1896 to 1915
April and August
The American Colony increases dramatically in size and ethnic diversity as groups of Swedish millennialists migrate to Jerusalem to join the community. Members of the Swedish Evangelical Church of Chicago, Ill., led by Olaf Henrik Larsson arrive in Jerusalem in April, after becoming impressed by Anna Spafford during her time in Illinois. Other Swedes, including Tipers Lars Larsson and many farmers from the village of Nås in Dalarna, Sweden, arrive in August. Like the original members, they are attracted by Anna Spafford's spiritual leadership and embrace the idea of the impending nature of the Second Coming. The colony reaches a membership level of approximately 150 people.
In need of more living space for its many members, the American Colony leases and moves to the palatial former home of Rabbah al-Husseini, located off Nablus Road near the Tomb of the Kings, in East Jerusalem. The colony eventually purchases the property. It also retains the original building in the Old City.
Swedish members contribute essential manual, professional, and domestic labor to the colony. Their skills in farming, animal husbandry, horticulture, photography, weaving and crafts, baking and other culinary arts, as well as the financial contributions they made upon joining the community, prove crucial to the economic health of the colony and the development of its various commercial enterprises.
The American Colony sponsors meetings of various locally based social organizations and has its own arts club, drama club, literary club, and concert band.
Bertha Spafford is recruited by Ismail Bey Husseini to direct the Moslem Girls School, in Old City, Jerusalem, along with veteran American Colony teacher Johanna Brooke. As co-director Bertha oversees westernized modernization of facilities for the school. As principal in subsequent years she emphasizes vocational training of Arab girls to help promote economic options and counteract traditional practices of early arranged marriages.
American John Dinsmore (called Professor Dinsmore or Brother John) (1862-1951) and his wife Mary Dinsmore (1868-1949) join the colony with their daughter. While Sister Brooke tutors the children of the colony and teaches painting, John Dinsmore, an accomplished botanist, becomes director of the American Colony school. As a resident scientist at the colony, Dinsmore will develop a renowned herbarium of Holy Land plants.
Consecration of the English Collegiate Church of St. George, neighboring the American Colony.
The American Colony Photo Department is established as a commercial enterprise of the colony. Over the next three and a half decades its photographers document key events and ceremonies as well as everyday life, travel, architecture, street scenes and landscapes of the Middle East, as well as pictorial allegorical images of the Holy Land and the events of World War I, the end of the Ottoman Empire and the administration of the early British Mandate. Staff photographers, photographic assistants, and darkroom and print production experts in the first decades of operation include American Colony members Elijah Meyers (1851-1930), Furman Baldwin, Lewis Larsson, Lars Lind, Erik Lind, Olaf Lind, and Fareed Naseef, and in later years, G. Eric Matson.
American Colony Photo Department photographers headed by Elijah Meyers are hired by Zionist Theodor Herzl to document Jewish settlements. They also photograph the historic visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II to Jerusalem. The photographs are distributed internationally, and the American Colony Photo Department begins to establish a reputation among Jerusalem photographers.
Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf (1858-1940), who in 1909 will become the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, is among guests welcomed at the American Colony by Anna Spafford. She visits Jerusalem with her close companion, Sophie Elkan, to research the stories of Swedish migrants to the colony. Her resulting two-part novel Jerusalem (The Holy City) (1901-02) is a fictional account based on the experience of the Swedish members of the American Colony who came to Jerusalem from Nås. The popularity of the novel gives rise to an annual pageant in Sweden commemorating the spiritual and actual journey of those farmers who gave up their properties in Nås to make new lives in Jerusalem.
The American Colony begins operating as a hostel for visitors to the Holy Land. Over the next decades, the Colony hosts many visiting tourists from the United States and other countries, among them leading journalists, colonial administrators and politicians, diplomats, authors, archaeologists, religious scholars, and artists.
In the first wedding allowed at the American Colony, Bertha Spafford marries member Frederick Vester (1869-1942) after an extended courtship. Born in Jerusalem, Vester is the son of German-Swiss missionaries with long involvement in the business community. The Spafford-Vester union brings to an official end the mandate of celibacy within the American Colony. In successive years young people of the colony, Swedish, Arab, Jewish, and American in origin, enter ties of matrimony.
Vester and Co.—The American Colony Store, managed by Frederick Vester and John D. Whiting, offers commercial goods, including antiques, rugs, Palestinian embroidery, costumes, and jewelry, and souvenir postcards and photographs to a tourist trade near Jaffa Gate in the Old City, Jerusalem. Whiting and other American Colony members provide specialized guided tours of the Near East to small parties of visiting scholars and archeologists.
Lewis Larsson follows Elijah Meyers as director of the American Colony Photo Department.
Six children are born to Bertha and Frederick Vester. The eldest, Anna Grace Vester (Lind) (d. 1995), is born in the original Colony house in the Old City. Anna Grace in 1925 will marry Nils Lind, one of the Swedish migrants to the American Colony, a colony photographer and business man, and manager of the Colony's short-lived New York store. Divorced in 1941, she returns to Jerusalem to help run the American Colony Hotel. At the end of her life she becomes director of the Spafford Children's center and lives at the facility. Her brother Horatio is born in 1906, followed by Tanetta, John (Jock), Louise, and Frieda.
Thomas R. Wallace is American Consul in Jerusalem. He proves friendly to the American Colony, and to religious diversity in the city.
John D. Whiting is deputy U.S. Consul in Jerusalem from 1908 to1910 and again from 1915 to 1917. He specializes in geographic, agricultural, sociological and commercial policies.
Aug. 11, 1909
The Spafford and Whiting families are united through marriage as well as friendship, when John D. Whiting and Grace Spafford, the youngest children of original founders Mary and John C. Whiting and Anna and Horatio Gates Spafford, wed in Jerusalem.
Four children are born to Grace Spafford Whiting and John D. Whiting. Three sons, all born in Jerusalem, live into adulthood: Spafford Whiting (b. 1910), David Whiting (b. 1912), and Edmund Wilson Whiting (1918-1975); a daughter, Grace Bertha (Baby Grace), born December 14, 1914, dies of illness while still an infant, September 30, 1915.
Population of Ottoman Jerusalem has risen to near 70,000, in part from immigration. Suburban construction accompanies a shift in population density outside the Old City walls, with Jewish patterns of settlement along Jaffa Road in West Jerusalem and Muslim settlement north of the Muslim Quarter, in East Jerusalem.
John D. Whiting publishes a series of articles about the Middle East in National Geographic. The articles range in topic from travels to Aleppo, Bethlehem, Cappadocia, and Petra, to Bedouin life, religious practices, the 1915 locust plaque and aspects of the Holy Land. They feature photographs by American Colony Photo Department photographers.
British government declares war on Turkey.
Samaritanernas päskfest I ord och bild–bibliska blodsoffer I våra dagar (Passover Celebrations of the Samaritans in Words and Pictures–biblical blood offerings in our time) is published by Lewis Larsson, in Stockholm. Features photographs by Lewis Larsson and John D. Whiting taken in the Spring of 1914, with accompanying text by Whiting, Selma Lagerlöf and Sven Hedin. Credited to be the first photographic work documenting the sunset to dawn Passover celebrations of the Samaritans on Mount Gerazim.
A locust plague decimates vegetation in Palestine. The American Colony Photo Department under Lewis Larsson documents the stages of locust development, the devastating "before" and "after" impact on the environment, and methods used to eradicate the invading insects. The locust attack is the subject for one of Whiting's National Geographic articles, published in December 1915.