The Farmerville Jewish Community

Thought some might enjoy this brief history of the Jewish Community in and around Farmerville:

The Jewish community in Farmerville dates back to the end of the mid and late 18th century when Jewish immigrants from Europe left their homelands and came to America choosing to settle in the American south land.  The immigrants arrived at the port of New Orleans and fanned out from there many settling in rural areas and becoming peddlers and merchants in small towns.  Once settled they established congregations or lodges.

A study of the census of 1850 reveals the fact that some Jewish families had already settled in Farmerville:  Lazarus Bruner (Bavaria), Abraham Strasser (Holland), Abe Levinson (Holland), Samuel Weil (Germany) and John Shutzer (Hamburg).

Jacob and Bertha Shlenker are known to have settled in the area near what would become Farmerville as early as 1835.  The family moved to Vicksburg in 1845 but their son Alexander Shlenker remained in Farmerville and by 1856 was operating a successful mercantile in Farmerville.  He was also involved in a medicinal business under the name “A. Shlenker and Company” and was associated in 1878 with the National Medicine Company of New Orleans, the sole agent for Dr. Tichenor’s.

The 1860 census shows a growth in the Jewish families that had made Farmerville their home.  From Germany came E. Bruner, J.F. Slinker, H. Bredenham, Angus McLean and H. Bruner; from Russia, R. Steinbrock.

This census also reveals several Jewish families within the Marion district: David and Henry Arent, H. Gross, E. Gross, S. Marx, and H. Wise. As a note of interest the state of Louisiana was home to the largest number of Jewish immigrants in 1860.

In 1869 Issac Shuster moved to Farmerville.  In 1868 he was one of the founding members of the B’Nai Israel Synagogue in Monroe.  Shuster was appointed postmaster of the Farmerville office and served in that capacity for many years.

The 1870 census reveals the addition of several more families over the last ten years:  Daniel Stein, Hiram King, Samuel and Henry Brown, David Lauphaimar, Jonas Wolf, Peter Graff, Rinehold Synder, Henry Autshull, George Hudson, Julius Arent, Francis Wolf, and Issac Shuster.

In 1874 the Jewish Benevolent Association was formed in Farmerville.  The group obtained land from R. F. Rabun in 1876 and David Arent was listed as the President of the association at the time the land was acquired.  The congregation was listed as part of the Union of American

Hebrew Congregations and each year they made a report to the national council, paying dues based upon their membership with the first report in 1875 for $11.00.  Any donations for special purposes would also be noted with the Ladies Aid Education Society donating $28 for the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1870.  In 1890 Daniel Stein was listed as donating 2 volumes of “an old German Encyclopedia” to that same college.

The B’nai B’rith Lodge #277 met in Farmerville on the first and third Sunday of each month.  Meting times were published in the Gazette along with officers of the lodge.  In 1877 H. Brown was President followed by L.J. Levy in 1878.  In 1884 Simon Marx was President; in 1886 R. Haas and in 1892, Sam Blum served as President.

On June 18, 1878 Charles Wessolowsky, editor of the Jewish South, made a visit to the Jewish community in Farmerville.  A letter in which he describes this visit is included in the book, Reflections of Southern Jewry; Letters of Charles Wessolowskypublished by Mercer University in 1982. (The letter was addressed to Rabbi Edward B.M. Brome, Greenville, Mississippi)

I left Monroe and departed for Farmersville and arrived there Saturday evening, a distance of about 35 miles, which we had to travel in a state, over a most fearful and hilly road.  It seemed to us that roads in Louisiana are very much neglected.  We took courage sometimes, walking over a dangerous bridge or bad piece of road and at last succeeded in reaching our destination where we were received by Mr. Stein and family in princely style and we freely enjoyed the hospitality of that good mother in Israel.

Farmersville is a small city situated in the northern part of Louisiana; about 18 miles from the Arkansas line, numbering about 600 inhabitants, among whom there are about 16 Jewish families and in all about 100 Jewish souls.  We are glad to find that some of our brethren in Farmersville are holding public office.

There is a B’nai B’rith Lodge, lately instituted and seems to be in flourishing condition.  Our brothers here as elsewhere are engaged in the mercantile pursuits and D. Stein and Co. is doing the largest and most extensive business in this part of the country.  H. Brown and others are also doing a good business.

We had an invitation to attend their regular Lodge meeting, in which elections took place and brother J.L. Levy was elected President, although a young brother he is fully enwrapped in the cause of B and B and we feel confident that Farmersville Lodge will prosper under his guidance, being aided by brothers Stein, the Monitor and Brown, the out-going President and other brothers who are desirous and working energetically to make their Lodge, although in a remote corner, second to none.

Here also the noble mothers in Israel have done their share off duty, having had for the past years a “Ladies Benevolent Society” which had dispensed a good deal of charity but is not dissolved, turning over all funds on hand to the B’nai B’rith Lodge.  Mrs. Stein who is known as a charitable and benevolent lady, had aided and assisted in bringing about the success of the ladies society and she with other Jewish ladies undoubtedly deserve the respect and honor of all Israelites; and it be well for others in small places to follow their example.

Thus we remained a few days and our stay here was made pleasant by all our brethren, particularly by the treated received at the hands of our hosts, the Stein family.  We are indebted to Brother J. Lehman for courtesies and we wish that we may be able to reciprocate the kindness shown toward us.

In 1879 a fire in Farmerville destroyed most of the business section of town.  Noted in the list of businesses destroyed were the saloon, warehouse and store of Julius Arent; the store, cotton shed and warehouse of H. Brown and Co., the store of J. Marx, the saloon and barber shop of J. Apfel, the shoe shop of M. Guhring and the quarters of R. Goldberg.

All Jewish merchants would close their businesses for Jewish holidays so that all persons could take part in the Jewish fast.  The only business that could be transacted would be for medicinal purchases as in the case of Simon Stein who stated the only business allowed would be the “delivery of ice and lemons for sickness”.

Many of the Jewish faith played a large role in the government of Farmerville and Union Parish.  One such person was David Arent who came here prior to the Civil War and entered into the mercantile business in Marion.  He later moved to Farmerville right before the Civil War, joined the local forces and fought for the duration of the war.  After the war he returned to Farmerville and resumed his mercantile business.  In 1873 he was elected Mayor of Farmerville and served until 1877.  In later years he served as a Justice of the Peace and on the City Council of Farmerville.

One noted merchant in Farmerville was Daniel Stein who came from Germany to American with all of his belongings in a back pack.  He settled in Farmerville and started the Daniel Stein Mercantile on the main street through town.  Later he built two large warehouses to serve as storage for supplies and as a shipping point for the cotton trade on Bayou D’Arbonne.  One warehouse was built on a bluff overlooking Bayou Cornie west of Farmerville and was later called Stein’s Bluff. The other warehouse was at Fork Ferry.

Stein’s business made it necessary for him to travel to New Orleans, St. Louis and New York.   In 1877 Stein happened to be in New York at the time of the American Institute Fair.  At the fair the telephone was being demonstrated by Alexander G. Bell and Thomas Edison.  Stein brought 3 phones to Farmerville and installed them in his home and business.  He later brought more with the idea of establishing a telephone exchange with a line to Monroe.

Another Jewish merchant in town was Theodore Weiss who operated under the name of Weiss and Company.  His son Sol was born in Farmerville in 1885.  Sol would in later life become an architect and was responsible for the design of the Old Louisiana State Capital, the old Louisiana Governor’s mansion, LSU Medical School in New Orleans, many buildings on the LSU Baton Rouge Campus and the Eola Hotel in Natchez, Mississippi.

In 1873 there was an estimated Jewish population in Farmerville of 61. There were other Jewish families scattered throughout Union Parish many of whom left descendants that are still here today.

 

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Reflections of Southern Jewry

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