Centerville Daily Iowegian
Published in Centerville, Iowa
Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bill Heusinkveld - Correspondent

Jewish Immigration to Centerville

There was a wave of immigration from Russia to the United States in the late 1800s.   In the 1890s and early 1900s there was a rather large, energetic and community minded group of about 50 Jewish families who established businesses, built houses and left an enduring mark on Centerville.  It is sad that almost all have left.

Aaron Greenspan was one of the first Jewish families to locate in Centerville.   The year was 1885.   There were many others that followed, once the nucleus had been established.   Some of these were the families of J. Friedlander, M. Futeronsky, J. Feffer, H. Cohn and O. Lazar.   In 1890 there were seven Jewish families here.  Mr. and Mrs. Nate Chapman came that year.

Those established here in business soon turned their thoughts to their religious life.   They organized their congregation in 1892 and built their synagogue, which still stands at the corner of Terry and Fifteenth Streets.   The building has been converted to other uses since that time, since most of the Jewish people have left.

Jake Friedlander was the first president of the Congregation B'nai Israel.   Dave Bromberg was vice president, and H. Chapman was treasurer.   Others were A. Grinspan, M. Futeronsky, M. Hirshber, N. Chapman, M. Ritchell, A. Leibman, S. Gaba, S. Toub, S. Hirschber, L. Melcher, C. H. Toub and J. Schutzbank.   The synagogue was built in 1894 with A. Israel, E.M. Cohn, T. Titel and J. Feffer trustees.   The first Rabbi was Rabbi Kertzok, succeeded in a few monts by Rabbi Israel who served for five years.   They were followed by Rabbis Domp, Levinson, Adelman, Shulman, Babrov, Hirah, Itkin and Kramer.

Some of the Jewish people gravitated to various commercial enterprises.   One of these was Lewis Salinger, born in Poland in 1865.   Lewis attended school in Poland, but laid his books aside to come to America in 1882.   For two years he worked as a bookkeeper at a wholesale house in Des Moines.   While there he married Miss Rose Gottstein, also from Poland.  For a time, Lewis was in the jewelry business in St. Paul, Minn.   He moved to Centerville in 1895, being influenced by the failing health of his wife.   He established himself in the general merchandise business.   In 1903 he formed a partnership with Abe Goldstein under the firm name of Salinger and Goldstein.   They owned and operated a fashionable department store in a modern two-story building where Spurgeons was later located.   They also owned the Grand Leader, dealing in dry goods, carpets and cloaks.

Abe Goldstein was born in St. Paul, Minn. in 1880, a son of Reuben and Esther Goldstein, who were natives of Russia.  He learned the merchandising business from his parents and came to Centerville in 1902.   In 1903 he married Miss Anna Chapman whose parents were also natives of Russia.

It is interesting that these two successful business partners were also close friends and built houses next to each other on Drake Avenue.   Lewis Salinger built his fine mansion at 412 Drake in about 1896.  This is the home later owned by Winford Dukes, Jack and Jody Elgin and now Ernest and Shirley Conger.  Abe Goldstein built his home just to the south at 500 Drake about 1901.   It is a large two-story house with an imposing front porch.   Its oak woodwork, a large entry hall and open stairway were features of that period.   It was later purchased by the Presbyterian Church and has been the home of a series of Presbyterian ministers.

In 1905 the Ladies Hebrew Aid Society was organized with Mrs. Aaron Grinspan president.   They raised funds to rebuild the parsonage, among other things.

The congregation was reorganized in 1912 with L. Salinger as president, L. Berstein, vice-president, Sam Rosenbaum, secretary and Abe Goldstein, treasurer.   Trustees were J. Rosenbaum, J.J. Frankel, L. Bromberg, M. Chapman, S. Strichman, A. Davis, N. Chapman and J. Steinberg.

Joseph J. Frankel was another native of Poland.   He came to America in 1900 and worked in Aaron Grinspan's store, call the Peoria Mercantile Co.   He married their daughter Minnie and eventually took over the business.   The Frankels lived in another fine old mansion at 800 Drake Ave., a home now being renovated to its original design by David and Valerie Armington.

When World War I came, seven sons of Jewish families went into service, all returning safely.   The congregation was very generous in relief to their kin in Europe, besides being in the forefront in local enterprises.   J. W. Shkolnick was a president of the congregation for several years after the war.  The organization held to their faith, steady in loyalty to religious ideals, and they sought to be a constructive influence in the community.

I imagine that many of you readers have never seen the Hebrew Cemetery or may not even know of its existence.  It is located in the extreme north part of Centerville, west of Highway No. 5.   It can be found by going north from Tiki Marina on North 18th St.   The fenced cemetery is the on the right, as proclaimed by the large wrought iron sign with words "Hebrew Cemetery - In Memoriam of Rose Ritchell - 1861 to 1919".   There is a deed for one acre from Alfred Coatney to B'nai Israel dated May 7, 1892.   However the area seems to be only about 75 square feet now.

The cemetery is on a fairly steep slope.   There are many fine stones in a well-shaded peaceful area.   One of my old  bowling pals, Oscar Gravronsky, who ran Reliable Culvert, is buried there.

In later years, the Jewish population in Centerville dwindled as many of the families moved away.  Some of them moved to Chicago where there were better opportunities.  The church building was sold to the Church of the Epiphany in the early 1980s.   The appearance of the Church was then altered by the addition of a large cross and later, a handicap entrance was added.   The cemetery remains though most of the people are gone.