Hartford’s Deborah Chapel added to national list of endangered historic places

Marcus Ordonez, Friends of Zion Hill Cemetery member, [back left], Joshua Michtom, Hartford city councilman, Michael Young, Jewish architectural historian, Mary Falvey, executive director of the Hartford Preservation Alliance, Seri Worden, senior field director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Emily Kahn, program coordinator of the Fund for Sacred Places, Carey Shea, member of Hartford’s Historic Preservation Commission, [bottom left], Jane Montanaro, executive director of Preservation Connecticut, Susan Jaafar, Co-founder of Friends of Zion Hill Cemetery, and Sara C. Bronin, preservation expert, gathered outside Ward and Affleck Street in Frog Hollow, Connecticut. (Nirvani Williams/NEPM)

The Deborah Chapel, a building the city of Hartford is trying to save from demolition in court, has been added to a national list of endangered historic places.

The Hartford, Conn., chapel being added to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places for 2022 comes as a win for local preservationists who have been working to save the building since 2018.

In a statement, Congregation Beth Israel, which owns the chapel and wants it demolished, said the building “has not been in use and has deteriorated and become a hazard.”

Sara C. Bronin, a preservation expert, said the congregation willfully disinvested its resources in maintaining the chapel.

“Many cases of willful disinvestment occur in communities of color and low income communities, just like the one that we’re sitting in right now here in Frog Hollow,” Bronin said. “Demolishing this chapel would be a blow to one of the very few manifestations of this particular moment in religious leadership.”

Seri Worden, senior field director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said this list in particular highlights a wide range of cultures, histories, and geographies across the U.S.

“The Deborah Chapel here behind me is threatened with demolition, and it is a rare and early American example of an intact Jewish funerary structure which embodies the strong leadership of women within the 19th century Jewish, religious and communal organizations,” Worden said.

The city of Hartford is currently appealing a civil court decision that gives Congregation Beth Israel the ability to demolish the chapel. The city has until May 19 to submit its court response to the congregation.

This story was originally published by New England Public Media, a partner of the New England News Collaborative.