Jewish Structures in La Crosse
(written by Ed Hill, Emertius Director of Special Collections, Murphy Library, UWL, May 2009)
While many structures have been used for Jewish religious purposes in La Crosse over time, we know that John Levy and his wife Fredericka were the first Jewish residents in the city when La Crosse was just a meeting spot on the sand prairie. In addition to being one of the village’s oldest settlers and businessmen, John Levy was active in the Jewish community, served as cantor for a time, and often invited members of the Jewish community and others to visit his first home as far back as 1847.
Myer Katz, author of Echoes of Our Past (1985), wrote further of Levy that, "Though Jewish, Levy opened his home to all faiths for their religious meetings and for secular gatherings as well." It would be another decade, however, until written evidence of a Jewish religious community began to sprout in La Crosse.
Any chronological account of structures like this is subject to errors and misinterpretations, and it is submitted for whatever value it may have. City directories, for example, can have a considerable lag time between compilation and publication and sometimes directory and map details are simply carried over. It is certain that with time, corrections and new details will come to light. This paper is provisional.
1857 - Some of the Jewish residents organized the first communal organization, called the Hebrew Indigent, Sick, and Burial Society. This later became the Hebrew Benevolent Society. This group apparently met in private homes.
1866-7 city directory - Hebrew Benevolent Society, meets in the Masonic Hall, north side of Pearl Street, between Front and Second streets. Feinberg says that the first synagogue in La Crosse was erected in early 1867, and that it was located on Jay Street near Fifth. "Previous to this, services were held in the Masonic Lodge Hall."
1868 city directory - No listings for any Jewish organization.
1870-71 city directory - Cremieux Lodge, IOBB [Bnai Brith], No. 138. Meets at Jewish Temple, west side Fifth between Main and King Streets. From the 1884 Sanborn Atlas, this appears to be a brick commercial building, and this is probably the same location as listed for 1866-7.
1873-4 city directory - Congregation Anshe [usually spelled Anche] Chesed, on Jay St, NW corner of Fifth. This looks again to be the same location as previous date and in 1866-7. Isaac Cantrovitz, Rabbi.
1878 - Gordon H. Feinberg, La Crosse resident and author of a "History of La Crosse Jewish Community to 1948" in the booklet, Dedication of the New Congregation Sons of Abraham Synagogue, La Crosse (1948), wrote that "the Congregation Anche Chesed was developed from the Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1878," and that it was of the Reformed Jewish Faith. Feinberg's date is obviously incorrect, as the 1873-4 city directory has already identified this organization four or five years earlier.
1880 - Feinberg writes that "the Synagogue building was moved in 1880 to 521 South Fourth Street. It was used there until 1901." This language suggests that the building might have been physically moved from Jay Street to South Fourth. Feinberg does not make any reference here to the erection of a new building at this address, but Dr. Les Crocker feels that this was in fact a new building, and that the Jay Street building was not moved here.
1881 - city directory - Anshe Cheset, on Fourth Street, near Cass. This is the 521 South Fourth St. synagogue listed above. City tax records for this site, which is lot 4 block 22 of Daniel Cameron's Addition, had various and often split ownership in the late 1870s, and it held no structures. In 1880, Mons Anderson owned lots 1, 2, and 3 in this block, but lot 4 is identified as "church." This supports Feinberg's statement that the synagogue now occupies this site in 1880.
Tax Exempt Property Listing 1885
1884 - The Sanborn map of January 1884 shows this same structure at 521 South Fourth Street. The building is identified as a synagogue, providing documentary evidence of its use in that manner. It is shown as a one-story wood frame building, rectangular and fronting on Fourth Street, and heated with a wood stove. Feinberg says this building was used until 1901. This building's next use is as a Christian Science Church, confirmed in both city directories and the 1906 Sanborn Atlas. This function probably began in about 1901 or 1902. No photo has been found for this building.
1885-1890 city directory - Anshe Cheset Congregation, meeting at 521 South Fourth St.
1893-1895 city directory - Same congregation, no address.
Photo of 608 North 9th Street taken by Ed Hill, 2009
1900 - city directory - Congregation Sciarith Israel, with Rabbi Reman. "Temporarily located at 608 N. 9th St." From my site visit on April 17, 2009, I found this white wood frame building still standing. It has a two-story portion on the north, and a one-story portion, extending farther back, and with a front porch, on the south. It is just off La Crosse Street and is currently used as a rental residence. I photographed it at this time. No earlier photo was found.
1900 - Feinberg writes that as the century turned, the population of the original Reformed Congregation was decreasing as the result of deaths and departures. It had, according to one report, 106 persons in 1877, but only 19 in 1893 and 14 in 1903. He further notes that new Jewish arrivals were mostly of the Orthodox Jewish Faith. These latter members "conducted services in homes of various residents until they established their own synagogue in 1905 at 414 No. 11th Street. This building had belonged previously in 1871 to a Lutheran Congregation." This structure was razed, I believe, in about 1970 or 71, and a brief description follows in the 1907 portion of this paper.
1901-2 city directory - Same organization as above, same temporary address, but with Rabbi M. Goldish. Also listed this year among organizations is "Cremieux Lodge, No. 138, Bnai Brith, in the Synagogue, South Fourth Street." This would be the synagogue at 521 South Fourth Street, which was no longer used for any regular Jewish purpose after 1901.
1902-3 city directory - The 521 South Fourth Street building for Jewish function has disappeared from the directory. As noted above, Feinberg says this building was not used as a synagogue after 1901. It was next used as a Christian Science Church. By the 1940s and 50s, this building is a residence, with a porch added in front and a small entryway or utility room on the back. It has since been torn down, and the area is now a parking lot. A wood garage, oriented east-west and probably erected in the 1940's, still exists at the rear of this lot. It was long and low, and had stalls for at least three autos.
1903-4 city directory - Same congregation still meeting temporarily at 608 North 9th, but with Rabbi D. H. Sigel.
Photo of 414 North 11th Street dates from 1909
1905 - As noted above, the Orthodox Jews established their own synagogue in this year at 414 North 11th Street. At this time, according to Feinberg, there was an estimated Jewish population in La Crosse of about thirty families, including both Reformed and Orthodox Faiths. Also in this year, the Orthodox Synagogue was founded under the name of Congregation Sons of Abraham.
1898 City Atlas
1907 city directory - Services held at 414 North 11th St, with Rabbi Sigel. The Cremieux Lodge, however, is meeting "in the Synagogue on S. Fourth St." There is a discrepancy here; by this time, the Christian Science Church is at this address, and Feinberg says this building was not used as a synagogue after 1901. It is possible that the Cremieux Lodge might still have met there with the permission of the Christian Scientist congregation. Or the city directory was using information carried over from an earlier edition.
Back to the North 11th Street site, the 1906 Sanborn Atlas shows a street address of 416 N. 11th for Jewish services rather than 414 N. 11th, and identifies it as a "Hebrew Cong'l Church." House numbers were often rather portable over the years, but 414 is the correct and current address.
Photo of 414 North 11th Street dates from 1930
Murphy Library at UW-La Crosse has two small and rather poor photos of this North 11th Street building, one taken in about 1901, and another from about 1930, after remodeling. This was a one-story wood frame building. The latter photo shows a Star of David on the front of the building, centered up near the roof. This building would not have been used as a synagogue after the new synagogue on Main Street was completed in 1948. It no longer exists. In 1967, the city directory records a William L. Brady living here. In 1970, the occupant is Mrs. Gladys Brady. In 1972, the entry reads simply "under construction." It appears then that this old building was razed in about 1970 or 1971, and that construction of the current building began. This is a wood frame, two-story apartment building. It occupies a popular residential area for students, between the UW-La Crosse and Western Technical College campuses.
1909 city directory - Same 414 North 11th St. address, no rabbi listed.
1913 to 1939 city directories - Same.
1943 - Feinberg says "Long range plans for the building of the present new synagogue were first formulated in 1943... A building committee was formed in 1946....Construction of the new synagogue was begun in August, 1947."
Photo of 1820 Main Street taken by Howard Colvin, 1960
1948 - New Synagogue dedicated at 1820 Main Street, for Congregation Sons of Abraham. It is still in use as this is written, with Rabbi Saul Prombaum.