Civil War to Civil Rights
— Downtown Heritage Trail —
Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington"The neighborhood was our whole life." Albert Small, born in the neighborhood in 1902.
This is the oldest surviving synagogue building in Washington. Constructed in 1875 by Adas Israel Congregation, and originally located at Sixth and G Streets, it served the German-Jewish immigrant shopkeepers in the neighborhood. Albert Small, a member of the congregation, grew up on Fifth Street and recalled that as a boy, "the neighborhood was our whole life [and] the synagogue was the focal point. We went to school at Seaton [Elementary], and we took our music lessons in St. Mary's across the street from our house. We used to help in the family store two blocks away."
When the congregation outgrew this sanctuary in 1906, a Greek Orthodox church and later a carry-out restaurant occupied the building. Threatened with demolition in 1969, the building was moved to its present location and restored as a museum bearing the name of its benefactors Lillian and Albert Small.
This historic synagogue symbolizes the rich immigrant history of the eastern section of Washington's downtown. Beginning with the Irish and German craftsmen who arrived in the early 19th century to work on the government buildings, the area has been a place for newcomers from around the world to establish an economic foothold in the federal city-Jews, Germans, Greeks, Italians, Russians, Chinese, and others.
The legacy of the neighborhood's immigrant history surrounds you. Holy Rosary Catholic Church (founded about 1913 near its present site at Third and F Streets) served the surrounding Italian community. It still celebrates Mass in Italian. St. Mary's Catholic Church (established in 1846), at Fifth and H Streets, founded by Germans, today holds Mass in Latin and Cantonese. St. Patrick's Catholic Church (founded in 1794), and still located on its original site on Tenth Street between F and G, was established to serve Irish immigrants. And three former synagogues, on or near I Street, are now Baptist or African Methodist Episcopal churches serving African American congregations.
The Civil War (1861 - 1865) transformed Washington, DC from a muddy backwater to a center of national power. Ever since, the city has been at the heart of the continuing struggle to realize fully the ideas for which the war was fought. The 25 signs that mark this trail follow the footsteps of Abraham Lincoln, Walt Whitman, Clara Barton, Frederick Douglas, and others, famous and humble, who shaped a nation and its capital city while living and working in historic downtown DC.Civil War to Civil Rights Downtown Heritage Trail is an Official Washington, DC Walking Trail. The self-guided tour consists of three distinct loops: West, Center, and East. Each one-mile loop offers about an hour of gentle exercise.A free booklet capturing the trail's highlights is available at local businesses and institutions along the way. To download the free Civil War to Civil Rights Audio Tour, and learn about other DC neighborhoods, please visit www.CuturalTourismDC.org.