaries offered greetings and welcome. The Eternal Light above the ark was lit and Gertrude Blau sang the national anthem of the new state of Israel.
All of the rabbis were students from the New York Jewish Theological Seminary. Harold Schulweis was succeeded by Raphael Gold. He stayed until 1952.
The famous American writer, Chaim Potok, was the third rabbi. He stayed until 1954. After that, various rabbis from Easton came to Bangor to officiate. By this time, the congregation was dwindling and there was no need for a regular rabbi.
This is another view of the Ark and the second menorah.
The congregation observed Jewish holidays and regular worship services. They also operated a kindergarten for two years, in conjunction with the Mackey Memorial Baptist church in Bangor. Retirement celebrations, weddings, funerals, and birthdays were held here. The Hadassah organization aggressively raised money for European refugees after WWII and also for hospitals in Israel.
This is a photo of a Purim party which took place in the building. Purim is celebrated in March. It is primarily a children's holiday. Girls dress as Queen Esther of Persia. Boys dress as the King of Persia. Esther battled anti-semitism and saved her people. Many religious people believe the story of Purim is really a parable. But to Jewish people it represents victory over overwhelming odds and a warning against complacency.
In the early 1960's, the clothing mills in Bangor were moving south. Between 1956 and 1964, several founding members of the Jewish Community Center died, including Max Winkler, who operated one of the largest mills. Most young Jewish people would leave the area to find jobs. As the group grew smaller, the question of what to do with the building arose. In 1957, the Jewish Community Center allowed Mackey Memorial Baptist church to hold Sunday school and Sunday services here. In 1958, the Bangor High School used the building as a classroom for 70 students when it was short of space.
Finally, in 1965 the Jewish congregation donated full title and ownership of the center to the Borough of Bangor with two stipulations. The first was that the building was never to be used for commercial purposes; second, that the plaque designating the building as a synagogue should never be removed from the front.
The third incarnation of this building was the Bangor Cultural Center. The Senior Women's League operated from within its walls for nearly 20 years. They sponsored early adult education programs, erected street markers around town, raised money for scholarships and other charitable actions, and organized cultural events, such as art shows.
Upon the founding of the Bangor Cultural Center, the Borough had a sign made from slate.
Another memorial to the Bangor Cultural Center is this painting, which hangs in the library. It was undertaken in 1969 by James Grigg. In this painting there is no steeple. We speculate that the Borough removed it during its tenure of ownership.
Borough Council decided to close the Cultural Center in 1985. The Senior Women's League also disbanded at this time, which was partly due to the loss of the building. We assume the Borough closed the building due to the expense of maintenance and heating costs.
When the Borough closed the Cultural Center, the Economic Development Corporation decided it would be best to sell it. Gordon Heller was the purchaser. He created an architectural plan for the space as a funeral home.
With his commercial proposal delayed by the zoning and planning boards, Mr. Heller leased the building to the New Life Baptist Church. At the end of 2001, that congregation had vacated the building, which was again for sale.
Enter Brian Carroll and Anna Maria Caldara, who bought and renovated the structure. In keeping with its legacy of public service, they sponsor events to foster understanding.