Newton, Massachusetts is a three-hundred-fifty-year-old community with over 85,000 people. Historically, and in the minds of nearly everyone who lives there, it is a collection of fourteen distinct villages and neighborhoods. Each came into being at a different time for a different reason.
This unusual pattern of development is the result of Newton's location. Newton is just ten miles from Boston, and is almost completely surrounded by the Charles River. Some villages of Newton were developed around mill complexes, taking advantage of the river as a power source. Others developed around stops on rail service to Boston. By the 1840s, Newton was the leading edge in the development of what we today call suburbia and commuting.
The Adams Street Synagogue is located in the neighborhood called Nonantum. Nonantum is a Native American word that means "rejoicing." In 1646, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony gave this name to "the village for the Praying Indians," which was about a mile from today's Nonantum. (It was in what we now call Newton Corner).
The current neighborhood of Nonantum was originally called the North Village. Click on the 1879 view of the North Village (above left) to see the full-sized image. On it, you can spot the mill on the Charles River, the empty lot that is the future site of the shul, the homes of some of the shul's founding families, and even the homes of some of our current members!
The North Village started to be called Nonantum only after the Nonantum Worsted Company bought the Dalby Mills on Chapel Street in 1880. (This photo of the mill was taken in the 1890's.)