For a considerable part of Maitland's early colonial history, the Jewish community provided a strong contribution to the development of the district. As the number of Jewish settlers increased it was decided to build a synagogue, and land was purchased in Church Street, Maitland. The Maitland Synagogue was the first country synagogue built in Australia.
A foundation stone for West Maitland Synagogue was laid on Monday, February 24th, 1879, by Lewis Wolfe Levy, Esq., of Sydney; Minister Rev. Jacob Levi; President Mr Morris Benjamin; Treasurer Mr Joseph Marks; Hon. Secretary Mr Henry Hart; Committee Mr George J. Cohen, Mr J.L. Goodman, Mr M. Moss, Mr S. A. Phillips, Mr S. Israel; Architect Mr J.W. Pender; Builder Mr J. Pritchard.
Under the foundation stone was placed a copy of the Maitland Mercury, some coins and three silver medals bearing the name of L.W. Levy, M. Benjamin and J. Marks.
The cost of the building was estimated at £1200-£1400 and the contractor for its completion was James Pritchard. The building is a small symmetrical solid brick structure with slate roof and high elliptical lath and plaster ceiling, designed in the Romanesque Revival style displaying elaborate cement-rendered details, including corbelled arcades and columns, quatrefoil windows and round-headed arches.
The interior retains its original cedar windows which are still in good condition, although some of the walls have been altered by successive owners. The building is approximately 8m by 13m in size.As was customary, the Maitland Synagogue had a gallery for the ladies, an Ark for the holding of the scrolls of the law and a reading desk in the centre of the building. The Rev. Samuel A. Goldstein who had previously had charge of a small congregation in Queensland was appointed minister and on Sunday September 7, 1879 the synagogue was consecrated.
After ceasing to operate as a synagogue in 1898, the building was used initially as a private school, and has subsequently been used as a Masonic lodge, a motor vehicle repair shop and in recent years a Credit Union. Modifications to the building over time have reflected its differing uses and needs.
Around 1936 the original flooring was replaced with narrow, secret nailed boards more suitable for dancing than the original wide, shot-edge boards, enabling the building to be used during World War II as a dance hall to entertain soldiers. Also about this time the gallery and the Ark were removed.In 1946 a large opening was made in the east wall and timber framed galvanised iron additions were made to the east and south sides.
By 1981, the poor condition of the building and the prospect of its demolition saw the imposition of a section 130 Order under the Heritage Act, to control demolition. On 23 June 1983, an Interim Conservation Order was placed over the building by Maitland City Council, which was to stay in effect for two years or until a Permanent Conservation Order was made.
The then owners of the property advised that they wished to demolish the building in order to redevelop the site. However the building was not considered beyond restoration and was in a good position for a sympathetic use, and in 1985, a Permanent Conservation Order was placed over the building.
In December 1987 it received a Heritage Award being judged to be architecturally significant in the development of the Lower Hunter.