The 1845 Mikveh

About ten years ago the JMM called in archaeologists to investigate beneath the Lloyd Street Synagogue. Much to everyone’s surprise they uncovered the original mikveh complex used by the fledgling Baltimore Hebrew Congregation from 1845 until 1860. The excavation revealed one wall of the mivkeh house, the brick hearth used to heat water, and a corner of the actual mikveh itself.
Brick hearth of 1845 mikveh.
Corner of 1845 mikveh, both taken in 2002.

Since then visitors have been able to peak over a railing into the open excavation and see all of these elements. Recently, however, we have been dealing with the effects of flooding in the lower level of the synagogue, which has changed the shape of the excavation. (See The Importance of Disaster Preparedness for the full story!)

Brick hearth of 1845 mikveh, taken 2010.
Mikveh complex excavation, 2010.

Today several of the JMM staff met with Maryland Historical Trust representatives as well as architectural and archaeology professionals to talk about the mikveh excavation, its preservation and its interpretation. The question we’ve all been discussing is how to maintain the excavation, preserve the historic features and allow visitors to see rather than just hear about or read about this important discovery.

The JMM had thought about installing a glass floor to allow greater access to the mikveh room and a view of the excavation. But with a glass floor we would still have to deal with the effects of the natural flow of underground water – the occasional flooding and erosion of the excavation.

During today’s meeting we discussed alternatives to the glass floor.

Our current plan is to clean the excavation and document the site (with drawings and photographs) then dig further into the area where the mikveh corner was found to learn more about that feature. After the new investigations have been completed we would like to fill in the excavation to protect it from further erosion. With the excavation covered, we plan to reproduce it with enlarged photographs placed on the floor in their exact locations.

Our plans depend on a lot of variables, and everyone knows that plans can change, so keep reading the blog to follow our progress!

 

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jewish museum of maryland Lloyd Street Synagogue Synagogue Stories

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