On one of the corners of the busy Eilat Street on the border with Jaffa is found one of the most charming and surprising spots in Tel Aviv, which features a no less surprising name: the American Colony. In this quiet and seemingly rural area which spreads over two streets only settled in 1866 a group of Zionist Christians from the State of Maine in the United States of America. They belonged to the Church of the Messiah and their leader, a charismatic priest by the name of George Adams, convinced them that settling in the Holy Land will hasten the rebirth of the homeland of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel, the return of Jesus Christ and Salvation.
Filled with belief and enthusiasm, the 157 members of the group, 48 of them were children, arrived at the Jaffa Port on a boat. They were equipped with American style wooden houses which were ready to be reassembled at the colony, with work tools and with innovative agricultural equipment. The settlers’ intention to live on agriculture was quickly proven impractical due to the difficult Mediterranean climate with which they were unfamiliar. The harvest was meager and the members of the group have quickly found themselves in severe financial difficulties. And this was not all, as the group also suffered from inner conflicts, bureaucracy and harsh diseases. The priest, George Adams, became an alcoholic and disappeared, and in less than two years the dream was broken and the group fell apart.
But the story of the colony does not end here. A group of German Templers who were also searching for places in which to settle in the Land of Israel in order to bring Salvation closer, started purchasing the houses and developing the colony. The houses were upgraded, a magnificent church was raised, public structures were built, the hotel that was built by the Americans was renovated, a new hotel was constructed, and the place flourished. But with the beginning of World War II the Templers were driven away by the British due to their support of the Nazi movement, and the colony was deserted again. The empty houses remained so for many years and were harshly damaged by the weather and vandalism. Soon bulldozers arrived at the neighborhood in order to demolish the old houses and build new ones instead. But fortunately, there was a successful protest against the destruction of the neighborhood and in 2009 a process of the renovation and preservation of the streets and the houses of the colony has began. Today, one can walk around among the old structures and take in the enchanted atmosphere. Here is a suggestion for a short tour around the neighborhood’s buildings which will take you on a journey in time.
The Ackley Norton House
The tour begins at the Ackley Norton House (4 Auerbach Street). This wood structure, in the classic American cottage style, is one of the original structures at the American Colony. It was purchased by the British Mission. This is one of the first houses that were renovated at the American Colony. The person who took this challenge upon himself was the entrepreneur Ze’ev Sokolovsky who in order to reconstruct the crumbling house brought two builders from Maine in the United States of American in whose family the art of building in wood follows from one generation to the next. In this structure was once housed the prestigious restaurant "Keren” and there it was in business for 18 years until it closed down in 2003.
Beit Immanuel (Immanuel House)
The beautiful structure of Beit Immanuel (Immanuel House) (8 Auerbach Street), was originally the house of Christoph Hoffmann, one of the founders of the Templer movement. The Russian Baron Plato von Ustinov, who purchased it in 1878, opened the H?tel du Parc here. This hotel also hosted the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, and his wife when they came to the Holy Land in 1898. As its name attests, the H?tel du Parc had a large garden with rich flora and animals such as parrots and monkeys. The residents of Jaffa used to walk around in it and Benjamin Ze’ev Herzl met here with the German Kaiser. From that garden remain today only the ancient Bengal Ficus and the enchanted atmosphere. Beit Immanuel serves today as an inn and as a center for the members of the Messianic Judaism.
The Maine Friendship House
The Maine Friendship House, half of which is built out of wood and the other half out of stone, (10 Auerbach Street), was initially built as the home of the Wentworth family, one of the founding families of the American Colony. Later on the structure was purchased by the Templer Frank Family. The building stood deserted for many years, until in 2002, when it was facing demolition, it was purchased by the American historian Reed Holmes- who investigated the American Colony and wrote the book "The ForeRunners” which tells the story of the American Colony- together with his wife Jean. Reed and Jean Holmes reconstructed and renovated the structure and started their vast activity for the saving of the American Colony from the threat of the bulldozers. Their struggle assisted greatly in reaching the decision to preserve the neighborhood. Today, on the first floor of the preserved building, the couple has opened the Maine Friendship House. This is a museum for the history of the American Colony, which presents pictures and personal items that tell the story of the American settlement in the Colony. The basement of the Maine Friendship House houses the studio of the young artist Jonathan Kis-Lev, where one can view his vibrant colorful paintings which depict the views of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. (The Maine Friendship House is open on Fridays from 12 pm until 3 pm and on Saturdays from 2 pm until 4 pm. One can prearrange a visit to the Maine Friendship House during the week by telephone: 972-3-6819225)
The Immanuel Church, designed in a Neo-Gothic style, was built in 1904 by the Templers (15 Beer Hoffman Street). The corner stone for the Immanuel Church was laid in 1898 in honor of the visit of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II and his wife. After the Templers were expelled from Israel due to their identification with the Nazi movement, the Immanuel Church was given to the Scandinavian Lutheran Church. The Immanuel Church and its pointed tower are built from brown bricks. The Immanuel Church is covered with a red tile roof and features colorful stained glass windows. Approximately once a month, pipe organ concerts take place here at the Immanuel Church and on Saturdays when passing by one can enjoy the singing which emanates from the church when prayers are being conducted. (The Immanuel Church is open for visitors from Tuesday to Friday, from 10 am until 2 pm).
The Floyd House
In this beautiful wooden house (16 Hoffman Street), once lived the Floyd couple, of the Colony’s American settlers. Even though the Floyd couple was one of the first who have lost a child, they did not desert the place and stayed to live here even after the group has broken apart. Rolla Floyd, who brought a horse-drawn carriage from Maine in the United States of America, drove tourists and pilgrims around the country and founded the first carriage line between Jerusalem and Jaffa. Soon enough Rolla Floyd became one of the most prominent tourist agents of the Middle East, owning a fleet of horse-drawn carriages. Rolla Floyd also served as the main agent for the Thomas Cook Company and was known as an excellent tourist guide.
Hotel Jerusalem is one of the first structures that were built in the American Colony. This stone structure is currently undergoing preservation works. The hotel was first named the Grand Hotel but in 1870 it was sold to Ernst Hardegg, the son of one of the leaders of the Templer community in Israel, and he changed its name to "Hotel Jerusalem". During Hardegg’s life, Hotel Jerusalem became an elegant guest house and its decorated rooms were named after the Tribes of Israel and the Apostles. Hotel Jerusalem served the pilgrims and dignitaries who came to visit the Holy Land.