5.7 Pine Bluff, Arkansas
Congregation Anshe Emeth, West 2nd Avenue, corner of Poplar Street
R. H. Hunt and Joseph Trimby, architects, 1902

S. H. Kress and Co., publisher; no date

This image provides a street-level view of the second building of Congregation Anshe Emeth (Men of Truth) in Pine Bluff, Arkansas—a large, eclectic brick structure erected in 1902 and still standing. It is now home to True Vine “E” Missionary Baptist Church. Anshe Emeth was chartered in 1867, the first Jewish congregation officially established in the state, just five days ahead of Little Rock’s B’nai Israel.

The Pine Bluff Jewish community experienced substantial growth in the late 19th century, and the Anshe Emeth congregation decided to build this bigger facility and leave its first synagogue at the corner of 3rd Avenue and Laurel Street.

With its tall corner tower, two smaller towers, and big stained glass windows, the new brick building would have been considered churchlike. For a synagogue, the design might be deemed conservative, but the building fit right in with the town’s large late-19th-century churches, including First Baptist, Lakeside Methodist, and Trinity Episcopal, all built in medieval styles with prominent towers. The new temple spurred further growth of the congregation, and by 1907, there were 133 members with 90 children in the religious school.

The 1902 building gave no external indication that it was a synagogue. A closer look, however, reveals clues: the arches over the doors and the many window frames that are slightly horseshoe in shape are remnants of the once-pervasive Moorish style; the stained glass windows are adorned with menorahs and other Jewish symbols, typical of much synagogue decoration since the mid-1870s. Today, the top part of the corner tower has been removed as have the rooftop finials. The losses make the present-day building appear stockier and more stolid.

The synagogue was remodeled in the early 1950s, but within 10 years the congregation decided to move. In 1961, Anshe Emeth purchased land for a new building, which was completed in 1967 in a modern style as far from the 1902 building as can be imagined. Reed and Willis of Pine Bluff were the architects, with prominent Jewish modernist architect Sam Weiner of Shreveport. Meanwhile, the Christian congregations that have occupied the former synagogue on 2nd Avenue have kept the structure in good repair.

The 1967 synagogue building was sold in 2003 to a local hospital for use as a nursing school, and the unusual metal frame tower that included an openwork metal sculpture of a Star of David was taken down. The congregation continued to worship, using space at a local church, until it disbanded in June 2016.