Mikveh Yisrael
Mikveh Yisrael and the Birth of the Jewish State
Tel Aviv, Historic City, Historic preservation, Town planning
Tel Aviv: The Birth of a City – Acts 2 and 3
American Colony in Jaffa, preservation of historical buildings

Maine Friendship House

The American Settlers in Jaffa

There is a small quiet neighborhood in Tel Aviv called the American Colony of Jaffa. It is undergoing historic preservation in the last few years.  In the nineteenth century many people heard the call of the Holy Land. This call was heard, not only by Jews, but by Christians as well. During this time several Christian groups made their way to the Land of Israel.

One such group were the members of “The Palestine Emigration Society” from Maine, U.S.A. These people were Mormons who followed a preacher called George Adams. In the mid 1860’s, under the leadership of George Adams, the group purchased land just north of Jaffa.

They sold their homes in Maine. They prepared wooden prefabricated homes and loaded them on their ship “The Nellie Chapin”. On August 11, 1866, one hundred and fifty seven men women and children set sale for the Land of Israel from Maine. After a voyage of 41 days they docked in Jaffa on September 22, 1866.

The intention of this group was to emigrate to the Holy Land. They left their friends, relatives and possession behind in Maine and set sale for the Land of Israel, under the leadership of George Adams, whom they believed was a prophet.

Problems Upon Arrival

When the group arrived at the Jaffa port and they encountered the first of many problems in their new home. Although they had purchased the land for their colony, they had yet to obtain the permission to build their houses. This permission was withheld by the Ottoman government for many months.

With no where to go, they pitched tents on the beaches of Jaffa and lived there for many months. The summer had changed into fall and then winter, and they were still living in these tents.  Food became a problem. As the winter rains came the tents were flooded and many of the pilgrims became ill and several died.

The Construction of the American Colony in Jaffa

Eventually they were allowed to build their homes from the materials they bought from the U.S. on their ship. They planted their crops and began their life in the Holy Land. At first all seem well with the American Colony of Jaffa.

American Colony of Jaffa, preservation of historical Buildings

House made of wood in the American Colony

The Problems Kept Coming

Although the crops were successful  but the Americans failed to protect their crops from the thefts of their Arab neighbors. Many families fell into debt and then bankruptcy. At this point a rift began to grow between them and their leader, George Adams, who turned out to be a drunk and a charlatan. Families began to leave.

In 1867, Mark Twain, encountered these poor souls when he set sail from Jaffa to Alexandria during his own tour of the Holy Land. He described these people as poor, sick wretches who did not even have enough money to pay for their passage from Alexandria back to the United States.

The End of the American Colony of Jaffa

In just under two years the American Colony of Jaffa was disbanded. Most of the settlers returned to the U.S.  A few remained in the Land of Israel and moved to the American Colony of Jerusalem.

One example of this was Rolla Floyd. He opened up a carriage service from Jaffa to Jerusalem and settled in the American Colony of Jerusalem.

The lands of the American Colony of Jaffa were sold to a new group of Christians emigrating to the Holy Land, the German Templars from Witenberg , Germany. This group established colonies in Haifa, Jerusalem and Jaffa.

In Jaffa they purchased the lands of the American Colony, took over their wooden houses and built more of their own.  The year was 1868.

Where is the American/German Colony of Jaffa

The American Colony of Jaffa is located south of Derech Yaffo – Tel Aviv (or as sometimes called Eilat Street). The streets of the small neighborhood are called Aurbach and Ber Hoffman.  The extension of the colony built by the German Templars which they named “WalHalla” extends east along Derech Yaffo – Tel Aviv and northwards to the location of the Jaffa Railway Station.

The Historic Preservation of the the American Colony of Jaffa 

The small neighborhood of the American Colony of Jaffa still exists today. Unfortunately, some of the original wooden houses did not survive. However, a few have. In the picture below, is a picture of a small museum called the “Maine Friendship House”. It is one of the authentic houses of the American Colony preserved by Read and Jean Holmes, descendants of the  original settlers of the American Colony of Jaffa.

American Colony of Jaffa, Preservation of historical buildings

Maine Friendship House

Other original wooden houses have been preserved and are used as residential houses.

American Colony of Jaffa, Preservation of historical builidngs

Wooden Houses in the American Colony


American Colony of Jaffa, Preservation of historical building

Wooden Houses in the American Colony of Jaffa

In addition to the wooden houses, there are three large buildings built after the Americans left and the Germans took over.

One building is the church built in the Neogothic style called the Emanuel Church. The construction of the church began in 1898 and was completed in 1904. The church is built with local sandstone. Many of its stained glass windows show Jewish motifs.

American Colony in Jaffa, preservation of historical buildings

Emanual Church

Another building is the large home built by the Baron Platon Ustinov. The Baron Ustinov, who is Russian by birth, joined with the German Templars and emigrated with them to the Holy Land where built his large house in the center of the American Colony when it was already the German Colony. He built a large garden next to the house and filled it with exotic animal and archaeological artifacts that he collected. He opened the gardens up to the public and it was known all around as a quiet place to stroll on a Saturday afternoon.

On the ground floor of the building he opened a hospital and employed a German Doctor there. For the lack of another alternative, many Jews brought their sick there and received free medical care.

Although the Baron Ustinov lived off his wealth for many years, he was forced at the end of his days to turn the house into a hotel which was called “Hotel Du Parc”. He also began to sell off some of his archaeological collections. The “Baron” returned to Russia at the end of his life.  He is the grandfather of the well known actor “Peter Ustinov”.

The third building is the Jerusalem Hotel, today called the Drisco Hotel.  When the Americans settled in the area in 1866, not all turned to agriculture as a means of making a living. Two settlers, George and John Drisco built a hotel which they called the “Drisco Hotel”.

In 1870, the hotel was sold to Earnrst Harding, who renamed it the Jerusalem Hotel. Between 1870 and 1940 it was considered one of the fanciest hotels in Jaffa.

In 1958 the building was used as the offices of the Ministry of Education. In 2006, after the building had been abandoned a fallen into disrepair the building was purchased and went through extensive preservation work.  In 2018 it opened its doors as the newly refurbished “Drisco Hotel”.

American Colony in Jaffa, Preservation of Historical buildings

The Drisco Hotel


American Colony in Jaffa, preservation of historical buildings

The Drisco Hotel Today

On the southern edge of the small neighborhood a new project called “The Village” was built several years ago. Its houses were built in the style of the old wooden prefabricated houses of the American settlers of 1866.

American colony, Jaffa, preservation historical buildings

The Village

The Jews of Jaffa and the American Colony of Jaffa

The Americans and then the Germans came to Jaffa at a time where the Jews of the world were beginning to wake of to their own Zionist yearnings. As these Christian groups began to arrive, one by one, in the Holy Land, the Jews watched their progress with interest. They hoped that they could succeed to build their own colonies as well.

The Jews of Jaffa extended a helping hand to the Americans as they languished on the beach those first months after their arrival. The Jewish community organized food and clothing to be brought to the Americans at this time.

Many Jews from Jaffa conducted business with the Americans and then the Germans. They visited the gardens of the Baron and stayed at the Jerusalem Hotel.

With success of the German Templars in Jaffa and elsewhere, the Jews began to hope that they could do the same. Thus began the purchase of land by Jews around Jaffa and the establishment of the first Jewish settlements of Petach Tikvah, Rishon Lezion, Gadera and of the neighborhoods of Neve Zedek and Neve Shalom. Eventually, these events brought upon us the birth of Tel Aviv.



American Colony, Jaffa, preservation historical buildings

Wooden House in The American Colony of Jaffa



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