The most historic synagogue in the Mountain West (that portion of the United States between the Dakotas and the West Coast) sits not in any big city but on a quiet street in the small town of Trinidad, Colorado. Trinidad is about 200 miles south of Denver and 15 miles north of the New Mexico border. The town was founded in the 1860’s as a stop on the Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail and has been home to Jews ever since. In fact, when the town incorporated in 1876, its first mayor, Sam Jaffa, was Jewish. The local Jewish community founded Congregation Aaron (named after Sam’s father) in 1883. Six years later in 1889, for the princely sum of approximately $12,000, the congregation built the magnificent red brick structure that still graces 407 South Maple Street today- Temple Aaron. It is one of less than two dozen original structures that have continuously been synagogues since the 19th century in the United States, and the third oldest such structure west of the Mississippi River.
For the next century, Temple Aaron not only served its immediate congregation, but warmly welcomed the entire Trinidad community by hosting concerts, dinners, and other public events. The temple was the spiritual and cultural home to many Jewish families who raised their children there.
After 140 years, Trinidad has undergone many changes, and a relatively small congregation found it increasingly difficult to keep up with the costs of maintaining the building. In 2016, the temple’s parent foundation, the Alfred Freudenthal Memorial Foundation, made the agonizing decision to close the temple’s doors.
But the story does not end there. Concerned individuals and foundations have united to preserve Temple Aaron as a Jewish landmark. Colorado Preservation, Inc, named Temple Aaron as one of its Most Endangered Places in 2017, and the temple received preliminary approval as a National Historic Landmark (final designation remains pending from the Department of the Interior). The State Historical Fund has granted funding for emergency roof repairs, masonry repairs, and other immediate needs.
At this time, the community of Temple Aaron has grown to include over 80 member families and over 1500 individuals across the country who support the synagogue. The temple offers monthly Torah studies online as well as periodic in-person services and events in the sanctuary.