In a country known for hotels named in ways to bring attention to the Jewish roots of the nation such as King David, Dan Eliat, and Herods Palace, a hotel with the name “American Colony” seems a bit out of place. This hotel has a very interesting history though, and its roots go back to years before modern Israel came to be.
The story of the American Colony starts, as the name would suggest, in America. Horatio Spafford was a prominent and well-off attorney in Chicago, Illinois in the 1860s and 1870s. He and his wife, Anna were parents to 4 young daughters. When the Great Chicago Fire devastated the city, he lost much of his fortune.
Being close friends with world-renowned pastor, Dwight Moody, Spafford decided his family would benefit from a break from the grief of the devastation and they should go to Europe to see Moody preach. At the last minute, a business matter arose and it was decided that Anna and their daughters should go ahead and leave and he would meet them shortly after. On the way across the Atlantic however, the ship would sink and all four of their daughters would die, with only Anna surviving.
Upon traveling to get his wife in London and passing over the place his daughters were lost at sea, Horatio penned the lyrics to one of the most beloved hymns of faith, “It is Well with My Soul”. The hymn has become a staple in Christian churches and recorded countless times, as recently as 2017 by popular Christian artists, MercyMe.
After the loss of their daughters and another son born later, the Spaffords became engrossed by the end times and felt led to move to Jerusalem in 1881 to start a settlement there along with a small group of others. It became known as “The American Colony” and they offered charity to anyone, regardless of religion.
The colony gained both friends and detractors in the area and abroad. While they started as a small group and living in a small home together, eventually a large group of Swedish believers joined them, which required that they buy a larger property. A palace was purchased to house them and this would eventually become The American Colony Hotel.
The Colony began welcoming guests as a hostel in 1902 and tourism became a major source of income for the community as they welcomed pilgrims touring the land. After many years and changes within the group, the hostel ceased to be primarily a home that welcomed guests and instead became a full-fledged hotel.
The American Colony Hotel is now known as one of the premier hotels in Israel. It is still owned by descendants of the original American Colony, and was even managed by the grandson of Horatio and Anna until retiring in 1980. In the hotel, there are displays of the history of the colony, including the original handwritten manuscript of Spafford’s timeless masterpiece, “It is Well with My Soul”.