Montour County Genealogical Society
This page was inspired by a visit to the MCGS Genealogy Room in 2002 from Pete & Jeff Dreifuss who were searching for information on their Dreifuss ancestors. We became acutely aware of the lack of resources pertaining to the Jewish citizens of Montour County. Since that time, Jerry Zeisler and the Dreifuss brothers have been exceptionally helpful in the process of building a collection focusing on preservation of the heritage of the Jewish citizens of Montour County. If you can help in any way, please see "Can You Help?" below.
At left is a photograph of the B'nai Zion Synagogue, erected in 1871.
Dr. Daniel Brower, founder of the Montour American and the Danville Record, included a history of "The Israelites" in his book Danville, Montour County, Pennsylvania, A Collection of Historical & Biographical Sketches published in 1881. He states that the B'nai Zion Congregation in Danville was granted a charter in 1854, with the charter members being A. Levi, Jacob Loeb, Lewis Lang, Moyer Lyon, Jacob Weil, Solomon Meyer, Jacob Mayer, Jacob Levi, Sandel Dreifuss, Feis Blum and Simon Ellenbogen. The frame school-house which they had built in 1853 continued to be used for a school house after the Synagogue was erected in 1871. Dr. Brower names the following Rabbis beginning in 1853: Rev. Friendlich, Rev. Emanuel Oppenheim, Rev. Oppenheim, Rev. Hommer, Rev. Heilbrenner, Rev. Simon Gerstman, Rev. Nusbaum, Rev. Friedenthal and Rev. Newmark. At the time that article was written there were over twenty families connected with the "Benai Zion" congregation. The President was Jacob Leob, H. L. Gross was secretary and Samuel Goldsmith treasurer. The trustees were Moses Bloch, Jacob Goldsmith and Jacob Moyer.
The first Jewish settlers of Danville are said to have come from Germany. Some of the familiar surnames are Lang, Rosenbaum, Dreifuss, Levy, Lyon, Jacobs, Loeb, Miller, Marks, and Bloch. They worshipped in a synagogue on Water street purchased about 1854. Later, about 1881, the Russian Jews arrived. Among the first of the Russian Jews was probably Lieut. M. Rosenstein. Due to the cultural and language differences between the groups they were separate until about 1915- therefore the two B'nai Zion Jewish cemeteries.
The application for Charter and the Articles of the Constitution can be found in the Montour County Little Common Pleas dockets, May Term 1854 #31.
The property on which the synagogue was built was conveyed to Jacob Loeb and Louis Lang, trustees of the congregation, by the School Directors of the Borough of Danville on December 10, 1852 for $275.00. The lot fronted on Front Street on the South, adjoining the lot of Moyer Lyon on the East, "other part of same lot now owned by A.G. Voris on the North, lot of Jacob Loeb on the West". (Montour County Deed Book 3, pages 819-1821). This property was sold on December 28, 1993.
On May 30, 1857, for the sum of $500.00 Daniel Campbell granted to the Benai Zion Congregation two contiguous town lots beginning at the southwest corner of Front and Church Streets, extending along Front Street 100 feet to lot of ? Frick, thence along line of said lot Southwardly 150 feet to an alley, along said alley Eastward 100 feet to Church, thence along Church St. northwardly 100 feet. (Deed book 2, pages 682-684). This appears to be the location of the Jewish School which is evidenced in the 1876 Atlas of Montour County. This same property was eventually sold, the first portion to Alexander Wormser on November 25, 1870 (recorded January 27, 1896). For a sum of $750.00, that part of a town lot in First Ward beginning at the corner of Front and Church Streets, fronting Front Street on the North, Church St. on the East, an alley on the South and the other part of named lot owned by said Benai Zion on the West, containing 30 feet on Front St, extending back to alley 100 feet was sold to Mr. Wormser. The document was signed by Jacob Loeb, President and Simon Geystmann, Secretary, and Jacob Goldsmith, Treasurer. (Deed book 17, pages 410-411). Then on May 21, 1907, the remaining lot was sold. For sum of $1100.00 Benai Zion conveyed to Arthur D. Myerly the parcel of land situated on the South side of Front St. , fronting on Front St. on the North, lot owned by Alexander Wormser (now by Herbert Myerly) on the East, an alley on the South and lot of John Bartholomew estate on the west, containing 40 feet on Front St., back to alley 100 feet, being part of the same two lots of land which Daniel Campbell granted to Benai Zion on May 30, 1857. The document was signed by Simon Dreifuss, President, Harry Ellenbogen, Secretary, R. G. Marks, Trustee.
At this time (March 2005) I do not have a documentation on when the synagogue closed, nor when the congregation disbanded. I welcome any information which readers can provide. Please e-mail the webmaster.
The history of Montour County would not be complete without the acknowledgement of its vibrant Jewish population. From May, 1854 when congregation B'nai Zion was chartered, until the Synagogue was sold, the Jewish people of Montour County were intimately involved in the business and affairs of the region. As the years progressed, the vast majority of Jews left small towns such as Danville and Bloomsburg to find their future in the large cities.
But in June of 1972, Hurricane Agnes tore through Montour County, flooding the area. The flood destroyed the vast majority of the historical records of the Jews, their congregation - and of their life and families here in Montour County.
Several descendants of these families have been attempting to re-build the history of the Jewish population of the region and of Danville in particular, and are asking for your help. If you have any material, photos, documents, newspaper articles or family stories related to the Jewish population of Montour County that you would like to donate to the Montour County Genealogical Society, it would be most appreciated. So far, we have found the 1890-1947 minutes book from the congregation that had been donated to the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, OH; the columns from the Synagogue's Ark and the two Torahs. A copy of the minutes book is now housed at the MCGS. We would love to acquire similar material that documents the businesses, people, and life of this important segment of Montour's history.
For more information, or if you have a donation, you can contact either Cindy Elder at MCGS or Jerry Zeisler, whose great-grandfather, Joseph Zeisler, was a rabbi for the congregation during 1883 and again in 1905/6. (Submitted by Jerry Zeisler; used with permission).
Jerry Zeisler is also interested in information about any of the former Jewish families of Danville, other than the Dreifuss and Miller families.
Rabbi Joseph Zeisler is pictured above. He served as the Rabbi in Danville in 1883 and from September 1905 to August 1906. Photo courtesy of Jerry Zeisler.
Jerry Zeisler, whose ancestors spent some time in Danville, spent several days here in the summer of 2003 photographing the headstones in the cemeteries. He has compiled a revised list of those buried there and is in the process of having the Hebrew inscriptions translated. The information will be placed into a database with links to the photos of the headstones and will be donated to JewishGen, a non-profit organization that assists people with their family research. The list and a CD of the photos is available at the MCGS genealogy room.
"The Selinsgrove Connection" website by Pete Dreifuss. Early History of the Dreifuss and other Jewish families from Schmierheim and Altdorf in Pennsylvania, Selinsgrove, Danville and Mifflinburg.
JewishGen: The Home of Jewish Genealogy. The primary internet source connecting researchers of Jewish genealogy worldwide.
Montour County Genealogical Society, 205 Ferry St., Danville, PA 17821 (570) 275-6177
Genealogy Room: Thomas Beaver Free Library, 2nd Floor
Hours: Saturdays 11:00 AM to 1:30 PM; Mondays 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM
Copyright © 2001-14 Cynthia Elder for MCGS. All rights reserved.
This page last modified on May 20, 2014