On August 25, 2012 the Temple Emanuel celebrated the 120th anniversary of the dedication of its building on the corner of Kelly Street and West End Avenue near downtown Statesville. It was the third synagogue built in North Carolina and is now the second oldest ongoing synagogue in the state. The temple building itself is the second oldest house of worship in Statesville and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The original Trinity Episcopal Church building on Walnut Street is Statesville’s oldest house of worship, that structure having been built in 1875. The oldest Jewish congregation in North Carolina is the Temple of Israel in Wilmington which still meets in its original sanctuary built in 1876. Construction began on Temple Emanuel in 1891 and it was completed and dedicated on May 25, 1892.
The Congregation Emanuel was organized during a gathering at the home of Isaac Wallace in Statesville on August 19, 1883. Worship services for the local Jewish community were held at the Wallace home located where the Playhouse Theater and the Stearns Building later stood and in the Fireman’s Hall on North Center Street for the next nine years.
Temple Emanuel remains much as it was in 1892. A beautifully carved Ark, an elaborate fresco, and beautiful furniture are still inside the Temple. These were created by the Swiss born furniture craftsman G. Karcher, said to be “an artist in wood, the most skillful man in town, and a frescoer of no mean order.” The hand-carved wooden Ark contains the Torah Scrolls and mounted on the Ark are two wooden tablets inscribed with the Ten Commandments. An inscription in Hebrew and English beneath the tablets reads, “KNOW BEFORE WHOM THOU STANDEST.”
The Temple had electric lights when it opened and the wrought brass chandelier still hangs from the center of the fresco. The outside of the building is Romanesque in appearance and constructed of brick, and features brick corbeling decoration. The brick came from J.C. Steele and Sons. The glass windows in the Temple are red and green panes reportedly imported from England.
Hannah Adler, a long time member of Temple Emanuel, has a book with a picture of another Temple that could have been a twin for the one here in Statesville. The book was created in Dueren, Germany by Regina Mueller. Its title is Um Heimat Und Leben Gebracht or “The History of the Jews in the older area around Dueren, 1830-1945.” This twin Synagogue was dedicated on September 8, 1906 in Guerzenich, Germany. For the next 32 years the Synagogue at Guerzenich was a peaceful spiritual sanctuary for the local Jewish population. Then on November 9, 1938 the Temple was destroyed in what became known as the Crystal Night or Kristallnacht (night of the broken glass) by mobs of the SA paramilitary and the Nazi party.