Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Latest Adventures 
Grass Valley Pioneer Jewish Cemetery
Photos courtesy Joe Vela

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mokelumne Hill Pioneer Jewish Cemetery

The tiny Jewish cemetery in Mokelumne Hill holds twelve graves. This burial ground is set apart by an iron fence and located in the back of the large old Protestant cemetery. Details and partial transcriptions of the headstones can be found in A Traveler's Guide to Pioneer Jewish Cemeteries of the California Gold Rush, by Susan Morris.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

How did they get here?

Click on map to enlarge

Emigrants to America
during the period of the
Gold Rush entered through Eastern seaboard ports or
New Orleans. New Orleans welcomed the second greatest
number of emigrants during this time frame (the largest
was New York). In fact, during the 1830's and 1840's, a
Jewish community was already established in New Orleans.
It's not surprising, given the French settlement of that port
and the political turmoil of the French Revolution that
extended into the early 1800's and reverberated throughout
Europe, that many of these Jewish emigrants were from the
Alsace Lorraine region of France and the German states
along the Rhine.

After an emigrant arrived on the Eastern seaboard, travel to the west coast was accomplished by one of three methods.

Overland Routes
The earliest travelers went overland by covered wagon or stagecoach. The Butterfield Overland Stage carried mail and passengers starting in 1858. It departed from Missouri and Tennessee, met at Fort Smith, Arkansas and continued through Indian Territory, New Mexico and Arizona to San Francisco. The western fare one way was $200, a very large sum in those days, and the trip took 22 days.

In 1861 this route was replaced by one from Missouri directly to Placerville (Placerville was one of the two mining towns in the Gold Country with an actual synagogue building). Stagecoach runs to the northern mining camps continued until the arrival of the U.S. Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.

There is little documented evidence of many Jews taking this route, perhaps because many of the earliest Jews to the Gold Rush were coming directly from Europe through New York or New Orleans. Later Jewish arrivals did come from the Eastern states, but by then transcontinental rail lines had been laid.

Sea Routes
The other alternatives were by sea. A hopeful miner could board a ship at an eastern port and sail around Cape Horn. The 18,000 mile voyage around the Horn took from five to eight months and traversed treacherous sea waters. Many died en route from disease and inadequate provisions.

This map is based upon one drawn during an 1849 voyage (note spelling of countries' names). Click to enlarge

More commonly, travelers went by a Federally subsidized U.S. Mail Steamship to Nicaragua, or to Chagres, on the east coast of the Isthmus of Panama. They disembarked, boarded a native “bungoe,” and were poled through malarial waters partway across the Isthmus. At Gorgona Station they joined a mule-train through the jungle, enduring heat and the contagion of cholera. The construction of the Panama railroad in 1855 slightly shortened the travel time and lessened some of the hazards of this portion of the trip.

At the west coast port of Panama City, emigrants waited for a Pacific Mail Steamship, sometimes for weeks. The town was comprised of brothels and gambling halls, and was rife with cholera. During the peak of the Gold Rush it was crowded with gold-seekers who waited and slept in tents or blankets on the beach.

A gifted reporter for the New York Tribune, Bayard Taylor, recounted his cholera-beset journey of 1849 in Eldorado, Adventures in the Path of Empire (reprinted by HeyDay Books, Berkeley, CA). The journey from New York to San Francisco took 51 days and included an overland trip by mule through the Isthmus of Panama.

Maps © Victoria Fisch 2010

Jacob Hyman - Pioneer Jewish Merchant

Jacob Hyman (1830-1902)

Born 1830 in one of the German states near the Rhine, Jacob Hyman was one of the pillars of the early business community of Folsom.

Jacob sailed from Europe sometime around 1851 and landed in New Orleans, the second largest port of entry to the United States for emigrants during that period. Several decades earlier a vibrant Jewish community had been established in Louisiana by Jews from France, perhaps a result of the political disquiet following the French Revolution, and of the industrial revolution that began in England at the close of the 18th century, when she still ruled the seas and English entrepreneurs made fortunes from the mechanization of the textile industry.

Jacob found employment with a local farmer and then moved to Mississippi, where he lived until 1854. As news of continued finds in the California Gold Rush spread, Jacob boarded a steamer that traveled to the Isthmus of Panama. Here he disembarked, and according to his descendants, made his way on foot across the country to the western port where ships took on passengers bound for San Francisco. In Panama City he took passage on the steamer, “John L. Stephens” and landed in San Francisco on July 1, 1854. The announcement of the same steamer's arrival in San Francisco three months later reported:

October 1, 1854

The John L. Stephens left Panama with 700 passengers.
Arrived San Francisco Running time, 12 days 17 hours.

In her last voyage she carried 1360 passengers and had no sickness or a death on board. The Isthmus is perfectly free from sickness of any kind. The roads are in fine order. The mule ride from Panama is accomplished with ease and the passengers and mail crossed the Isthmus in ten hours. The Isthmus Guard has accomplished wonders in freeing the country from robbers and rascals, and passengers travel "without risk to life or purse."

This was creative advertising. Along the route, Jacob contracted malaria, the great hazard of travelers on this overland passage, and the effects of which plagued him for the rest of his life. Although he was raised to keep kosher, apparently he subsisted on monkey meat to survive.

In the 1851 English census, shortly before Jacob's departure from Europe, a Jacob Hyman appears listed as a jeweler. In 1860 at Michigan Bluffs, Placer County, the region of the Northern Mines, a Jacob Hyman is enumerated similarly. It is quite possible that both listings are Jacob, as his great grandson affirmed that during his life as a merchant in Folsom, Jacob bought and assayed gold and acted as a pawnbroker. It was most probably shortly after this time that Jacob made his way to Mormon Island (a town formerly adjacent to present-day Folsom, but which was inundated in 1955 to create Folsom Lake) and clerked for a year in the store of a Mr. Levy. Jacob bought Levy's store and operated there for four more years.

In 1865, Jacob married Isabella “Belle” Stamper. Family lore is that their union was arranged by Belle's father, Wolf Stamper, a rabbi in New York. It is more likely that her brothers Joseph and Samuel, who worked with Jacob in "Granite City" (the original name of Folsom) suggested to Jacob that Belle would make him a good wife.

This same William “Wolf” Stamper established a congregation in lower Manhattan in 1849, but in 1865 after his daughter's marriage, moved with his wife and children to the Sacramento area. During the late 1860s Wolf was rabbi of the Sacramento synagogue, B'nai Israel, and assumed the duties of a moyel; a newspaper account of 1868 indicates he performed a bris in Sutters Creek, a mining community in the Gold Country. He later settled his family in the town of Woodland, southwest of Sacramento, which had a small Jewish community and a consecrated Jewish cemetery.

Another great-grandchild was told that Jacob Hyman went to New York to meet his bride. Perhaps it was on this trip that Jacob obtained a small torah, with a yod that had a ruby set into the hand. This torah remained in the family until the late 1990's, when it was stolen. The story passed down was that this was the first torah in California, but perhaps it was the first in Sacramento; the Jewish community in Oroville had a yod that was created 1859-1860 (presently in the collection of the Judah L. Magnes Museum with the inscription: Dedicated by H. Myers to the Oroville Hebrew Congregation 5620), and I assume that because the congregation had a yod that early, they probably had a torah as well.

As soon as the Civil War hostilities ceased, Belle traveled west by rail to St. Louis, up-river to St. Joseph, and by stagecoach to California. The Sacramento Union reported the marriage with the inclusion of the statement, “Isabella Stamper, daughter of Rev. William Stamper of New York City.”

In 1865, Jacob Hyman opened a business with Solomon Zekind. A year later, Jacob dissolved this partnership and the Folsom Telegraph reported that he was “now going it on his own hook. Mr. Hyman is well known to our citizens and has built up for himself a large and thriving business and always maintained the reputation of a fair and honest merchant. Give him a call.”

Jacob and Belle had four children, two daughters, Rose and Laura, and two sons, Isaac and Walter.

Walter Hyman was apparently a colorful character, and his grandson Richard recounted a family tale that when Walter Hyman was twenty, he found a gold vein of ore and sold it for a considerable sum. He installed himself in the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, and lived there for a year until his cash ran out. Walter strung the first power lines in Folsom, and many years later this company was sold to what became PG&E.

A few months before the birth of Jacob and Belle's first daughter in 1868, Hyman & Co. advertised that they were preparing to move into a new store. A year after the announcement, they were burglarized, the largest robbery that had ever occurred in Folsom. The Folsom Telegraph reported that the burglars "evidently muffled all noise with cotton batting and blankets as Joseph and Samuel Stamper slept in a building a few feet from the window broken into with crow bars."

By 1871, Jacob claimed he was ready to retire and a public auction was held to sell off the last of his stock. Apparently he had been in partnership with Joseph Stamper, his wife's brother, as the Telegraph reported the dissolution. Two years later Jacob and a new business associate were reported to “have opened a branch clothing and dry goods store at Woodland.” This is the same town to which Jacob's father-in-law retired.

In February 1881, Jacob purchased three lots in Folsom for $300. By April, Jacob had contracted with Carle & Croly of Sacramento to build a family residence, and in August the home was completed.

Contrary to his published announcement, Jacob continued to operate mercantiles under various names:

The Mammoth Clothing and Dry Goods Store
J. Hyman & Co. Mammoth Clothing and Dry Goods Emporium
The Mammoth Emporium, J. Hyman & Co.
Young America Dry Goods & Clothing Emporium
Jake Hyman's Emporium of Fashion

In 1896 Jacob finally retired. “Jake Hyman is retiring due to growing old; has disposed of his business to his son, Isaac, and daughter, Laura.” Isaac and Laura continued to run the store until its closing in 1940. Laura lived to a very old age in San Francisco, and when illness forced her move to a hospital, the family closed her apartment and discovered a loaded pistol sewn to her mattress.

On September 24, 1902, Jacob Hyman was “stricken with a paralytic stroke after attending a Republican Party rally,” and passed away in his home. He is buried in the section of Lakeside Cemetery that was originally the Folsom Jewish burial ground. After Jacob died, Belle lived with her daughter, and passed away on October 21, 1918.

The 1890 edition of the History of Sacramento County commended Jacob:

He has made good use of the little capital he brought with him to this State, by industry and perserverance. He is public-spirited, a Republican since he voted for Lincoln in 1860, a member of the Republican County Central Committee, and has always taken a great interest in public education. He has been a member of the Masonic order since 1860, of the Odd Fellows since 1872, a charter member of 1878 of the A.O.U.W., and has held offices in some of the lodges.”

Photos courtesy Rothschild family

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Jewish Merchants of Humboldt County

Nan Abrams is the only researcher to have documented and compiled the history of early Jewish settlers on the northern California coast. These enterprising merchants supplied provisions to miners in the mountainous region of Trinity County, west of Redding.

Placer mining (extraction of gold flakes and nuggets from the sand or gravel in stream beds) in Trinity County was joined by hard rock mining of ore in 1889. In 1893 it was reported that using a hydraulic process, gold output of the county remained at a high figure, and as late as 1918, these methods were still employed.1, 2

Here is Nan Abrams' brief chronology of the county's Jewish merchants, from 1852 to the turn of the century.

In the fall of 1849, miners were successfully panning and sluicing gold at Rich Bar, just north of what is now the town of Helena in Trinity County. The difficulty and expense of receiving supplies through the interior from Sacramento or San Francisco prompted Josiah Gregg and L.K. Wood to lead eight men to locate a route to the Pacific, hoping to find a harbor in which to bring supplies by ship. They set out on November 5th of 1849, and on December 13th, after many difficulties and near starvation, the party succeeded in their endeavor.

By spring of 1850 ships were landing at Trinidad and Humboldt bays, and suppliers and other adventurers made their way to the Trinity gold fields using the new trail from the coast. Within a few years, Jewish-owned mercantile shops could be found up and down the streets of the towns they helped create, including Union (later renamed Arcata), Eureka, Rohnerville, Hydesville, Fortuna, Blue Lake and Trinidad.

The earliest record of Jewish merchants is the rental of property in 1852 in Union by Henry Stern to Isaac Manheim, resulting in the formation of the firm of Spencer, Manheim & Stern. Manheim set up several family members in mercantile establishments all over the county, including the towns of Orleans, Hoopa, and Hydesville. Henry and Israel Fleishman were also early residents of Union and operated a mercantile. In 1855 Henry Fleishman traveled to Alameda to wed Miss Helen Goldsmith of New York, in a ceremony officiated by the Rev. (Rabbi) Dr. Eckman.

Augustus Jacoby built a famous Arcata landmark listed on the National Register of historic sites: the Jacoby Storehouse. Fires were commonplace and many businesses experienced devastating loss year after year, but Jacoby’s building still stands because he had the resources and foresight to build his storehouse of supplies for the miners from stone quarried from a nearby river. Census records note that he also owned a hotel.

In Eureka in 1853 a merchant named Moses Sichell closed his mercantile business, and along with his 17 year old nephew, was readying to return to San Francisco with their considerable profits. Some men from the local mill robbed them the night before their departure, murdered the nephew and severely injured Sichell. The men were arrested and hanged. This was the first hanging in Eureka and one of the few historical incidents involving Jews on the northern coast mentioned in other histories of the Gold Rush.

In 1854 Leavey & Company was also situated in Eureka. By 1856 Spencer & Kleiser, and Sinsheimer Dry Goods had stores in Union. In 1856 a Masonic Lodge was organized in Union and Augustus Jacoby, J. Manheim, and J(ohn) Fleishman were among its officers. The Fleishman brothers dissolved their partnership in 1857 and by 1858 Israel Fleishman had opened a store with Sinsheimer.

Rohner and Feigenbaum began their mercantile concern in 1859 in a southeast part of the county called Eel River, and established the town of Rohnerville. Other members of the Feigenbaum family operated businesses in Springville (eventually renamed Fortuna), and one of the Feigenbaums opened a store in Eureka in 1865.

In 1860 a merchant named Harmon Fleishman and his wife Lena took up residence in Arcata with their children. That same year the firms of Rohner & Feigenbaum and Isaac Manheim of Eel River agreed to no longer conduct business on the Christian Sabbath.3 Henry Manheim married Emma, August Jacoby’s sister in 1860.

Mrs. A Goldsmith ran her own mercantile business in Arcata and in 1866 left to return to the east coast permanently.

In 1867 Henry Fleishman and his family left Union and the local paper reported:
“H. Fleishman & Family left the County by steamer to live in the east. Mr. Fleishman was one of the early settlers of this county, residing and doing business in Arcata to the time of his departure. In his business relations he commanded universal respect & enjoyed the confidences of all who he dealt. Socially, few families had won & gathered about them more and better friends.”

That same year, Jacob Loewenthal, a man who was to become one of the community’s highest regarded citizens, arrived in Eureka on October 21 and began working as a clerk for B. Feigenbaum. He established his own clothing store at 2nd and F in Eureka in 1874 and was in business for more than 40 years. The original storefronts are still standing in Old Town Eureka.

A new merchant in town, Joseph Greenbaum, purchased Henry Fleishman’s business in Hoopa and Arcata (housed in Jacoby’s Storehouse) in 1866. Five years later Greenbaum purchased a building in Block 6 in Eureka. On this same block, Henry Reilinger established a mercantile business and was soon joined by his wife’s family, the Galingers and the Greenwalds; the latter who became prominent citizens of Arcata.

In 1885, Joseph L Cohen, formerly with I. Culberg of Arcata, partnered with J.S. Thornton to open a mercantile business and hotel at New River, and is considered one of the founders of the town (now known as Denny).

In Eureka in 1886 H. Reilinger built a store, his brother-in-law, Julius Greenwald, opened his dry goods business on the northwest corner of Arcata Plaza, and H. Cohn & Co. Importers & Wholesale Dealers, were located on 2nd St. One year later Lewis C. Cohen opened the Alhambra Cigar store.

In July of 1861 Augustus Jacoby’s wife, Elizabeth died. Her headstone, pictured above, can be found in the Greenwood Cemetery in Arcata. This possibly prompted Jacoby and his daughter Bertha to leave the county and move to New York. A friend visited them there in 1892 and reported on the good health of both, but shortly after that Augustus Jacoby passed away.

1892 was a banner year for Jewish merchants in Eureka. One could find Steinberg’s Bazaar: Crockery, Glassware, Etc., A. Lazarus: Jewelry & Watchmaker, and N. Kalischer & Co. Dry Goods. J. Levy had a dry goods store on the Arcata Plaza and M. Kalisch & Co: Commission Merchants from San Francisco, did business in Eureka as well.

The Jacobs brothers opened The Red Front and Blue Front stores on 2nd and F in 1897. They were able to keep their stores open on Sunday mornings. In 1902 A. Crocker & Bros. Ladies Clothier was on 3rd and F and Mr. L.J. Greenberg was the manager. Jake Lowenthal opened a store on Main St. in Ferndale.

These names represent fifty years of Jewish merchants from the Gold Rush to the turn of the century. There is no evidence of an organized Jewish community, although in the 1920's a group of Jewish families attempted to start a “Hebrew Social Club.” After the initial newspaper report no further documentation is available, and none of the founders mentioned seem to have remained in Humboldt County. These included F.S. Diamond, Marie Diamond, Mrs. M. Sallan, M. Blum, J. Greenberg, and the Shelly, Powell and Benjamin families.

The Jewish residents who arrived later, sometimes buying into businesses started by these early pioneers, built Temple Beth El in Eureka in the 1950's. It was the only synagogue on the west coast between Ukiah and Portland.


1. G. Chester Brown, Field Assistant. Mines and Mineral Resources of Shasta County, Siskiyou County, Trinity County California State Mining Bureau, Ferry Building, San Francisco, California State Printing Office, 1915.

2. Northwest of Weaverville, La Grange, the largest placer mine in the world, operated from 1862 to 1918.

3. Sunday sabbath legislation was proposed in the California Senate and Assembly and bills were passed in 1855 for “the suppression of amusements and business activity on the Christian Sabbath” but repealed in 1883. The Jewish businessmen, for the most part, supported these laws.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A little more on Albert Michelson's work and the family home

"El Jefe" at Twisted Oak Winery wrote:

The technique Michelson invented to measure the speed of light (the interferometer), and for which he won the prize, is now being used to make "very large arrays" of telescopes - which astronomers are using to see even farther into space.

The original house was the two front rooms, and behind those was the kitchen porch. The parents and four children lived in those two rooms for about ten years. A large sitting room, bedroom, and indoor plumbing were added on in the 1870s, along with a side building and barn - from which the original Mercer Cavern tours were conducted. The original kitchen porch became the sitting room and is where we have our tasting room today. If you stand at the right end of the bar, you are standing over the well - at least they had running water in the kitchen!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Albert Abraham Michelson

Albert Abraham Michelson was
the first American to receive the Nobel Prize in sciences. He was born in Strzelno, Prussia (which became Poland) on 19 December 1852 to Samuel Michelson and Rozalia Przylubski. In 1855 the family emigrated to the United States. They made their way to the town of Murphys, located in the heart of the California Gold Country, where Samuel became a merchant to the mining community.

These photos were taken at the family home in Murphys, and the residence is commemorated by a plaque. The house is now a tasting room for Twisted Oak Winery, a few miles away in Vallecito, and I persuaded the girl pouring to show me the original portion of the building. It consisted of the two front rooms, which are now used for storage, and an outdoor kitchen.

Samuel Michelson moved his family to Virginia City, Nevada, presumably to take advantage of the Comstock strike and the influx of miners to that area. Albert was sent to San Francisco to live with his father's sister, Henriette Levy and attend high school.

In 1869 Michelson went to Annapolis Naval Academy and after graduation and two years at sea returned as a science instructor. While there he performed experiments to determine the velocity of light and decided upon a career in physics. He traveled to Europe and studied at the universities of Berlin, Heidelberg, and Paris. In 1882 he took a position at the Case School of Applied Science and collaborated with the chemist Edward Morley in several experiments. These were recognized by the scientific community as the most significant of several kinds of attempts to measure the velocity of the earth through the ether, a substance that scientists believed filled the universe (the experiment determined that ether did not exist),

From 1889 to 1892 Michelson was a professor of physics at Clark University and from 1892 to 1929 was head of the physics department at the University of Chicago. He was among the founders of The American Physical Society and its second president.

He was the first American scientist to win a Nobel Prize (1907) and the first person to measure the angular diameter of a star. He focused on surpassing his own measurements of the velocity of light, which he achieved in1926. He died in 1931 as he was writing up his results and is buried in Pasadena.