The American Colony in Jerusalem, 1870-2006


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A Community in Jerusalem

Modern Times

As time progressed, many colonists distanced themselves from the colony’s more overtly religious origins. Death or disappointment surprised some of the most pious members, and original founders aged into secondary roles. Many who had grown up as children within the colony left to seek education or work abroad, or preferred a different kind of life as adults. Several younger members who remained became engaged and married. By the late 1920s, severe internal differences of opinion arose about the management of the colony, its operation as a collective, and its commercial versus charitable nature.

Group of people outside          A river seen from shore
descriptive record icon enlarge image icon Whitings and Vesters at Ein Karim. Image from portraits of the Vester and Whiting families and other members of the American Colony (Jerusalem) photograph album (page 24, no. 70). Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division.  LC-DIG-18415-00070
descriptive record icon enlarge image icon Looking up the River Jordan. American Colony Photo Department photograph. Image from hand-colored photographs from Jerusalem and Palestine photograph album (page 71, no. 36).  Visual Materials of the John D. Whiting Papers, Prints & Photographs Division. LC-DIG-ppmsca-18417-00036

These factional disputes reached a climax within the colony as the financial collapse of 1929-30 impacted the world. The membership split along lines that were primarily, if not exclusively, American and Swedish. By the early 1930s dissident and disaffected members had departed, including among them the most prominent Swedish talents of the colony. Leadership centered in American hands, in the Spafford-Vester and Spafford-Whiting families. Gradually the community that had long offered hospitality as a hostel for religious travelers became the commercially operated American Colony Hotel. Leadership shifted to a third generation in the 1950s and 1960s, as children of Frederick and Bertha Vester took over management of the hotel and the children’s hospital.

The hotel today is under international management, and the majority of its board members are the descendants of early colony founders and members. A neutral spot throughout the violence in the last half of the twentieth century, it is a favorite haven for journalists and diplomats, as well as authors and artists. It  has played host to international negotiations in the Arab-Israeli peace process. It continues to fulfil the American Colony’s reputation for hospitality to foreign visitors of all origins coming to the Middle East.