Jack Weinstein, president of the Augusta Jewish Museum. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett
Jack Weinstein, president of the Augusta Jewish Museum. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

Historical markers dedicated at Augusta Jewish Museum

Featured image is of Jack Weinstein, president of the Augusta Jewish Museum. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

Markers highlighting the historical significance of two buildings saved from becoming part of a parking lot were dedicated Sunday afternoon.

“Our primary objective is the recognition of historical sites,” said Frances Cutting of the Reverend Pierre Robert Chapter of Colonial Dames 17th Century at the event inside the Linda Beazley conference room at the Municipal Building.

The former Court of the Ordinary and the oldest Jewish synagogue in the state of Georgia were spared from the wrecking ball through the intervention of Historic Augusta and a team of individuals led by the late Jack Steinberg. Steinberg’s visit was to turn the two buildings into what is now the Augusta Jewish Museum.

Erick Montgomery, executive director of Historic Augusta, provided historical details on each of the buildings which are adjacent to the other and only feet away from the Municipal Building.

His assertion that the Telfair Street house of worship was the oldest of its kind raised the ire of some.

“I had a fight with my colleagues in Savannah when I announced that,” said Montgomery. “They don’t like to be second.”

MORE: Jewish Film Festival returns

Construction on the synagogue began in 1869 when most of Augusta’s Jewish population lived in downtown Augusta. As members of the Congregation Children of Israel moved westward, they constructed a new temple on Walton Way, and the Telfair Street building was sold in he 1950s.

The building served as office space for an engineering firm before becoming part of the city of Augusta’s office complex. When the courts moved from the Municipal Building to the new judicial complex, the synagogue became empty as did the former Court of the Ordinary.

Montgomery said the court building was ahead of its time.

In the mid-1800s, fire hazards prompted Augusta officials to think about the preservation of legal documents such as wills, marriage licenses and estate documents. They constructed a building that they hoped would be fireproof. It had masonry walls, floors and ceilings and was as fireproof as it could be for the time.

MORE: Paine College choir director comes full circle

As a result of their efforts, Richmond County has “one of the most intact sets of records,” he said. Documents date to the late 18th century. The building served other purposes over the years including the city’s print shop and IT space.

The Augusta Jewish Museum. Photo by Charmain Z. Brackett

When both buildings were vacated, they were deemed “surplus,” and city officials wanted to tear them down for parking spaces in 2015.

Through an arrangement with the city, Historic Augusta and the Augusta Jewish Museum had to meet a series of benchmarks over the course of five years before the two buildings were eventually deeded to the Augusta Jewish Museum, which has already transformed the former court building into its display area.

Jack Weinstein, president of the Augusta Jewish Museum, said the museum will have permanent displays related to four different areas of Jewish culture. The displays are currently are under development. The four areas include Jewish contributions to the Augusta area, Jewish life and traditions, the Holocaust and the nation of Israel.

Mark Albertin and Lee Ann Caldwell have been creating documentary video footage that will be part of the permanent displays. Those attending Sunday’s presentation viewed snippets of interviews that will be part of the future exhibits.

The next phase of the project will be to renovate the former synagogue. During its time as an office, a second floor was built. The building has been gutted and harmful asbestos and lead removed. When completed, it will be used as a rental venue. Fundraising is still underway.

Charmain Z. Brackett is the publisher of Augusta Good News. Reach her at charmain@augustagoodnews.com. Subscribe to the newsletter here.

Support Local Journalism

Local stories on local people, organizations and events. That's the focus of Augusta Good News, a member of the Georgia Press Association. And you don't have to go through a paywall to find these stories. An independent voice in Augusta, Ga., Augusta Good News is not funded by a billionaire or a large corporation; it doesn't have celebrity reporters who have agents. It's local people who are invested in the community and want to tell its stories. You can support local journalism and help us expand our coverage by becoming a supporter. Through Ko-Fi, you can give once or set up a monthly gift.

2 responses to “Historical markers dedicated at Augusta Jewish Museum”

  1. Robyn Wittenberg Dudley says:

    thank you for this great article about these very important buildings that are being preserved for the entire community. The community has embraced this project as evidenced by the colonial dames donation of these historic markers. It is exciting to have the Augusta Jewish museum joining the other cultural institutions in the savannah river region of Augusta GA and Aiken. SC

  2. Kevin de l’Aigle says:

    Great article thank you – exciting developments!
    I’m so glad these historic buildings were saved for this great purpose of telling this story!