Becoming Part of History
After a long search, Stacey and Greg Merrell have finally found their new dream home — once they create it in Ligonier’s former Ahavas Shalom Reform Temple. The Indianapolis couple recently bought the property from Indiana Landmarks, a happy conclusion to our five-year marketing effort in partnership with the temple’s former owner, the Ligonier Public Library.
The couple’s discovery came after months of searching for a historic property they could turn into their primary residence. Just before Thanksgiving, they came across the real estate listing for the Ligonier landmark on Indiana Landmarks’ website.
“Originally, Stacey and I were just looking for non-traditional housing. A library, movie theater, or maybe an old schoolhouse that we could put our stamp on and help fund its continued existence. But seeing Ahavas Shalom for the first time was transformative to that mindset,” says Greg. “Once inside, we couldn’t help but fall in love.”
Months of consulting with a preservation sensitive contractor referred by Indiana Landmarks helped the couple confirm that their vision, and their budget, could work within the historic temple.
In the late nineteenth-century, Ligonier boasted one of the largest Jewish populations in the state, drawing German settlers from Pennsylvania and Ohio. Those numbers began to decline in the mid-twentieth century, and the congregation sold the synagogue to a Methodist group in 1954. A number of other protestant churches occupied the building until the library received it in 1985 for use as a museum showcasing the history of Ligonier and its once-thriving Jewish community.
Following a recent major expansion and renovation of its main facility, the public library decided to sell the former temple, concerned that it would no longer be able to maintain the aging structure, one of only two nineteenth-century synagogues remaining in Indiana.
The temple is also one of only two religious structures attributed to Harry Matson, a Fort Wayne architect who made a name for himself through his designs of opera houses in Garrett, Kendallville, LaGrange, Frankfort, and Muncie. Matson’s design for the temple features a tall corner tower and three large stained-glass windows illustrating the story of King David.
A preservation easement donated by the library to Indiana Landmarks protects the building’s exterior and the original stained-glass windows. The Merrells plans to feature the windows as part of a respectful conversion of the interior.
“You do immediately feel the weight of it all. Weddings were held here, babies were baptized, and the recently departed mourned. This place bore witness to some of the most important moments in the lives of thousands,” says Greg. “We are incredibly grateful to Indiana Landmarks, thrilled to be the building’s new caretakers and proud to become part of Ahavas Shalom’s history,” he adds.
Watch for a future invitation to check out the finished project. Read more about the fascinating history of the Jewish faith in Ligonier and the Ahavas Shalom Reform Temple at ligoniertemple.blogspot.com.
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