LOOKING BACK: Some Jewish History

Jefferson County Historical Society submitted the following article:

[PHOTO: In 2014 members of the Center for the Study of Jewish Life in Central Pennsylvania visited the Punxsutawney Area Historical and Genealogical Society where they viewed religious artifacts from the Chevra Agudas Achim Congregation. (JCHS Photograph)]

Submitted by Carole Briggs


We know from early historians like Scott and McKnight that Jefferson County was settled mainly by people of Scots-Irish and German backgrounds. Belgians who’d settled in Elk County first in mid-century, then more came when the glass factory opened. Coal mining brought folks from eastern and southern Europe. People from China arrived and did laundry and there has been a presence of black Americans from the time of the arrival of Fudgeon VanCamp about 1805.

We know, too, that like other folks, Jewish peddlers came through the area. According to historian Bruce Bazelone, “only a few came at first, often as pack peddlers or minor merchants, but not, like most of their neighbors, as farmers. They were joined eventually by relatives and fellow countrymen, forming a community and building a synagogue in their adopted town.”

David Frank (perhaps named Simon David) and his wife, Harriet, who were both born in Germany, arrived in Brookville quite early, and according to Scott, established a retail business. He did quite well because for the 1860 U. S. Census, he calculated his worth in both real estate and personal belongings as $11,099 (more than a quarter million dollars in today’s terms).

For a brief time, he owned the Globe Hotel (Columbia Theater/Scarlet Cord). David’s and Henrietta? raised six children, including a daughter named Rosetta, who married Nathan G. Edelblute, who built the building that now houses the Jefferson County History Center.

David Frank was Jewish. He died in 1965, many years prior to the founding of the Chevra Agudas Achim Congregation in Punxsutawney.

Another Jewish man of the county was Sam Light of Groundhog fame. His father arrived because of the burgeoning coal industry and by the 1930s, Sam was operating the company his father bought. He married a Pittsburgh woman and in 1952 became president of the Groundhog Club. We don’t know if the Lights attended the little synagogue that was chartered in 1886. The building was dedicated in 1900 and McKnight records that there were 300 heads of Jewish families, certainly a significant number. During the 20th century that number dwindled and eventually the Chevra Agudas Achim synagogue closed its doors.

[email protected] County Historical Society, Inc.

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