Mt. Sinai in Cheyenne, Wyoming
Mt. Sinai is the oldest synagogue in Wyoming, representing the Jewish community whose beginnings in Cheyenne trace back to the founding of the city.
The Union Pacific Railroad established Cheyenne in 1867. Jewish migrants were some of the first to arrive, many of whom emigrated from Germany. Early attempts to build a synagogue failed. However, as more Jewish immigrants, encouraged by the Homestead Act, arrived in the early twentieth century plans for a synagogue began to be made. In 1915, two congregations unified to build Mt. Sinai synagogue in the heart of Cheyenne. Immigration increased again in the 1940s following the Holocaust. Soon, the congregation reach 600 members, more than the initial synagogue could hold. Plans to build a new synagogue commenced.
The congregation established a building committee to head the project. The committee decided upon a residential area, down the road from the first Mt. Sinai, to build the synagogue. This was convenient as Jews traditionally avoid driving on sacred holidays. In 1949, Denver architect Earl Morris designed it and prolific Cheyenne builder Carl Christensen began construction. Finished in 1951, the synagogue is built in a Mid-Century Modern style. The style is seen in the building’s large, undecorated walls with a flat roof and little overhang and its concrete and steel frame base with vertical windows. There is little ornamentation; only a Star of David embellishes the building. The exterior is brick and red granite, a contrast with the large wooden doors of the entrance. The choice in style reflects its popularity at that time and is contrasted by Cheyenne’s predominantly Victorian-style buildings surrounding it. The synagogue boasts a large main sanctuary, a small chapel, a kosher kitchen, classrooms, a rabbi study, and, uniquely, a mikvah, or ritual bath, added when construction unearthed an underground river. Mikvahs require living water to cleanse and purify, which this river allows. This is a rare feature for a synagogue in the West, and Jews from nearby states travel to use it.
The Jewish community in Cheyenne is comprised of several distinguished residents. Bertha Myers, who was behind original efforts to build a synagogue in 1915, helped to establish a Jewish religious school and taught at Cheyenne High School. Henry Altman was a pioneer merchant in Cheyenne who served on the city council and was dubbed, “Father of Cheyenne’s Parks” for his role in the city’s park system. Two later members developed a project to install twelve stained glass windows in the main sanctuary. This culminated with the 1972 dedication of a fifteen-panel menorah. The congregation paid for all the windows, which Watkins Stained Glass Studios of Denver designed and installed.
Other than the windows, the building has changed little since its dedication. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. Although its membership has decreased as members have moved, it continues as one of only two Jewish houses of worship in Wyoming today.