Frontier Jewish Leadville
Frontier Jewish Leadville
Exploring Leadville’s Jewish History

Frontier Jewish Leadville is permanent exhibition within the Temple Israel building. The original exhibition was formed in 2012 and 2013 with artifacts and informational wall panels. The exhibition was expanded and retooled in 2014 and 2015 and partially expanded again in 2017. The original text writing on the wall panels went along with the exhibition, but was rewritten and retooled with newer information in 2018 and 2019 and upgraded with wall mounted TVs for display. The newer text now stands apart from the permanent exhibition in the museum.

The writing on this page only features the newer revised writing. Refer to the button below to view the Permanent Exhibition of artifacts.

Introduction

Solomon Nunes Carvalho was Colorado’s first well-documented Jewish Visitor. As an accomplished artist and skilled daguerreotype photographer, Solomon was chosen by explorer John Freemont to document his Fifth Expedition which passed through what would become south-central Colorado in 1854. Born into a colonial era Sephardic Jewish family based in South Carolina, Solomon was also the first photographer to capture a scene in the region. Solomon’s memoir of the trip, the poetically titled Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West; with Colonel Freemont’s Last Expedition, is the first compilation of documented travels in the territory by a Jewish author and one of the first written accounts of the region by any Euro-American. Jewish life in Colorado clearly had promising beginnings.

Less than ten years after Freemont’s expedition, the mountains of Colorado awoke with life. In the Spring of 1860, gold was found in accessible pockets of the gullies and outwash channels of Colorado’s central mountains and front-range foothills. A high gully above the Arkansas Valley originally called California Gulch, suddenly burst with activity. Among the first settlers were two German-Jewish entrepreneurs named Simon Nathan and Wolfe Londoner. Simon’s second son, Lewis, was the first Jewish child born in the Colorado high country. Simon left Leadville in 1866 and was instrumental in establishing the first reform synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado. Wolfe became a successful businessman who set up an early mercantile shop in Oro City, and some fifteen years later returned to what would become Leadville. After the initial Colorado gold rush played out in 1861, California Gulch fell silent for more than a decade.

Photo of the exterior of Temple Israel in 1894.

Photo of the exterior of Temple Israel in 1894.

Renewed Interest

By 1876 and 1877, interest in the potential of silver bearing carbonates ignited a new passion in the area. The beginnings of the city of Leadville started taking shape on the tableland north of the gulch and the stage was set for the most important decade of Leadville’s existence. The earliest seeds for Leadville’s Jewish community were sown in November of 1879. That month, Rocky Mountain Lodge no. 322 of the Independent Order of B’nai B’rith organized and held an inaugural banquet at the Hotel Windsor. By that year, investment and growth were in full swing while business and political leaders were emerging from a merchant class of Jewish immigrants.

Migration patterns in Leadville mirrored those of many large U.S. cities of that era. As quickly as letters could travel, relatives, friends, and associates joined those early Leadville pioneers. Among those who built Leadville’s Jewish community were David May, Moses Shoenberg, Samuel & Elias Pelton, Mannie Hyman, Joseph & Marcus Monheimer, and Jacob Sands among others. Chain migration played an important role in the foundation of this community. Many of these men married the sisters and daughters of their business associates. Children were born and a modern, cosmopolitan city developed on the edge of the Colorado wilderness.

Wolfe Londoner’s store on East 3rd Street, circa 1879-1880.

Wolfe Londoner’s store on East 3rd Street, circa 1879-1880.

Why Leadville?
Migration Patterns

From 1850 to the 1920s, the Jewish population in the western United States grew from a tiny few to about 300,000 people. Jews migrated to the West and to Leadville for many of the same reasons other people did—to improve their social and economic status, to find adventure, and to reinvent themselves. Leadville’s mining economy exploded in the late 1870s, resulting in an influx of migrants to the small mountain town. The discovery of silver caused Leadville’s population to grow to approximately 30,000 residents. About 300 were Jews.

As Europe industrialized in the 19th century and some countries became increasingly repressive, many Jews emigrated for more hospitable places. In Europe it was common for Jews to be employed as seamstresses, tailors, and peddlers—work that was becoming obsolete in the new industrialized world. The United States, and the western U.S. particularly, proved ideal places to engage in traditional Jewish occupations. In the U.S. one could rise from itinerant peddler to merchant in a single generation. While the image of the Jewish merchant has become stereotypical, many Jews found that the role of merchant in the American West provided families with economic stability and opportunities for civic leadership. During the California Gold Rush of the 1850s many Jewish merchants there rose to social and economic prominence.

Patterns for establishing communal and financial stability can be found in many Old West towns of the 1800s. Typically one family member was sent ahead to a small town to initiate a business outpost. Cousins, brothers, and other male relatives would later join them to help run the establishment. It was not uncommon for these men eventually to marry the female relatives of their business partners. There are several examples in Leadville of Jews establishing community and commerce in this fashion, including the department store mogul David May.

Prosperity

Between 1879 and 1884, Leadville’s Jewish community was not entirely organized, and the B’nai B’rith charter was lost due to dereliction of duty. Despite this, newspapers documented Jewish gatherings at various venues throughout the city including a small meeting hall on Upper Chestnut Street. The Shoenberg Opera House served as Leadville’s first unofficial synagogue, and events for the Jewish community were hosted at both of Leadville’s Turnverein meeting halls. Before construction of Temple Israel, an early Jewish wedding took place a St. George’s Episcopal Church. In Leadville varying religious and ethnic cultures were highly intertwined.

By 1884, Jewish life in Leadville was healthy enough to afford a dedicated synagogue and that is where the story of our building begins.

A drawing of the 300 block of Harrison Avenue in 1887.

A drawing of the 300 block of Harrison Avenue in 1887 demonstrates the prosperity of Jewish owned businesses in Leadville. Among these enterprises are storefronts maintained by local Jewish business owners such as Meyer Harris (clothing), Mannie Hyman & Theodore Schultze (saloon), and Jake & Charles Sands (clothing). [6]

Organizing Jewish Leadville

Jewish organizations began to appear in Leadville in 1879 and 1880. The Hebrew Ladies Relief Society could conceivably have been the earliest of enterprises. Women were quite likely the true driving force for organized Judaism in the Leadville community. They established annual fundraising events such as the Strawberry & Ice Cream Festival and the Purim Masque Balls which stood as popular events in Leadville for decades. On June 3, 1879, the death of Jewish merchant Gustave Jelenko of Kokomo, a mining community located in between the tailings ponds of the modern day Climax mine, generated an urgency for a Hebrew cemetery and more formalized Jewish institutions.

In January of 1880, The Hebrew Relief Society successfully acquired 101,000 square feet of Leadville’s Evergreen Cemetery to be designated for Jewish burials. Shortly thereafter, the remains of Gustave Jelenko were reinterred as the first resident of Leadville’s Hebrew Cemetery.

Leadville’s Hebrew Cemetery has stood the tests of time and the elements since its original consecration in 1880. The remains of one hundred and thirty two of Leadville’s early Jewish residents are interred there. As the population of Leadville declined, the condition of the cemetery did as well, enduring hardily through heavy mountain snows, forest overgrowth, and a minor act of vandalism by unknown parties in 1970.

The Temple Israel Foundation acquired ownership of the cemetery on June 18, 1993, through a quiet title suit. After years of cleanup efforts organized in conjunction with B’nai B’rith of Denver, the cemetery was fully restored, reconsecrated, and returned to service for modern burials in August of 1999.

Entrance of the Hebrew Cemetery.

Entrance of the Hebrew Cemetery. Photo by RG de Stolfe in 2016.

Merchants & Miners
Providing Goods and Services

Among the important dry goods and clothier shops that were Jewish-owned, Monheimer Brothers was among the most successful. Joseph H. Monheimer served as a county commissioner beginning in 1883, and in 1884, he was elected the president of Temple Israel Congregation. He would later administer the estate of a well-known Leadville madam following her death.

An investor unfamiliar to mining but with grand ideas was Meyer Guggenheim. Meyer came to Leadville in 1880 as a successful lace manufacturer with a small cache of accumulated wealth. He purchased the struggling A.Y. & Minnie mines and was able to finance the abatement of large quantities of groundwater which revealed a substantive vein of silver. His sons, Benjamin, Simon, and William, all spent time in Leadville monitoring the family’s business concerns over the years to follow. By the 1890s, the Guggenheims had purchased the Arkansas Valley Smelter in Leadville in addition to other mining related enterprises throughout the western hemisphere and had become one of the most powerful mining and mineral refinement operators in North and South America.

Some Jewish immigrants came to Leadville fully intent on mining for themselves only to find that fate had other plans. David May immigrated to the United States from the Rhineland in 1865 at the age of 17. He worked at a clothing factory in Ohio and gained valuable retail experience while in the employ of a clothing store in Indiana. In 1878, the call for the riches of California Gulch beckoned, and David spent the summer engaged in the back-breaking work of hauling ore up from the shaft with a windlass and realized virtually no financial reward. After his first season May and his partners gave up on the claim.

May made the decision to remain in Leadville and return to his career as a clothing retailer. Initially partnering with his brother-in-law, Moses Shoenberg, The May Company grew from a small store on Harrison Avenue to one of the largest clothing enterprises in the world. May also served in the office as Lake County Treasurer and as Vice President of the Temple Israel Congregation. It was in this capacity became the trustee for the land donated to the Jewish community by Horace Tabor in 1884 for the purposes of building Temple Israel.

Although gold initially brought people to the Leadville area in 1860, it was silver that was mined in the mid-1870s that caused the city to grow rapidly. By 1877, a massive influx of people sought to get rich quick through mining or mining related enterprises. As with the California Gold Rush of the 1850s, the Jews who came to Leadville principally became involved with providing goods and services to miners.

Portrait painting of David May.

Portrait painting of David May.

Social Life in Leadville
Clubs and Organizations

There are no known records that indicate the size of audiences within Leadville’s synagogues, however about one hundred and seventy congregants attended Temple Israel’s dedication on Rosh Hashanah, September 19, 1884. Leadville Jews were active in both secular and Jewish organizations. Some were very active in groups such as the Knights of Pythias, Elks, Masons, Oddfellows, and the Ancient Order of United Workmen.

Leadville’s Jewish organizations were eleemosynary. Among the earliest was the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Association (Society) that had roughly forty members and provided financial assistance to local residents without regard for religious affiliation. The roster of names for the active women in this group included members of prominent local families such as Kahn, Schloss, Samuels, Miller, and Schayer. The association held regular charity functions that were popular secular events for Leadvillians such as the annual Purim Masque Ball and the Strawberry & Ice Cream Festival. According to a report that appeared in the March 23, 1883, edition of the Leadville Daily Herald, Jews were not the only attendees of that year’s Purim festivities: “…a great many of whom were not Israelites.” were also present,”…for it was a masquerade and the fun was great.”

Other organizations that made their impressions on Leadville’s social scene included a Hebrew school which was established in 1882 and hosted annual picnics. The B’nai B’rith Rocky Mountain Lodge no. 322 only operated for about two years and was wholly dissolved in 1881. The Hebrew Benevolent Association cared for Leadville’s sick and orphaned, provided aid and comfort to the needy, and helped with burial expenses.

According to society gossip columns from the late Nineteenth Century Leadville newspapers, there were numerous informal social gatherings as well. From elegant dinners to children’s birthday parties and Bar Mitzvahs. Leadville’s Jewish community socialized amongst themselves and with the population at large. Included in the amusements to be found in pioneer Leadville were the traveling circus, a mind reading event at the Tabor Opera House, concerts, gaming tournaments, banquets, sporting events, and lectures given by well-known personalities such as Oscar Wilde.

Young women in full costume prepare for the evening’s activities at the Grossmeyer home in 1910.

Young women in full costume prepare for the evening’s activities at the Grossmeyer home in 1910. [4]

The Emergence of a Jewish Community

As early as 1879, Leadville’s Jewish population had grown sufficiently to warrant holding Rosh Hashanah services in the Shoenberg Opera House on Chestnut Street. A permanent place of worship was not constructed until 1884. In August of that year, the Congregation Israel decided to build a synagogue on the land donated by H.A.W. Tabor, the “Silver Baron.” Over the next 33 days the new synagogue was constructed for $4,000. On September 19, 1884, Rabbi Morris Sachs of Cincinnati, Ohio dedicated the building. The event coincided with Rosh Hashanah, 5645, which certainly added to the congregation’s anticipation of a sweet new year in Leadville.

For the next eight years the building would serve as Leadville’s sole synagogue. By 1892, the reform and orthodox Jews in Leadville found they no longer shared the same spiritual sensibilities and split into two shuls. The orthodox group purchased an old Presbyterian church on West 5th Street in late 1892 and began holding services of their own at the newly formed Knesseth Israel synagogue in 1893. That building has since been demolished. Meanwhile Temple Israel offered worship services and sponsored cultural events such as concerts and balls. Leadville was never home to a resident rabbi. A lay leader, acting as a cantor conducted religious services at both shuls.

Since lay leadership was the norm in Leadville; only four rabbis were ever to conduct worship services at Temple Israel during a forty-six year span, beginning in 1884, with the visit of Rabbi Morris Sachs. He dedicated the new Temple Israel, orchestrated services for the High Holy Days that year, and never returned to Leadville. Rabbi Samuel Koch, a Leadville native who studied for the rabbinate at Hebrew Union College during the late 1890s, travelled annually to his hometown and conducted High Holy Day services between 1896 and 1902 before accepting a position with Temple de Hirsch Sinai at Seattle in 1902. In January of 1906, Rabbi Alfred T. Goldshaw led a weekend of lectures and services at Temple Israel and Rabbi Martin Mishli Weitz did the same while on a tour of Colorado cities in the autumn of 1930, representing the Association of American Hebrew Congregations.

Though visits from rabbis were a luxury, Dr. John Eisner of Denver, a traveling mohel, enabled Jewish families in the mining towns of Colorado to maintain the tradition of brit milah (bris), or ritual circumcision. The Leadville community also supported a Hebrew school for three decades. Kosher meat was available locally in 1880 (but only during that year), and to date no evidence of a mikvah (ritual purifying bath) has been found although the natural free-flowing waters found in California Gulch could qualify as such according to the tenets of the Jewish faith.

Rabbi Samuel Koch

Rabbi Samuel Koch [7]

Judaism in a Frontier Mining Town
Reform Services at Temple Israel

Since Temple Israel did not enjoy the presence of a permanent rabbi, Shabbat services are known to have been conducted regularly between 1884 and 1912 by lay-leaders. In addition to services, the shul’s Sunday school was regularly attended.

Amongst the known individuals who conducted services, Temple Israel’s first cantor was Ben Davies, one of the most evocative characters to have conducted services at the synagogue. Davies served as the reform cantor from 1883 until August of 1890 when he was dismissed after his romantic entanglement with Mrs. Clementine Kahn Raabe became public. Within two weeks of his discharge, Clementine had divorced husband Julius Raabe and immediately married Ben. The Davies-Raabe saga did not end there. Clementine and Ben had two children, Lillian and Harry, prior to Ben’s death as the result of a fire in his Jewelry store on August 7, 1893. By late September, Clementine remarried Julius Raabe who adopted Lillian and Harry and raised them as his own.

Prominent Leadville liquor merchant Adolph Schayer was installed as cantor in the wake of the Davies-Raabe scandal and served from 1890, until his death from heart failure on November 18, 1909. Marx Kahn served briefly as a relief cantor during 1901, while Adolph observed a period of shiva (mourning) following his fifteen year old daughter’s death from appendicitis on May 9. Schayer resumed his normal duties on September 13, by conducting services at Temple Israel for the High Holy Days.

Theodore Baer served as an assistant and a relief cantor from 1902 until his death in 1910. It is likely that no official services for the High Holy Days were conducted at Temple Israel after 1910 as newspaper reports in the years to follow announce that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services will be held at Knesseth Israel noting that “...all other congregations in the city are invited to attend both services.”

The interior of Temple Israel as it appeared in 1894.

The interior of Temple Israel as it appeared in 1894. [5]

Knesseth Israel Timeline

1879-1892 There was likely always an orthodox contingent of Jews in Leadville. The size of this congregation was very small and likely never exceeded a membership of forty.

This congregation was identified by many names before they officially adopted “Knesseth Israel” in 1892. The issues between the two sects centered on gender integration, the incorporation of music during services, and memorial rituals for the dead. The earliest documented evidence the separation of an orthodox congregation appeared in the Leadville Daily Evening Chronicle on October 9, 1886, which noted that Yom Kippur services were held by the reform congregation at Temple Israel, while the orthodox congregation met at City Hall.

Knesseth Israel was on West 5th Street.

Knesseth Israel was on West 5th Street, as Shown here in 1892 shortly before they acquired the buildin. Brisbois photograph number 218.

September 25, 1888
The yet unnamed orthodox congregation, led by Zundel Greenwald, met separately from the reform congregation for Rosh Hashanah services at City Hall.

September 22, 1892The orthodox congregation, now known as Knesseth Israel, met for Rosh Hashanah services at Turner Hall.

November 3, 1892
The Knesseth Israel congregation purchased the old Presbyterian church located at 119 West 5th Street for $1,050.00.

April 11, 1895
An unattended candle caused a small fire in the synagogue and was quickly extinguished resulting in little damage.

1911-1937
Knesseth Israel fell into relative obscurity hosting only annual or bi-annual events.

September 3, 1928
While cleaning Knesseth Israel in preparation for High Holy Day services, Jake Sandusky discovers that the building had been burglarized. Among the items taken are draperies and the Torah cover, prized for the value of their velvet. It is soon realized that Sandusky’s housekeeper is responsible for the crime and all items were returned.

1937
The building was sold and demolished by its new owners.

See full timeline for Knesseth Israel
Orthodox Services at Knesseth Israel

Records for Knesseth Israel, Leadville’s orthodox synagogue, are sparse and little information exists identifying which Jewish families were members of that shul. It is however known that the longest tenured Jewish family in Leadville, the Millers, whose tenure began in 1892 and ended upon Minette Miller’s (1894-1981) death in 1981, were orthodox.

The only known rabbi’s to have conducted services at Knesseth Israel were Rabbi A. Lavitzky, who delivered a Kol Nidre (atonement) prayer and a sermon for Yom Kippur Observances on September 7, 1903, and Rabbi J. Greenwald of Denver who led High Holy Day services on September 22, and October 1, 1911. Temple Israel cantor Adolph Schayer did deliver religious rites for the wedding of Minnie Oliner to Aaron Walpensky at the orthodox synagogue on April 1, 1900.

Zundel Greenwald began leading services for the orthodox community in 1888, although the first mention of a cantor actually conducting services at Knesseth Israel synagogue does not appear in Leadville newspapers until 1897. A painting contractor by trade, Zundel served as the orthodox cantor until his death on April 29, 1914.

Nathan Miller immigrated to the United States from Vilnius, Lithuania in 1880. He moved to Leadville in 1892 after stints in Pottsville, Pennsylvania and Granite, Colorado. Nathan is one of only a few Jews who came to Leadville with the actual intent to mine, though the family dry goods store likely helped to support his passion. Nathan served for two periods as the orthodox cantor from 1914 to 1918, and 1923 to 1934.

Mr. A. Unger was not a Leadville resident, but traveled regularly from his home in Salida, Colorado (roughly 58 miles) for Shabbat services and holiday functions at Knesseth Israel. Occasionally Unger led services but mostly served as an assistant cantor to Maurice and Nathan Miller from 1918 to 1920.

Nathan Miller’s eldest son, Maurice, was the last known cantor for the Knesseth Israel congregation serving from 1919 until leaving for Leadville for California in 1931. Maurice was a veteran of the United States Army during World War I and it is not known if he conducted services on his own in relief of his father or alongside him.

Nathan Miller

Nathan Miller

Maurice Miller

Maurice Miller

Minette Miller

Minette Miller

Amusements & Wholesalers
The Wild West Meets the Victorian Age

Not unlike other western mining towns, Leadville was a place where the miners worked arduously and played equally hard when the day was done. In the 1880s, the options for entertainment and amusements were plentiful. A miner could spend his newfound bounty on liquor, women, or gaming at any one of one hundred and twenty saloons, one hundred and fifty gambling rooms, thirty-five brothels, and two opera houses. Leadville Jews operated concerns in all of these categories. One such of these establishments was Hyman’s Club Rooms owned and operated by Mannie Hyman.

Notorious for its rowdy atmosphere and barroom brawls, Hyman’s saloon lives on in western folklore as the scene of Doc Holiday’s last gunfight on August 19, 1884, which was terminated when Holiday was disarmed and collared by Henry Kellerman, a Jewish deputy sheriff. Fortunately, no one was killed, but the incident was significantly destructive to Holliday’s already soiled reputation. After the trial, he left town to nurse his deteriorating health in Glenwood Springs where he died of tuberculosis on November 8, 1887.

Exterior view of Hyman’s Club Rooms at 316 Harrison Avenue.

Exterior view of Hyman’s Club Rooms at 316 Harrison Avenue, likely in 1884. This was a popular hangout for many a rowdy patron during his leisure hours, including well known John “Doc” Holliday. [3]

Social Clubs & Organizations

Many of Leadville’s Jewish community were members of secular social organizations such as the Masons, Elks, Oddfellows, Grand Army of the Republic, Knights of Labor, and the Turnverein Society. There were other social organizations and clubs created by members of Leadville’s Jewish community that required no religious affiliation and, at least for a time, were popular among Leadvillians:

The History Club first appeared in 1895.

The Jewish Ladies’ Reading Club was popular during the 1890s.

The Cloud City Social Club was a Jewish founded social organization that held dances featuring the Great Western Orchestra conducted by Professor Henry Simon. Many recognizable couples from the Temple Israel congregation were present at the club’s first function on January 23, 1885, including the Hirschs, Baers, Kahns, Blumbergs, and Simons. The singles on hand were also notable and included Carrie and Emma Kahn, Mannie Hyman, along with sisters Theresa, Hattie, and Jennie Schoenberg. The club met on Friday nights every other week until 1890 when, (the parties became quite popular on the Leadville social circuit) the club began to hold their parties every week. By 1894, the organization had grown to forty regular members and had altered its schedule by moving their dances to every Saturday evening.

In 1895, the Cloud City Social Club moved to a regular venue by voting to attend Professor Martine’s weekly socials held Saturday nights at Armory Hall. The club is less frequently mentioned in newspapers after 1895 and was likely absorbed into the Friday Night Social Club, which began to hold regular dances at the Armory Hall in 1900.

Debates & Lectures

Judge Freauhoff delivered a lecture on the life of Sir Moses Montefiore in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of his death on October 24, 1884, at Temple Israel.

Dr. William Friedman, of Temple Emmanuel in Denver, lectured at Temple Israel on December 14, 1889.

On January 21, 1907, a public debate on “Zionism”, a movement established in 1869 that fostered the ideas of a Jewish national identity and restoration of a Jewish homeland in Israel. Prior to World War II this was not a popular movement in Reform Judaism, and Mr. H. Fishowitz of St. Louis argued for the pro-Zionist position while Temple Israel cantor Adolph Schayer argued in the opposing viewpoint.

The interior of Armory Hall located at 140-142 5th Street, circa 1900.

The interior of Armory Hall located at 140-142 5th Street, circa 1900. [8]

Other Amusements & Pastimes

The two most common annual events among Leadville’s Jewish community were the Purim Masque Balls and the Strawberries & Ice Cream Festival. Both of these events were presented by the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society (Association). The Purim festivities generally took place in March or April from 1879 until around 1900, The Strawberry & Ice Cream Festival in late June or early July from 1883 until about 1898. Both were secular events and presented as fundraisers for Temple Israel congregation. In 1902, St. George’s Episcopal Church made attempts to revive the Strawberries & Ice Cream Festival but there are no mentions of the event after 1905.

Purim Masque Balls were popular springtime events.

Purim Masque Balls were popular springtime events. This advertisement card promoting a New York Purim Ball in 1881 demonstrates the lavish costumes and decorations that were indicative of these celebrations commemorating the day Esther, Queen of Persia, saved the Jewish people from execution by Haman, the advisor to the Persian king. [1]

Performing Artists

Longtime Leadville barber and member of both Knesseth Israel and Temple Israel congregations, Reinhold Rosendorf, performed in community theater productions as an actor and dancer. He directed the actors in a performance of Early Vows at the Tabor Opera House on December 11, 1882.

Musician Leo Klein performed at many functions for the congregation and the Leadville community at large. His tune The Sand Eaters’ March was recorded by John Phillip Sousa. Professor Henry Simon founded the Great Western Orchestra and together they performed at the weekly dances hosted by the Cloud City Social Club and the annual Hard Times Ball. Henry also called the dances for the banquet in celebration of the establishment of Rocky Mountain Lodge No. 322 of B’nai B’rith in November of 1879.

After Marrying Dr. Lee Kahn, author and poetess Ruth Ward Kahn made Leadville her home. A contributor to national periodicals such as the American Israelite and The Rocky Mountain News, Ruth also performed on the lecture circuits around the United States and the Caribbean.

Ruth Ward Kahn

Ruth Ward Kahn, as included in her book, The First Quarter. [2]

Brothels

Among those who provided entertainment for the Leadville masses during the latter Nineteenth Century was business owner Ben Loeb. The German born pioneer arrived in Leadville via Texas during 1881 and quickly became acquainted with the ins and outs of entertaining miners while managing the Delmonico Hotel & Bar on Harrison Avenue. This initiated Loeb’s rapid ascent from bartender to entertainment mogul. By 1890, Loeb owned three theaters in Leadville: The Carbonate; The Variety; and The Central Theater which immediately after its purchase was renamed Loeb’s Palace of Pleasure, a burlesque theater and bordello.

Loeb’s establishments featured a “ladies’ entrance” and a telephone. Loeb also served the community as a promoter, and in 1889, he organized a vaudeville performance at Leadville’s City Hall (a local event center) that featured the legless singer and dancer James E. Black and Ranalzo the Human Corkscrew. His establishments often staged boxing and wrestling events. For all of Loeb’s successes, a 1900 divorce from wife Georgia Flynn coincided with a financial decline and by the time of his death in 1912 he was destitute.

Loeb was not the only Leadville Jew to successfully find this niche in entertainment. Sam Lavinsky was the proprietor of a saloon, known to locals as the “Owl Joint”, located at 124 Harrison Avenue. The saloon and gaming house was frequently noted to be a nightspot rife with violence and boasted “lodging rooms which he rents without asking questions.” On one occasion in 1895, Lavinsky raised Loeb’s eyebrow after several ladies employed at the Palace of Pleasure were found with their clientele at Lavinsky’s accommodation.

In April of 1887, Temple Israel President Joseph Monheimer was appointed executor of the estate of popular Leadville madam Molly May. This duty included acting as the proprietor of her “House of Happiness” until it was sold at auction later that September.

Ben Loeb

Ben Loeb

The Temple Israel Choir

The Congregation Israel choir’s makeup was primarily secular; however, some musicians were congregation members. The following list of names includes the musical specialty performed and the year of their first appearance:

Sam Rosenberg, organist (1886).
Morris Goldstein, vocal soloist (1886).
Cora (Leon) Simon, vocal soloist (1887).
Lottie Schloss, vocal soloist (1887).
Theodore Baer, vocalist (1895).
Minna Heimberger, organist (1895).
Jennie (Block) Hoffman, vocalist (1902).
Jesse Bloomfield, vocalist (1902).
Ethel Sandusky, vocal soloist (1902).
Myrtle Block, organist (1909).
Jake Sandusky, vocal soloist (1909).
Pearl Miller, vocal soloist (1909).
Julius Muller, clarinetist (1909).

Ethel May (Sandusky) Edleman

Ethel May (Sandusky) Edleman as shown in her 1908 senior yearbook photo.

Leadville Blues Baseball

Baseball was becoming extremely popular in communities around the United States during the latter quarter of the Nineteenth Century, both big and small cities across the nation had some form of professional baseball and Leadville was no exception. In 1882, the Leadville Blues of the Western Baseball League was founded with the help of their director and successful businessman and Temple Israel congregant Jake Sands. Sands paid top-dollar to attract some of the country’s better players and had a successful inaugural season which boasted a 35-8 record while winning all of their home games. The 1882 Leadville Blues has been celebrated by many baseball historians as “Colorado’s best baseball team” of all time, although the same historians note that the altitude at 10,200 feet left most visiting teams completely winded by the end of the second inning.

Although the Blues led the Western League in wins during the 1882 season, the word of their successes preceded them on a road trip to Iowa during which the Blues recorded their only losing streak of three games to a team stacked with ringers from the National League’s Chicago White Stockings (Cubs).

Jake Sands, a local clothier, had an extra marital affair with the legendary Elizabeth “Baby” Doe in Central City/Blackhawk, Colorado beginning in 1878. “Baby” Doe moved to Leadville with Sands in 1880, with the intent to marry him, but then met his landlord, Horace Tabor, and opted to pursue a future with him instead. Despite his jilting, Jake Sands and Elizabeth Tabor maintained a close friendship until his death at Bisbee, Arizona in 1916.

Jake Sands (born as Jacob Sandelowsky)

Jake Sands (born as Jacob Sandelowsky)

Firemen’s Competitions

After an arsonist set fire to the Palace of Fashion, and, subsequently, a large segment of Chestnut Street was destroyed in the blaze during the spring of 1882, Leadville’s volunteer fire department was disbanded as the city council opted for a professional force. Isadore “Sam” Jacobs, a local Jewish tobacconist and firefighter, organized volunteers into Leadville’s competitive team of firemen.

Firemen’s competitions were very popular and focused largely on the speed with which teams could race their horse-drawn fire wagons down Harrison Avenue and set up their various stores of equipment.

Although the Leadville fire team had a successful run, Sam did not fare as well: Upon his retirement and subsequent move to Denver in 1892, while amusing himself with a test drive of Denver’s competitive fire wagon, the horse became spooked, ran Sam into a utility pole, and as he refused medical attention, he passed a few hours later from his injuries.

Temple Israel Timeline

July 30, 1884
Land for Synagogue donated by Horace A. W. Tabor to David May, vice-president of the Congregation Israel.

September 19, 1884
The synagogue was dedicated on Rosh Hashanah, 5645.

1884-1910
The synagogue was in active, regular use.

November 1, 1912
The funeral service for Ausios Meyer Zeiler is the last official recorded event at Temple Israel.

1914-1937
The synagogue was still in limited use for special events and personal worship.

1937
Steve Malin purchased and converted the synagogue into a single-family residence. He lived with his family in the rear while running a radiator repair shop in the front.

World War II
The front portion of the building functions as a dormitory for local miners.

1955
St. George Episcopal Church across the street acquires the building and uses it as a vicarage.

1966
Ownership of the building changed again, and it was converted into a four-unit apartment complex.

1966 to 2006
The building continued in use as rental apartments.

See full timeline for Temple Israel

 

Photo of the exterior of Temple Israel in 1929.

Photo of the exterior of Temple Israel in 1929.

1987
The Temple Israel Foundation incorporated “to acquire, historically rehabilitate, and maintain” the Temple Israel building and to research Leadville’s Jewish history.

October 15, 1992
The Foundation purchases the Temple Israel building.

June 18, 1993
The District Court awards the Foundation title to Leadville’s Hebrew Cemetery, rejoining parcels originally held by the Congregation Israel.

1993-present
Restoration and maintenance of the Hebrew Cemetery and the Temple Israel building remain under the Foundation’s purview.

2001
Thanks to contributions from private donors and the Colorado State Historical Fund (CSHF), the front façade is restored.

2006
An electrical fire damages the building, rendering it uninhabitable.

2007
Restoration begins with support of additional CSHF grants and private donations. The work crew examines original remaining painted plasterwork and refers to 1884 newspaper descriptions and an 1895 photograph to replicate the 1884 interior.

2008
Building restoration is complete.

2009
The Temple Israel building returned to its former look as a synagogue and can be used for special events.

2012-Present
The building opens as a museum with permanent exhibits documenting Leadville’s frontier Jewish history.

Photo of the exterior of Temple Israel in 1964.

Photo of the exterior of Temple Israel in 1964.

Resources

The information in this booklet was compiled by the Temple Israel Foundation research staff who would like to acknowledge the following repositories and archives most commonly used in our ongoing research:

The Colorado Historic Newspaper Collection, History Colorado, Lake County Public Library, The National Archives and Records Administration, The Hart Research Library, and the Beck Archives at the University of Denver.

These organizations provide us with historic documents, U.S. Census records, city directories, and indices that make our research program possible. In addition, the following secondary resources are frequently used in conducting our research:

  • Blair, Edward. Leadville: Colorado’s Magic City. Boulder, CO: Pruett Pub. 1980.
  • Breck, Allen DuPont. The Centennial History Of The Jews Of Colorado, 1859-1959. Denver, CO: Hirschfeld Press, 1961.
  • Denver Public Library. Colorado Marriages 1858-1939. 2004. Denver, CO. USA. The Colorado Genealogical Society.
  • Goodstein, Phil H. Exploring Jewish Colorado. Denver, CO: Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society, 1992.
  • Griswold, Don L., and Griswold, Jean Harvey. History of Leadville And Lake County, Colorado: From Mountain Solitude To Metropolis. Vols. 1 & 2. Denver, CO: Colorado Historical Society, 1996.
  • Manly, Nancy. Who’s Where In Leadville’s Evergreen Cemetery. Leadville, CO; USA. Historical Research Co-operative. 1981.
Images

All images used for this booklet are the property of the Temple Israel Collection except for the following:

  1. David M. Lesser, Fine Antiquarian Books LLC. Woodbridge, Connecticut. https://www.lesserbooks.com.
  2. Kahn, Ruth Ward. The First Quarter. Cincinnati, O.H: The Editor Publishing Co. 1898. Page 2.
  3. Roberts, Gary L. The Leadville Years. True West Magazine. November 1, 2001.
  4. Theresa Grossmayer. 02336CC. Leadville, CO: Colorado Mountain History Collection: Lake County Public Library. 2017.
  5. Manning, Jay F. Leadville, Lake County, and the Gold Belt. Denver, CO: Manning, O’Keefe, & DeLashmutt. 1894. Page 106.
  6. Leadville Herald Democrat, Jan. 1, 1887. Denver, CO: Western History Collection, Denver Public Library, Denver, Colorado. 2018.
  7. Koch, Samuel 1906-1920. PH COLL 650, JEW0499. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Special Collections. Jewish Archives Collection. 2019.
  8. Henning, Holly. Armory Hall-Leadville. 00637PL. Leadville, CO: Colorado Mountain History Collection: Lake County Public Library. 2016.
Special Thanks

Special thanks to the Denver Public Library, The Hart Research Library at History Colorado and the Colorado Mountain History Collection at the Lake County Public Library for their patience and research assistance. The Temple Israel Foundation is grateful to its donors who help make the exhibition and preservation of Leadville’s Jewish history possible and most particularly to the anonymous donors without whose support this entire enterprise would not have been possible.

Writing was revised in August of 2019

Temple Israel Foundation
208 West 8th Street
Leadville, Colorado 80461
303.709.7050

Temple Israel Museum
201 West 4th Street
Leadville, Colorado 80461
Wm.A.Korn@gmail.com

Hebrew Cemetery
SW Corner of Evergreen Cemetery
North end of James Street, Leadville
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