We're back. I didn't have any designs on taking the summer off from this blog, but things just worked out that way. For those who missed having something to read, I apologize. In my line of work, the summertime is usually slow, but this year was an exception and no one here is complaining. Add to that, launching a high school senior into college orbit and that's where the summer went.
One person who didn't take the summer off was Arthur Finkle, who was one of the earliest followers of these pages. Art was one of the first to come forward when I started writing in early 2011 and has been encouraging all along the way. Art arranged for me to meet Albert Stark in January of this year and drove us to the Brothers of Israel cemetery, pointing out his ancestors who are buried in the oldest part of the graveyard, which was orignally the Har Sinai cemetery.
Art has been doing research at the Tretnon Public Library and is writing extensively about the Jews of Trenton. Months ago, he sent me an outline of chapters that he wanted to write about. In mid-August, he sent me 11 chapters of his manuscript. In this edition of the blog, I share with you excerpts from the chapter that he named ‘Jewtown’.
‘Jewtown’ was located in South Trenton. It housed most of the recent Eastern European Jewish immigrants. Its rents were inexpensive and its proximity to consumers was perfect. It also provided merchants a site to sell their wares. This section was an already existing marketplace and had been for some years.
Built as a shtetl, all spoke Yiddish. It counted several kosher meat butchers, a Talmud Torah, synagogues and a Mikveh (ritual bath). It also housed the social welfare societies, such as the Free Home Loan Society, Immigrant’s Aid, Sick Society, etc.
Indeed, a 1908 article in the Times-Advertiser called this section of Trenton a closed community.
"The Russians are very jealous of their own
interests and very unwilling to inform outsiders
of their doings. But then, this Russian colony of
Trenton, in contradiction to the law of economics,
is practically sufficient unto itself. They have
their own factories, their own stores, their own milk
dealers, in fact the whole category of businesses
and trades is represented among them. Those
stores and factories which are located within the
colony employ only Russians and never fail to
observe the Jewish Sabbath, from sunset Friday
to sunset Saturday, and nothing other than a conflicting
city ordinance prevents them from opening Sundays."
This ‘Trenton Colony’ produced several charitable institutions. Among the early ones were Wanderers’ Help and Miles Rescind, a non-denominational poor fund.
In 1929 (there) were approximately 4,100 Jews; some say 7,100 about 3-5% of Trenton ‘s population. Most of this population resided in the area between South Broad and Warren streets, and Market Street and the Delaware-Raritan Canal (Now the Trenton Freeway).
The area benefited from the infrastructure of a growing industrial Trenton. Providing trolley service along Broad St, having sidewalk, water (1859) and sewerage (beginning in 1903), outdoor lighting. Finally furnished with indoor plumbing with its toilet, bathtub and wash area, all ceramics made in Trenton and electricity, this area brimmed with activity.
Further it had bright electric street lights in 1887 (Its first electric lights made their Trenton appearance in 1881). See Harry J. Podmore, Trenton – Old and New, Trenton Historical society, 1929. See 1903 Trenton Ordinance.
Indeed, The City Railway Company was incorporated under the general law in 1875, with an authorized capital of $50,000. In February 1876, Common Council authorized the construction of a horse-car line through Clinton Street, from the city limits to Perry Street, to Broad, terminating at the Chambersburg borough line. The track was to be a double one. At this time the borough of Chambersburg authorized the company to extend its tracks from the canal to the southeasterly borough limits, along South Broad Street, bordering what was to become the Hungarian Jewish area.
Further, the City Railway Company extend(ed) its line from Perry Street to Warren and thence to Ferry Street, up Bridge and into Centre Street down as far as Riverview Cemetery (Jewtown)
In October 1885, an ordinance permitted the company to extend its tracks from South Broad Street along Bridge Street, into Centre as far south as Lalor Street, and along Lalor to the canal.
The next year, The City Railway Company again extended its line along Hamilton Avenue. In this year the borough of Chambersburg extended the City Railway Company’s franchise to Jennie Street, Hudson Street, Elmer Street, Chestnut Avenue, Cummings Avenue and Coleman Street, with a spur through Cummings Avenue to Division Street, to the car sheds and stables.
The Trenton Horse Railroad Company passed into the hands of Colonel Lewis Perrine at about this time. In 1891 he acquired control of the City Railway Company and consolidated the two roads on September 30, 1891, under the name of the Trenton Passenger Railway Company. The very next year, Colonel Perrine had the roads electrified and on May 22, 1891, the first experimental trip by electricity was made.
The Jewish area also utilized the Delaware and Raritan Canal for inexpensive portage. And the Pennsylvania railroad was on three blocks away. The first settlers came to South Trenton because the rents were inexpensive. The area was relatively undeveloped and was not near a major factory.
1881, Jacob Barker came to Trenton with his wife and seven children. In 1888, Joseph Movshovich opened the first bank on Decatur St. There were twelve kosher butchers. In 1895, Harry Alexander opened the first kosher deli. Alex Cohen was a boxing promoter and cut man.
Other early South Trenton residents included Isaac Berman, Solomon Goldstein, David Lavine, Max Feinberg, Harry Haveson, Israel Silverstein, Isaac Levy, Israel Kohn, Gabriel Lavinson, Louis Levy, Solomon Urken, Daniel Levine and Abraham Moskowitz.
Below is a scheme of most of this area with names of occupants and stores.
From the visual map, counted on Market Street were:
3-Deli’s; a Drug Store; a Restaurants; 3-Bakers; a Gas Station, a Physician (Dr. Bloom); 3-Butchers; a Furniture store; a Mikveh (Religious Ritual Bath)
On Union St., were counted: 3-Shuls; a Hotel; a Social Club (Liberty Club); 3- Bakeries; 2-Chicken stores; 2-Fish Markets; 5-Butchers; a Hardware store; 3-Dry Goods Stores; a Tire Store; a Clothing ship; and a Print shop.
The aggregate totals were 6-bakers, 8-butchers, 3 dry goods stores; 3-Deli’s, 3- Dry Goods Stores, 3-shuks, 2 Fish stores, 2-chicken stores. We found one Mikveh (Ritual Bath), Hotel, a saddle shop, a cooperage (barrels) Restaurant, Gas station, Tire Store, Print shop, Hardware store, barber and social club.
Unlike Eastern Europe, these little stores were not monopolized by women. Rather, in fast becoming Americans, they played the role ascribed to them in the ‘new’ country as keepers of the household and their households were large. See Hyman.
Each owner’s family lived atop the store. Another interesting fact was that, although (there) was an enormous presence of potteries (60), rubber manufacturers and wire and cable (Roebling had its plant on more than 35 acres), Jews did not compete with others for these factory jobs.
Stores in ‘Jewtown’
Cattle dealer – Isaac Dohen
Wholesale – Myron Cohen
Cow Dealer – Sharky Rosenthal
Hafetz - David Hafetz passed on his store to his son(s) Joseph and Frank Hafetz
Katzeff and Weiner
Butcher – Kalman
Liberty Meat Mkt
Fish and Produce – Solomon Cohen
Grocer – David Cohen
Meat and Produce – Maurice Finkle
Fish (including live carp)
Smitty’s – Sam Smith
Barker’s - Fish Mkt
United Tires - Irving Cohen
David and Jack Introlligator
Café – Heifel Cohen
Mercer Paint and Paper Company - Marcus-Nitzburg family, owned
(Milton) Palat’s Furs
Small Department Stores
Normal Department Store – Swamp Angel (Isaac Finkle)
Finkle’s Dry Good’s – Willow and Spring (Sam Finkle)
Saga of the Jewish Peddler
Many Jews were peddlers because they could celebrate the Sabbath without business pressures. Others were junkyard dealers for the same reason.
In the early days, in fact, ‘Jewtown’ was silent of the Jewish Sabbath because all the stores were closed. They reopened on Sunday with the wink and the nod of the Police Department because Blue Laws prohibited most commerce on Sunday.
Peddlers earned about five dollars a week and rarely grossed a profit, often depending on the wives and children to peddle alongside of them. The peddler lifestyle marked a profound loss of status for many of the immigrants. Marcus Ravage, a famous writer during the time, couldn’t believe his eyes when he witnessed a man, “who had been the chairman of the hospital committee in Vaslui and a prominent grain merchant . . .dispensing soda-water and selling lollypops on the corner of Essex Street in New York.”
Along with status issues, newly arrived Jews experienced profound culture shock. The new American workday was no longer circumscribed by meals shared with family, prayer, or Jewish holidays and the Sabbath. They agonized about having to abandon the structured and religious traditions of their homogenous village life.
The Eastern European Jewish immigrants may have been poor, but most possessed skills as merchants from the Russian shtetls. Since the Russian government prevented Jews from owning land or raw materials, Eastern European Jews possessed a skill set different from other immigrants. --Ashley L. Koch.
The five Finkle brothers became door-to door peddlers traversing a weekly route from Trenton to Lambertville, to Flemington, to Somerville back to Trenton for the Sabbath. When one earned sufficient money, he sent for the second brother ad seriatim. Eventually, with enough capital, they settled in Trenton and environs to establish dry goods stores. In Lambertville, Finkle’s Hardware Store is still operating, more than 100 years later.
Harry Gerofsky also commented on the coming together of Trenton. It received a charter in 1792 (population 1, 2500). In 1837, its population was 4,000. In 1838, it became the county seat of a new county (Mercer). In 1847, it authorized streets and alleys. In 1851, it annexed the Borough of South Trenton, then known as Mill Hill and Bloomburg (3rd and 4th wards which later would house ‘Jewtown’).