Today is June 29, 2017 -
Member of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
177 Speedwell Avenue
Morristown, NJ 07960
Early Jewish History in Morristown
Posted on October 06, 2014
by Carl B. Scherzer
The year 1654 marks the beginning of American Jewry, for in September of that year a group of twenty-three bedraggled and virtually penniless Sephardic Jews arrived at New Amsterdam from Recife, Brazil, aboard the boat St. Charles, often called the “Jewish Mayflower.” (The first Jewish settler recorded in Manhattan was a German Jew who arrived early in 1654. No one knows what became of him, and his importance to history was overshadowed by the arrival of the Sephardic Jews a few months later). The members of this little band were descendants of the Jews who had been forced to leave Spain and Portugal in the fifteenth century.
In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic monarchs, ordered all Jews to adopt Christianity or depart Spain by August 1 of that year, and in 1497 Portugal also issued an edict of expulsion. Jews who would not convert fled and scattered to Italy, Turkey, Hamburg, and to various Baltic ports. Many settled in tolerant Holland, and when the Dutch conquered Recife in 1630 and encouraged settlers to go there and form colonies, a large number of Jews migrated to South America, where they lived for a few years in peace.
But in January, 1654, Recife was reconquered by the Portuguese making it no longer safe for Jews. They were forced to flee once more. The refugees aboard the St. Charles were in the last stage of an exodus of the ancient Sephardic culture from the Iberian Peninsula,
The old, important Sephardic families of New York, many of them descended from the St. Charles passengers, include the Hendrickses, the Cardozos, the Baruchs, the Lazaruses, the Nathans, the Solises, the Gomezes, the Lopezes, the Lindos, the Lombrosos, and the Seixases.
In recent years, the most prominent of the descendants of these early Sephardim have been Associate Justice Benjamin Cardozo of the United States Supreme Court and Bernard Baruch, the adviser of Presidents.
None of the Sephardic Jews settled in Morristown. But in 1818, the Hendrickses played a role in the construction of the steamship Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic. Morristonians point with pride to Stephen Vail’s accomplishment of constructing all the machinery for this vessel, except for its boiler, in the Speedwell Iron Works at Morristown. This was one of Morristown1s most noteworthy enterprises. Harmon Hendricks of New York, who had a copper store in Mill Street (now South William Street) and a factory in Belleville, New Jersey, which was the first copper-rolling mill in the country, supplied the copper for the vessel’s boiler.
His Savannah cousins, under the Anglicanized name of Henry, and his relatives, the Minis family, also of Savannah, were stockholders in this venture. When Hendricks died in the 1840s, it is said that he was immensely wealthy, leaving over $3 million and a considerable amount of valuable real estate.
In Europe, Jews had not customarily participated in warfare. Many, however, took part wholeheartedly in the American Revolution. Two Jewish officers, Benjamin Nones and Colonel Isaac Franks, served on Washington’s staff. At Valley Forge, Philip Moses Russel, surgeon’s mate of the Second Virginia Regiment, helped care for frostbitten and ill soldiers. (He may have been in Morristown with this regiment in 1777.) Major David Franks served on the staff of Benedict Arnold and because of this association he barely avoided the stigma of treason associated with his commander. After the war, he insisted upon a court of inquiry to clear him of any lingering doubt of his innocence. A “Jews Company,” so called because 26 Jews served in its ranks, was recruited in the State of South Carolina. Four members of the Pinto family of Connecticut served in the Continental Army. Haym Saloman played an important role in financing the Revolution, but contrary to popular belief he did not single-handedly finance the war, as other prominent Jews also shared this role including Manuel Josephson, Mordecai Sheftall, Moses Hays, Isaac Moses, David Franks and various members of the Minis family.
It can be proved that at least one Jewish soldier was with the Continental Army during its encampments at Morristown. It is a matter of record that Major David Franks testified at the court-martial of Benedict Arnold, which was held in Dickerson’s Tavern in December, 1779, and January, 1780. He may have been the first Jew to set foot in Morristown.
In 1790 there were about 3,000 Jews in America. After 1800, they were supplemented yearly by several hundred new arrivals as the German Jews began to trickle in, so that by 1830 the Jewish population had reached about 6,000. Between 1830 and 1840 the figure jumped to 16,000 and thereafter it climbed at an even more rapid rate, reaching 20,000 by 1848 and 150,000 by 1860. There were a quarter of a million Jews in the United States by 1880, most of whom had migrated from Germany.
Though the exodus of the German Jews was an integral part of a general German emigration, their motives for seeking a new home differed substantially from those of their fellow German immigrants. The latter migrated as family units, but the bulk of the Jewish immigrants were single men whose abandonment of their homeland was prompted by a deterioration of the economic and social situation of German Jewry between 1815 and 1848. These German Jewish immigrants came largely from the rural areas of Bavaria, where it was nearly impossible to earn a living. Most of them crossed the Atlantic in steerage.
It was in the traditional role of peddlers that German Jews made their living and their first impact on the economy. Peddling attracted them for a practical reason–it offered a rapid means of accumulating capital while at the same time requiring almost no capital to start with. Moreover, the Jewish merchandising connection was already established and could serve as sponsors and models for later arrivals.
From the outset, few thought of peddling as a permanent occupation. It was to lead to bigger and better things. If fortune looked favorably upon him, the peddler could hope to become a “wagon baron,” with a kind of ambulatory department store on wheels, or to peddle special items like jewelry and become a “jewelry count”. Finally, he might become a “store prince”.
Peddling was hard work. The peddler rose early in the morning to walk from twelve to fifteen miles a day with a pack weighing from one hundred to one hundred and fifty pounds strapped to his back, over all kinds of terrain and in all kinds of weather. He did this every day, except weekends, and often spent the entire week on the road. It is not strange that he dreamed of better things and did everything possible to make his dreams come true.
Henry Sire and Rosena Sire, his wife, settled in Morristown before the Civil War. They were German Jews and were related to the Sire family of Morris Plains. Henry Sire was a horse dealer and he had a large stable on Speedwell Avenue just north of Spring Street. He also had a smaller barn behind his home on Early Street. It is said that Sire did a considerable business during the Civil War selling remounts to the Union cavalry. On Marcy 10, 1860, a son was born to the Sires and was named Benjamin. He may have been the first Jewish child born in Morristown. Later, the Sires had another son, William.
Benjamin married Celia Schloss, a native of Newark. She was born March 30, 1867. The Sires belonged to a reform congregation in Newark and they are buried in its cemetery. This couple had only one child, Albert Jerome Sire, who was born in Morristown January 19, 1891.
When Ben became of age his father made him his business partner, and named the firm “Henry Sire & Son.” After Henry’s death on December 27, 1894, Ben and William became partners trading as “B. Sire & Brother”. The Sires traveled to the horse-breeding farms in the Midwest to purchase horses which they shipped by rail to Morristown. After the young, frisky horses were unloaded at the Lackawanna freight yard, they were herded up Morris and Spring streets to the Sire barns. Old residents recall that this lively spectacle drew a large crowd of onlookers.
Albert continued the family business to some extent after his father’s death, which occurred on November 17, 1926, but the automobile had put an end to the once flourishing horse dealing business, so Al very successfully invested in stocks and bonds. Everyday, he visited the office of his stockbroker and watched the stock prices come over the ticker. He was a shrewd judge of stock and he never took the advice of others, including his broker, but made all his own decisions as to what to buy and when to buy or sell. Notwithstanding his affluence, he never lived pretentiously.
Al died November 20, 1971, and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery, Morristown. His bequests were spread among a cousin, a few close friends and many Morristown institutions. Memorial Hospital and All Souls Hospital (now Community Medical Center) each received $100,000. St. Margaret’s Church, the First Presbyterian Church on the Green, the Morristown Jewish Center and the Bethel A.M.E. Church benefited to the extent of $25,000 each. He devised the residue of his estate to his native town of Morristown to be used “toward the construction of a new Municipal Building with the provision that some part or room in said building be designated as a gift from Albert Sire.”
Al was probably the only person in Morristown to own an elephant. Many years ago a circus which had performed in Morristown found that it could not pay for the rental of the field it had used and it was not permitted to leave town until its debt was paid. Al furnished the circus enough funds to settle its local obligations and in return received an elephant. He kept the pachyderm on a local farm until he could find a market for it.
Al was not considered to be a member of the local Jewish community. However, as he bequeathed the Morristown Jewish Center a substantial amount of money a memorial plaque was affixed to a wall in the Center in his honor.
Another German Jewish family,that of Samuel and Deborah Sam, settled in Morristown before 1860. Samuel, a tailor, was born in Bavaria in 1815. The Sams had seven children listed in the Census of 1860. Two of them were born in New York and five in New Jersey. It is not known whether any of these children were born in Morristown. The 1868 atlas shows that at that time Samuel Sam owned a lot on the southeast corner of Speedwell Avenue and Flagler Street.
Shortly after the Civil War a number of German Jews established businesses in Morristown. S. Rosenberg and Sons opened a dry goods and fancy goods store on West Park Place, and it is listed on Beer’s 1868 atlas of Morristown. E. Rosenberg was one of the sons.
Another member of the family, G. Rosenberg, operated the stables in the rear of the Mansion House Hotel on Washington Street. The Rosenbergs lived over their store on Park Place.
In the 1880s Barney Sire lived on the corner of Maple Avenue and Market Street. He ran a livery stable and sold and exchanged : horses. His stable was located on Market Street next to the Farmer’s Hotel, which was situated on the site of the present Morristown Typewriter Exchange. Barney Sire was born in Germany, the first son of Henry and Rosena Sire.
Soloman Sam, during the 1880s, operated a cigar and tobacco store on North Park Place next to the old Post Office. Mayer Sam and Jacob Sam, trading as Mayer Sam & Co. sold shoes in the same store. The Sams lived on Court Street.
In the early 1870s, Isaac Rosenfeld lived on South Street. His occupation is unknown.
Old residents who attended the Maple Avenue School during the 1880s fondly recalled Mrs. Rachel Stine’s candy store on Market Street. This store was situated opposite Maple Avenue next to the narrow foot-lane that runs between Market and Bank streets. Some claim that the very entertaining old Mr. Stine, who appeared on television a few years ago in the show “Life Begins at Eighty,” was Mrs. Stine’s son and was born in Morristown. If this is true, Gene Shalit is not Morristown’s first nationally known television personality of Jewish ancestry.
The year 1881 signaled the beginning of the massive influx of
eastern and central European Jews into the United States. This
migration lasted from 1881 to 1924, and it was particularly heavy
from Russia, as Russian Jews comprised almost 72 per cent of the
total. This was due to the Russian government’s determination,
after the assassination of Alexander II in 1881, to rid the country
of-Jews by any means possible. Russia’s defeat in the Russo-Japanese
War was also blamed on the hapless Jews. Government-encouraged
pogroms became a matter of official policy and the bloody massacres
that occurred hastened the departure of the Jews. Of the 4,200,000
Jews living in America in 1928, 3,000,000 were of east European
The influx of several millions of additional Jews totally altered the demographic and cultural profile of American Jewry. Morristown’s Jewry is composed, with a very few exceptions, of eastern and central European Jews and their descendants. In earlier years, Jews were probably attracted to Morristown by the outstanding mercantile opportunities that were afforded here. In recent years many Jewish professional people have moved to the Morristown area.
As far as can now be ascertained the first of the central or eastern European Jews to come to Morristown in the early 1890s was Meyer Lewis Friedman, father of Dr. Abram Friedman and grandfather of Dr. Myron Friedman. After his marriage to Sarah Nachimof,
Meyer migrated from Poland to New York, where he stayed for a time before moving to Plainfield, where Abram was born. The elder Friedman was a cobbler and he carried his equipment on his back from place to place repairing shoes, and is known to have covered the countryside as far as Bernardsville.
In May, 1893, Meyer moved to Morristown and established the shoe store which was later operated by his son, Abram. Meyer was one of the founders of The House of Israel and of the Beth Israel Cemetery. He was also one of the founders of the Jewish Order of the Brith Abraham, No. 375.
Abram Friedman was educated in the Morristown School system and graduated from Morristown High School in 1912. He then attended the First Institute of Podiatry where he was president of his class.
He began his professional career in New York City, where he remained until the death of his father in 1916, when he came back to Morristown and took over the shoe store which his father and mother had founded and operated. After taking over the shoe business, however, he did not give up his profession, but continued practice, specializing in orthopedics.
Dr. Friedman was an excellent violinist and for a time conducted a music school as well as his other businesses.
He managed the Morristown Orchestral Society, an inter-religious group, from its organization about 1920, and at times was its leader. He was also its first violinist. Violin virtuoso Elsa Stevenson, another local resident, was often soloist for the orchestra. Its guest conductor was Christian Kriens. The orchestra rehearsed at the Jewish Center.
Jacob and Leopold Stiner, trading as Stiner Brothers, opened one of the largest and most up-to-date grocery and liquor stores in Morris County somewhere between 1893 and 1896. It was set up to compete with the existing local establishments for the trade of the numerous wealthy families living in and near the town. At that time, Morristown was in the midst of its “Golden Age,” when it was one of the most affluent towns in the nation. Socially, a Morristown address was then prestigious and therefore very desirable.
The Stiners, unlike other Jewish merchants then opening businesses in town, were apparently financially strong when they came here, for they immediately selected a large store adjoining what is now Greenberger’s on Speedwell Avenue, one of the choicest locations in town. The brothers stocked it with the best foods and liquors available. The store was called “The Big Store” and Jacob Stiner later carried this name on his billhead. At one time this establishment had five or six team-drawn delivery wagons busily delivering orders.
The Stiners also had a large horse-drawn truck to haul goods from supply houses in the city. When there was a deep snow, large sleighs were used to make deliveries.
Stiner Brothers quartered their horses and stored their wagons and sleighs in a large brick stable in the rear of what is now Bamberger’s store. Their equipment was well painted and showy. It was painted fire-engine red and, after Jacob Stiner became sole owner of the business, a large J. S. was painted on each side of the vehicles. Their horses were always well groomed and the harness well polished, for Morristown was then a showplace and the Stiners desired to be a credit to it.
When the Stiners came to Morristown they already had two stores in Newark, one on McWhorter Street and the other on Garden Street. Leopold and his son, Joseph, ran the Morristown store and lived in the United States Hotel, which formerly stood on the site of the Park Square Building. Jacob, at that time, stayed in Newark and managed the two older stores.
On June 19, 1898, Stiner Brothers store suffered considerable damage when a fire started in the rear section of it. That store and adjoining stores occupied by John Little’s bakery and P.J. Howard’s shoe store were considerably damaged by water, causing a complaint to be made because of the excessive amount of water used. Old firemen nostalgically recalled the large quantity of choice liquor “salvaged” during the course of the fire. Perhaps it was the liberal amount of liquor the fireman consumed that caused the overenthusiastic use of water.
In-1901, when Willis Button went into the business of selling automobiles, Jacob and Leopold Stiner each bought from him an electric model with batteries that had to be charged every forty miles. Jacob purchased a two-seated surrey and Leopold chose a one-seated surrey. The Stiners were probably the first Jews in Morristown to acquire “horseless carriages.”
Jacob Stiner’s store was closed in 1918.
The Stiner family came from Germany to the United States about 1863. Jacob Stiner was born in Germany in 1856 and died in 1927. His wife was born in 1854 and died in Morristown in 1938. They lived at 55 Western Avenue, in a house they purchased in 1901. Their daughter, Julia, married Ira Dorman. Ira was a native of New York and Julia was born in Newark. The Dormans, who came to Morristown in 1906, had two sons, Millard and Edward, Edward still resides in Morristown and’ Millard lives in Florida and New York.
The Mintz family was one of the first of the eastern European Jewish families to arrive in Morristown. The Mintzes were natives of Abolnik, Lithuania. By 1897, there were seven Mintz boys living at 4 Race Street and six of them were in business. Abraham and Harry had a dry goods store at 33 Speedwell Avenue, while Hyman was a huckster. Jacob and James were ragpickers and Max was a peddler. Apparently Nathan was at that time too young to work.
Abraham and Harry purchased 4 Race Street from Sarah L. Beekman and husband on January 24, 1895, for $1,700. They were able to make a down payment of $600 and the Beekmans took back a mortgage of $1,100. The Beekmans reserved the right to occupy the basement and first floor for two months while the Mintzes were to take immediate possession of the second floor. At the time the house was purchased, the two Mintzes were living in Morristown.
Abraham was the first of the family to come to Morristown and Harry joined him a little later. Harry married Pauline Elgart of Colchester, Connecticut. She was the only girl in a family of eleven children. Two of her brothers followed her to Morristown; Barney, who worked for years in the clothing store of H. & J. Mintz, and Abraham, who was one of the founders of Elblum Holding Corporation, Morristown’s largest real estate owner. Jacob Elgart, who lives in Brooklyn, is now the only survivor of the eleven Elgart children.
Max Mintz became a prosperous cattle dealer and he also acquired considerable Morristown real estate.
Some of the descendants of the Mintz brothers still reside in
Morristown and are active in professional, business and community
The dwelling at 4 Race Street that Abraham and Harry Mintz purchased on January 24, 1895, was the most historic house in the religious history of Morristown’s Jewish community, for it was here that the first minyan was held. When the first Ashkenazic Jews settled in Morristown, in the 1890s, it was necessary for them to travel to the large cities in the New York Metropolitan area to attend services on the High Holy Days. They did this for the first couple of years but, as this was very inconvenient, they decided to hold their own services in their own neighborhood. Accordingly, the small group of local Jews got together and delegated Abraham and Harry Mintz to make a trip to the East Side of New York to purchase a Torah and each pledged $5 towards its cost. The brothers fulfilled their mission by obtaining one for $35 at a scrivener’s not far from the Bowery. A short time later, the first minyan was held in the home of the Mintz brothers. At that time there was a small Jewish colony on Race Street, and it was the men from this area who made up the first congregation. Vogt Brothers Morris County Directory for 1897-8 lists seven male members of the Mintz family living at 4 Race Street. Six of these were probably old enough to attend the minyan. Meyer Friedman, Hyman Fine, Elias Kling, Abraham Ossre and Bene Rosenblatt probably were also present.
It was also at a meeting held on September 17, 1898, in the Mintz house that the incorporation of The House of Israel of Morristown, New Jersey, was authorized. The organization was incorporated on January 5, 1899, when the original trustees, Benjamin Rosenblatt (he signed Bene Roseblatt), Abraham Mintz and Herman (Hyman) Fine, signed the certificate of incorporation.
For the 25th anniversary of the founding of the organization, Mrs. Harry Mintz had the cover of the old Torah replaced in memory of her mother, Mrs. Elgart.
The old Mintz house was torn down about 1950 to make way for the Pocahontas housing project.
Abraham Ossre, better known to his friends and customers as “Curly,” came directly to Morristown from Kupiskis, Lithuania in 1895. He was then eighteen years of age. Curly was the only member of his family to come to America as his father and mother and the remainder of their brood migrated to Africa. Three years after his arrival in Morristown he married his childhood sweetheart, Rose Joffe. The newlyweds established residence in a house on Race Street, where a little group of recently arrived eastern European Jews had established a colony. The Ossres’ first child, Lillian, now Mrs. Isedor Cohen, was born there on November 25, 1900. The next two children were born in an apartment over what is now Frank’s Fish Market at 106 Speedwell Avenue. Marcus was born in 1905 and Dorothy in 1907. The last child, Elizabeth, was born in 1909 in a house on Columba Street, which was then in an exclusively Irish neighborhood; Bishop Wigger of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Newark had developed the tract to provide house sites for Irish immigrants.
Curly at first peddled vegetables, fruits and fish by carrying his wares in a pack on his back. As a sideline, he did some photography. Later he was able to afford a horse and wagon. He had a regular route through Mendham, Basking Ridge, Brookside, Green Village and New Vernon. It took a day to cover each area. Ossre in later years purchased a motor truck, and very early each morning he drove it to Newark to secure a truckload of produce at the wholesale market. On his return to Morristown he transferred the load to his wagon and then started out on his route.
David S. Salny and his brother, Harry I. Salny, migrated from Russia to New York with their family about 1889. (David was born July 28,1875, and Harry was born May 17, 1878.) The Salny family was a large one, with eleven children–nine girls and two boys. After arriving in New York fourteen-year-old David immediately began to peddle in an area as far west as Plainfield, while eleven-year-old Harry was sent to Colchester, Connecticut, where some relatives had previously settled. The brothers were so successful peddling that within a short time each was able to purchase a one-horse wagon to facilitate their work. By 1895, David has accumulated enough funds to look about for a store. He came to Morristown in that year and purchased the stock and fixtures of a ladies wear and notion store then owned and operated by a Mrs. Weston. This cost David $180 which he paid partly in cash and partly by taking over the rent which was then in arrears. This store was located on Speedwell Avenue nearly opposite High Street. After a year he took his brother Harry into partnership with him. The brothers also drove a wagon, which they bought for $5, all over the countryside selling clothing and sundries. They alternated in the store and on the road. The business increased so rapidly in the next two years that the little fifteen by twenty foot store became too small. When the landlord refused to enlarge their store, the brothers purchased an old building across the street near the corner of High Street. They tore the old structure down and built a new one.
Two of the eleven Salny children married Morristown men; Anna married Jacob Levien and Yetta married Hyman (Herman) Fine.
About 1900, Mr. and Mrs. Morris P. Greenberger moved out from Newark when he became ill in order to take advantage of Morristown’s healthful atmosphere. Mrs. Greenberger was a Buechler and she was related to the Finkelsteins and the Fisches. Mrs. Fisch was her sister. The Greenberger and Buechler families came to this country from Hungary.
Therese Greenberger opened her “French Millinery Store” on Speedwell Avenue shortly after coming to town. At about the same time, Therese’s first cousin, Harry Buechler, opened a shoe store next to the “French Millinery,” which he ran for many years. In those days milliners bought hat frames and designed and made their own creations, usually to order. Most women’s hats at that time were very ornate and were usually heavily decorated with handmade flowers. The millinery was so successful that the proprietors decided to enlarge the store and convert it into a department store. They called the new store “M.P. Greenberger” and it was a great success. Two of the sons, Benjamin (Ben) and Gerald (Jerry), took over the management of the family enterprise. When parking became a problem the Greenbergers built the first off-street parking lot in town. It was located on High Street behind the store.
In recent years, the Greenbergers completely remodeled the store and constructed an attractive Colonial-style exterior on the front. The department store was discontinued some years ago and the store now specializes in interior furnishings. It has changed its name . to “Greenberger Interiors.”
There were six Greenberger children–Hattie, Rose, Benjamin, Gerald, Arthur and Harry.
Joseph Finkelstein and Gisella Finkelstein (nee Lebovitz) were born in Czechoslovakia, then a part of Austria-Hungry. He was a Hebrew of Austrian, Hungarian and German ancestry and she was a Hebrew of Hungarian and Polish descent. Gisella came from a family that had eight children, five girls and three boys. She was a niece of Mrs. Buechler and a first cousin of Mrs. Morris Greenberger. As the family was in modest circumstances, the mother worried about supplying the dowries for so many daughters, so she wrote to her sister, Mrs. Buechler, and it was decided to send twelve-year-old Gisella and her eleven-year-old sister to Morristown. After reaching town, they lived with their relatives and worked as mother’s helpers until the cost of their passage was paid off. The sisters then went to Newark and worked in a cigar factory. After the younger girl was old enough to take care of herself, Gisella returned to Morristown and worked in the millinery department of Greenberger’s department store.
When Gisella was nineteen it was discovered that her sister had contracted a fatal lung disease due to her work in the cigar factory. The girls returned to Europe so that the younger girl could die in the family home. Following the death of her sister, Gisella remained in Europe for about a year, but she eventually decided to return to Morristown. She was then about twenty.
Joseph’s eldest brother, a steelworker, had migrated to New York to escape conscription in the army. The letters the son wrote home influenced his father to join him, leaving the mother and the remaining five children at home. The father was a machinist so he had no difficulty in obtaining a job here, and soon earned enough to send for his wife and children. He became a naturalized citizen and young Joseph then became a citizen under the “Minors Act.”
Joseph became a master painter and was eventually brought to Morristown by the highly regarded painting firm of Horsefield Brothers to work on many of the large mansions in the Morristown area.
Joseph and Gisella met in Morristown and were married about 1904. Even though Joseph received the highest rate then paid to a painter, $9 per week, he was only able to work in good weather. Gisella soon found that she had difficulty making the family income cover the periods when her husband was out of work, so she decided to supplement his wages by starting a business of her own. With this in mind she rented a store underneath the family’s apartment on Speedwell Avenue and opened a restaurant serving home cooking by installing a stove and a sink and by using the tables and chairs from her dining room and kitchen. Joseph continued to work as a painter, but once a week he made a trip to New York and purchased Jewish delicatessen foodstuffs, brought it back to town and peddled it. Finally, the Finkelsteins had enough money to equip a delicatessen restaurant, where both worked full time. It soon became a regular restaurant.
Joseph then went into partnership with Emil Newmark in the Speedwell Restaurant and Hotel. After selling this, they bought the Washington Hotel and the Lackawanna Restaurant, both on Morris Street. The partners then built a hotel over the Lackawanna Restaurant. After Milton Schlosser became Emile Newmark’s brother-in-law, Joseph’s interests in these businesses were sold to him.
Joseph bought Rausch’s Delicatessen on Park Place and turned it into a restaurant delicatessen. After five or six years the building was sold and Joseph bought a one-story building at 16 South Street, on top of which he built a two story hotel, calling it the South Street Hotel. This hotel is now owned and operated by Ruth Salny and is named the Hotel Sixteen South.
In 1926 the Finkelsteins moved to Bernardsville and participated in many ventures there over the next thirty years. Gisella died about 1941 and Joseph died in 1957.
Morristown’s first kosher butcher, David Amsterdam, opened a shop in a rented store on Spring Street about 1905. He purchased the store in 1914. Amsterdam was a native of Warsaw and before coming to Morristown he had lived at Sag Harbor, Long Island. He enjoyed sacerdotal rights, so he often performed ceremonies such as marriages and funerals when a rabbi was not available. His son Harry, born in Morristown in 1908, is now an attorney practicing and living in Orange. Harry was for many years township attorney for East Hanover Township. Sam Hollander was Harry’s cousin.
Morris Holland had a tailor shop on Washington Street near the Elks Club, which he operated for many years. He had five children. One of these, Albert H., became a lawyer and was the first Jew appointed Morris County common pleas judge.
“Judge Holland,” as he was known to his associates, was born in New York City and was brought to Morristown as a child. He was educated in the Morristown school system, graduating from Morristown High School in 1909. He continued his studies and graduated from New York Law School where he later returned to obtain his master’s degree. Admitted to the bar in 1913, he was appointed Morris County prosecutor in 1925, and Morris County common pleas judge in 1928. He retired after serving for twenty years as judge.
In those days, a judge could also maintain his private practice while serving on the bench. “The Judge” had a very elite clientele,
including Mr. and Mrs. Marcellus Hartley Dodge. Through Mr. Dodge, who was chairman of the board of directors, Al became a director of Remington Arms Co. He was also a director of the Morristown and Erie Railroad.
During World War I, he served as a captain in the heavy artillery, and he is said to be the first Jew admitted to membership in the Spring Brook Country Club.
He was the principal speaker at the testimonial dinner given Maurice Epstein after dedication of the Jewish Center on November 24, 1929. Morris Holland presented a new scroll at the dedication.
In 1912, Maurice Epstein and his family came to Morristown, where he and his wife opened a small women’s and children’s furnishing store known as The Fair, at 17 Washington Street. After a few years, due to the increase in his business, he purchased a store at 32-33 Park Place, located on the site of a small part of the present store.
Maurice Epstein was born in Russia in 1885 and came to this country with his parents in 1890. After completing his studies in the New York public schools, he became associated with his father in the wholesale merchandising business, in which he continued to the time of his father’s death in 1908. Four years before he came to Morristown he married Rose Klausner of New York.
The store has been expanded several times over the years and it is now considered by many to be the leading department store in the state.
Maurice Epstein was president of the Jewish Community Center and The House of Israel at the time the Center was proposed and he continued as president during the construction and after its completion. The Center was completed near the end of 1929 and it was in that year that “The Crash” occurred and the Great Depression began. It was therefore difficult for the congregation to pay off some of the notes taken out to finance the work on the building. Epstein did yeoman work in helping to solve this financial problem.
On the evening of November 24, 1929, after the dedication of the Center, about two hundred guests attended a testimonial dinner given in honor of Maurice Epstein.
His sons, Herbert and Seymour, now manage the store. Barnett (Barney) Zam, a native of Russia, came to Morristown from the Bronx about 1918. He was always referred to as B. Zam as his name appeared in that manner on his store sign and in his advertisements. In his store, located on Speedwell Avenue, he at first sold paint and wallpaper, and later furniture and bedding.
Mrs. Zam was president of the Ladies Auxiliary of the House of Israel for many years. The Ladies Auxiliary, during her presidency, played a very active role in helping to build the present Jewish Center. It contributed the first $5,000 toward the cost of the building and urged the men to go ahead with the plans.
In February, 1928, at a banquet held at Schary Manor, Newark, in honor of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Ladies Auxiliary, pledges were given for over $35,000 for a new Jewish Center. The Center movement had been discussed for a number of years, but was brought to a head by the Ladies Auxiliary, who made most of the arrangements for the banquet.
Abe Gurevitz, a Democrat, was Morristown’s first Jewish politician. First elected in 1931, he represented the old Third Ward on the Board of Alderman for many years. During his long term in office he once ran for mayor against the late Clyde Potts, but was defeated. Morristown was then heavily Republican and Mayor Potts was an outstanding chief executive.
According to Sam Hollander, the Morristown Jewish community disapproved of Abe’s political activities and was especially critical of his strong and constant opposition to Mayor Potts. The community was fearful that Abe would upset the spirit of good will that prevailed between the Jews and the Christians of the town, especially those who were friends of the mayor.
Abe was one of the five sons of Ruben Gurevitz, who came to Morristown from Lithuania in 1907. Ruben came directly to Morristown from Europe, as his cousins David and Harry Salny were well established in town and were in a position to assist him. Like many of the early Jewish immigrants, he peddled when he first came to town, but he was soon able to open a. clothing store on Flagler Street. Later he moved to busy Speedwell Avenue.
While attending the Morristown public schools, Abe sold peanuts, Cracker-Jack and soda at the old Speedwell and Collinsville baseball fields (dwellings now cover both these fields). He was also a caddy, newspaper boy and a clerk in his father’s clothing store. A gifted writer, he at times worked as a reporter for the Newark News while attending college.
After graduating from Morristown High School, he continued his education at New York University and New Jersey Law School. Abe practiced law in Morristown for many years before he moved to Florida. One of his brothers, Harold, is now Morristown’s municipal court judge. Dave, another surviving brother, now lives in Florida.
In its heyday, Speedwell Avenue was an excellent mercantile location and businesses thrived there. In fact, it was a beehive of activity. In the days before the chain food stores and the huge department stores, the merchants along Speedwell Avenue prospered. There were both large and small establishments on the street and most of them were owned by Jews. Almost all the first central and eastern European Jews to settle in Morristown established businesses on “The Avenue.” Some of the Jewish-owned stores belonged to Meyer Friedman, Bernard Friedman, Jacob Stiner, M.P. Greenberger, Ruben Gurevitz, Harry Buechler, Louis Cappel, Max Cappel, Simon and Julius Steiner (related to Stiner brothers, but they spelled their name differently), Atlantic Beef Co. (Sam Schwartz), Harry Drell’s kosher chicken market, Roth’s butcher shop, B. Zam, Morris Rosenberg, Van’s (Van Wiemokly), M. & N. Hardware, (Metzger’s), Click’s Hardware, Breslow’s Paints, Abraham Schall, Speedwell Restaurant, (Finkelstein and Newmark), Max Schlesinger (sold “new and misfit clothes”), Dorfman barber, Abe & Izzy Cohen’s kosher butcher shop, Botkin jeweler, Needell shoe store, Joseph Vian, Cy Forman’s automobile supplies, Blatt’s bakery, Greengos, Shrank’s Army and Navy Store, Phil Kantrowitz’s restaurant, Korn’s (later Rubin’s meat) delicatessen, Alex Newmark’s Son Ton Restaurant, Charles Feldman meat market, Loeb’s Delicatessen, Sam Schwartz’s Army and Navy Store, Rosenbaum shoe repair, Morris Rosenberg clothing, Haimowitz Model Restaurant, A.J. Block dry goods (married a Friedman) Ben Donner women’s w’ear, Kuberneck linen supply, Majestic Bakery (Danziger’s), Willian & Betty Wassner credit men’s and women’s wear (she was Mr. Schall’s sister), Cohen’s Five & Ten, Lou’s Pants Shop (Hirschman), Goldberg’s tailor and cleaning, Hyman Fine, Hirsch & Fromm electrical, Schwartz’s children’s wear, Kantrowitz’s Delicatessen, Cappel’s furniture store, Cohen’s vegetable store, Feld & Thailer cleaning and dying, Sol Zisk men’s store, Gloria Coat Co. (Sam Berkowitz) and Samuel Weinstein confectionery.
“The Avenue” was once a picturesque and colorful thoroughfare. As businesses moved there, the first floors of many old houses that lined its sides were converted to shops and the rooms above were continued for residential purposes. A few of these quaint-appearing buildings remain. Before the turn of the century, Bernard Friedman placed a large stuffed bear on the sidewalk each day to call attention to the fact that he was a taxidermist and furrier. In later years, Harry Drell, who sold kosher chickens, had a large neon sign shaped like a chicken attached to the front of his store. The flashing sign gave the impression of a huge chicken pecking for food. Harry also displayed live chickens and turkeys in his store’s windows. Almost every store had a hanging sign that projected out over the sidewalk, and it seemed as though each shopowner was trying to project his sign further out than his neighbor’s. These signs were of different shapes, sizes and colors.
The “Speedwell Avenue Merchants Association” was an active and influential body.
Western Avenue became a sort of Jewish “Madison Avenue,” with several of the more affluent Jews residing there. At that time, Western Avenue was an upper middle class neighborhood. In 1901, Jacob Stiner, the owner of the largest grocery store in town, purchased a fine old residence at 55 Western Avenue. Four years later, Therese Greenberger, wife of Morris Greenberger, bought a tract of land on Western Avenue in Morris Township and built a substantial house on it. David S. Salny and Harry I. Salny, in 1911, built a large stucco double house almost across the street from the Stiners. In 1914, Stiner built three stucco houses next to the Salnys, and Ira Dorman, his son-in-law, lived in one of them with his family. A little later, Hyman Botkin moved into one of these three houses. The Morris Hollands resided a few doors up the street from Stiner. The Winers also lived on the street. About 1914, Jacob Fisch and his family moved into the neighborhood, and a short time later Harry Roth and his family moved there from Dover. Several years later the Abraham Schalls and the Joseph Clicks moved into houses on the street. Jacob Bricker, Herman Cone and the Weiss family resided on the avenue.
The Jews were never forced to live in ghettos in Morristown and apparently they did not desire to form any on their own volition. After the first few families clustered together on Race Street, this practice was discontinued. The Jews spread out all over town and lived in harmony with their Christian neighbors. Despite the large number of Jews living on Western Avenue, it was not a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. The Jewish homes were interspersed among the Christian residences.
October 1977 Mr. Scherzer owned the local surveying company in Morristown. His hobby was local history. He was so respected for his work, the Town of Morristown dedicated part of the town hall lobby in his honor. Mr. Scherzer also wrote “Washington’s Forgotten Encampment” also published in 1977. His son, also Carl Scherzer, is a practicing accountant in Morristown.
This work is being reproduced as part of the “We Are MJCBY” Campaign 5774-5775. Please direct any questions to Lewis Stone, MJCBY Historian via the office. If you are interested in working on an update to this history, all volunteers would be welcome.