Canonsburg, Pa. was settled in the late 1780s and incorporated in 1802. The borough was an important stop on the road between Washington, Pa. and Pittsburgh and later became a cultural center with the establishment of Jefferson College, the first institute of higher education west of the Allegheny Mountains. Canonsburg grew dramatically starting in the late 1890s, with the beginnings of the coal, steel and railroad industries in the area.
Morris Bernstein became the first Jew to settle in Canonsburg when he moved to the area about 1890, according to a 1919 historical article in the Jewish Criterion. Others followed over the following two decades, and the Jewish community included approximately 40 families by the time a group calling itself the Canonsburg Hebrew Association began meeting in 1909. The association officially incorporated Tree of Life Congregation in 1914 with approximately 35 families and built a $12,000 synagogue on Ashland Avenue the following year. The congregation renovated the synagogue in 1928.
By 1919, Canonsburg had two religious schools. The first was a Sunday School with 55 students organized under the auspices of the Southwestern District of Pennsylvania Jewish Religious School program. The second was a traditional Hebrew school with 35 students. The congregation also had a Ladies Aid Society with approximately 40 members. The Jewish community established a Young Men’s Hebrew Association, although the organization was disbanded in 1917 because of World War I. The community established B’nai B’rith Lodge No. 1323 no later than 1939. One of the most active Jewish organizations in the borough was a chapter of the Zionist District with 75 members. A separate Young People’s Zionist League included another 25 members.
The Jewish population of Canonsburg grew for several decades and declined after World War II. The American Jewish Yearbook listed a population of 240 in its 1928-1929 edition, 330 in its 1940-1941 edition and 240 again in its 1951 edition. Although the congregation was active through the 1940s, “by the 1950s it became more a place for nostalgia than worship,” according to a 2009 history of the community by member Arnold Cushner in the Jefferson College Times. Tree of Life Congregation sold its synagogue to a janitorial supply company in the early 1960s. The building was demolished during a redevelopment campaign in Canonsburg in the 1980s.