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A synagogue in Colorado was almost lost to history. Now it's a national landmark

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

An architectural and cultural jewel in the American Southwest was nearly lost, a synagogue far from the usual population centers. Now it's received the country's strongest historical protection. Colorado Public Radio's Ryan Warner reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RYAN WARNER, BYLINE: It's a special day at Temple Aaron in Trinidad, Colo., not just because of the Jewish holiday of Purim, but because this scrappy brick synagogue is now a National Historic Landmark. Ronald Rubin, who grew up in nearby New Mexico, spoke at the dedication.

RONALD RUBIN: Our mother would drive over Raton Pass. And we would arrive to sing Jewish songs, learn about Judaism and experience the joy of being with other Jewish kids, since we were the only Jewish family in Raton at that time.

WARNER: Trade along the Santa Fe Trail, then mining, made Trinidad a boomtown in the 19th century. Today, it's more of a pit stop for motorists on I-25, folks who have no idea there's a 135-year-old synagogue on a nearby hill.

SHERRY GLICKMAN: Very few people are aware of the history.

WARNER: Temple vice president Sherry Glickman sits in a creaky pew bathed in light from stained glass.

GLICKMAN: People don't know that it was a thriving community, let alone a thriving Jewish community. But the Jewish population was prominent. They were leaders of the community in the late 1800s.

WARNER: Booms led to busts. Trinidad's population dwindled, maintenance costs became too much, and the building was put on the market, says retired historian Kim Grant.

KIM GRANT: It could have been redeveloped into a church, it could have been a brewpub, it could have been maybe housing. It could have been torn down despite, you know, the spectacular architecture and everything.

WARNER: But it was rescued with support from across the country, Jews and non-Jews, like retired educator Olivia Bachicha.

OLIVIA BACHICHA: I used to bring my children, my students here to the temple so they would appreciate Judaism and never forget about the Holocaust. And such a feeling of pride and joy to have such a beautiful synagogue in our community.

WARNER: But it still needs some work. Boosters are raising money to replace the temple's original roof. For NPR News, I'm Ryan Warner in Trinidad, Colo.

(SOUNDBITE OF ROB LUFT'S "ALL WAYS MOVING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Ryan Warner