Mapping Chicago's Earliest Synagogues
Chicago's earliest synagogue, Kehilath Anshe Mayriv (KAM), was founded in 1847. Fifteeen years later, KAM had given birth to two splinter synagogues, the Polish-led and Orthodox-oriented Kehilath B'nai Sholom, and the German-led and Reform-oriented Sinai Congregation. By the turn of the century, there were approximately twenty synagogues. The communities were generally defined and delineated by ethnic demographics, theological orientation, and neighborhood communities.
This website traces the creation, movement, and merger of Chicago's earliest synagogues. On the map, drag the cursor across the timeline at the bottom of the screen to see how the synagogues developed and changed over time. Individual synagogue communities use the same color, so one can see how they moved across the city.
The website includes each of the synagogues present at the moment of Chicago's Great Fire of 1871, and continues their stories until 1920. It also shows several of the "daughter" synagogues spawned by these first pre-Fire communities, as well as a few late 19th century synagogues that were formed and merged into these early synagogue communities by 1920.
As you scroll through the timeline, notice how the synagogues moved as the city itself developed. The first synagogues were in the central business district, what is now called the Loop. As the city expanded southward and westward, synagogues followed.