Cultural Identity

Madison’s once-thriving Jewish community left its mark

They helped shape the face of downtown,
leaving a legacy that remains to this day

March 2014
Edition Cover

(March 2014) – Hidden behind the buildings and landmarks of Madison, Ind., lies the story of vibrant community that has been largely lost to time. Yet, the impact of Madison’s Jewish community that flourished from the mid-1800s to the early 1900s can be felt in every photograph of the Broadway Fountain, and in every crossing of the Milton-Madison Bridge across the Ohio River.  
“Jews have been very instrumental in communities all across the state,” says Eileen Baitcher, Director of the Board for the Indiana Jewish Historical Society. “There is a strong history of Jews in Madison.”
While Madison, Vincennes and Rising Sun, Ind. all had some Jewish residents in the 1820s, these were mostly a few individual men. Indiana Jews during this time period tended to be American-born businessmen who moved from the East Coast and were trading along the new routes opening in the interior of the country. Many of these men married outside of their faith and assimilated into their new towns, rather than holding themselves apart as a distinctive culture.


Photo courtesy of Jefferson Co. Historical Society Research Library

Marcus Sulzer served Madison in a variety of capacities. Most famously, he was a two-term mayor from 1926-30 and 1935-1939. However, he also acted as the city attorney and prosecuting attorney, as well as spending time as the postmaster.

It was not until the 1840s that Madison saw an increasing number of Jewish residents, and more to the point, of Jewish families allowing for the emergence of an active community. 1849 would prove to be an important year in Madison Jewish history. The first marriage performed by a Rabbi in the state of Indiana took place in Madison when Ernestine Wehle married Max Abeles.
It is thought that informal worship services began around that same time, with the Adas (later Adath) Israel congregation being formed in 1853. Many of the Jewish families who came to Madison in the mid-1800s were European emigrants from Germany, Austria and the modern day Czech Republic. As early immigrants found success along the river, they began to send for other family members to join them.
Elizabeth Weinberg writes in “Hoosier Israelites on the Ohio,” that “In contrast to Europe, where the Jews continued to be looked upon as aliens, the people of Madison accepted the Jewish immigrants, welcomed them as future citizens because of intense beliefs in the principals of democracy and the equality of the individual.”
The first synagogue in Madison was dedicated in 1855 at 216 E. Main St., upstairs from the Lotz Brothers Shoe Store. But by 1868, the congregation was ready for a building of its own and purchased the former Radical Methodist Church at 109 E. Third St. The dedication of the Temple in 1868 was given extensive coverage in the Daily Courier. The congregation met at the Masonic Hall, where services had been held and procession, including a brass band, the city councilmen, the mayor, board of school trustees and ministers of the city all marched from West Street to Third Street to enter the temple.


Photo courtesy of the Jefferson Co. Historical Society Research Library

Rabbi Issac Stern arrived in Madison in 1888 and served during the years when the Jewish population began to decline. In 1919, there were only about 70 Jewish residents in town. Stern served as an uncompensated Rabbi until 1923, when he moved. The synagogue closed its doors permanently after this.

The dedication featured music by the choir of the Broadway Temple of Cincinnati, and the altar was “strewn with flowers from the hands of the little girls.” The Madison newspaper reprinted the dedication sermon presented by The Rev. Dr. Lilienthal of Cincinnati. The newspaper called the sermon “a patriotic and eloquent dedication address.”
Dr. Lilienthal reminded his audience, which included some of the most prosperous and powerful residents of Madison, of the importance of charity, stating, “There is no Sabbath, no festival, without remembrance of the poor and needy... The congregations took good care of their poor brethren; they did not allow their brethren to call upon the public charities, they liberally contributed toward these funds.”
He continued by highlighting this virtue in America, saying, “We have here no royal palaces no imperial residences; our palaces are those erected to charitable purposes; our imperial residences are those devoted to the suffering of the needy... Can you wonder that we love, cherish this country with all our soul and with all our heart? Can you wonder when we say, ‘here is our Palestine, here our home,’ ”
His address seems designed to remind both the members of the congregation and those outside guests to the service that they all had a common calling to love and support their fellow community members. 

Hoffstadt Famly

Photos courtesy of the Jefferson Co. Historical Society Research Library

The Hoffstadt family home
on East Main Street, Madison, Ind.,
is pictured above. Below is the Hoffstadt burial monument that stands in Madison’s Springdale Cemetery. Springdale is the resting place for many Jewish families.

Hoffstadt Monument

One member of the community who took that message of charity and service to heart was Martin Marks, one of the first Jewish children to be born in Madison. He was one of the founders of the National Jewish Tuberculosis Hospital at Denver, vice-president of the National Jewish Conference of Charities, and a director of the Jewish Orphan Asylum of Cleveland. Yet, Madison also has him to thank for one of the town’s most recognizable landmarks.
Marks was the person who uncovered the fountain that would become the town’s signature landmark, the beloved Broadway Fountain, which at the time had been stored in a Brooklyn, N.Y., warehouse. The fraternal order the Odd Fellows had been planning to purchase a fountain for the town, but there was disagreement about whether this fountain should be a decorative piece or a functional drinking fountain. Marks’ discovery of the cast iron fountain that had been part of the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition settled the debate. Many of the men of the Madison Jewish Community were members of the Odd Fellows when the fraternity gifted the fountain to the city in 1884.

Louis Weinberg

Photos courtesy of Jefferson Co. Historical Society Research Library

Louis Weinberg stands
in his junkyard, which he
operated  in the 100 block of
Mulberry Street between Vaughn
Drive and First Street.

Perhaps few members of the Madison Jewish community made such an impact on the town as did Marcus Sulzer. He was appointed by the governor to the state’s Ohio River Commission when he was only 18. The young man grew into an accomplished orator who served Madison in a variety of capacities. Most famously, he was a two-term mayor from 1926-30 and 1935-1939. However, he also acted as the city attorney and prosecuting attorney, as well as spending time as the postmaster.
He was an owner of the Sulzer Brothers Drug Co., which had a worldwide clientele. It was during Sulzer’s first term as mayor that he oversaw the start of construction on a project that would forever shape the face of Madison. On Sept. 25, 1928, as he and attorney Henry C. Black of Bedford, Ky., used a gold shovel to ceremonially break ground for the building of the Milton-Madison Bridge. The next year, Sulzer presided over festivities that opened the bridge, complete with beauty queens, a long parade of floats, political dignitaries and temperatures reportedly so cold that a trumpeter’s lips froze to his instrument.

Kahn Notions Store

Photo courtesy of Jefferson Co. Historical Society Research Library

The Kahn Notions store was
located at 110 W. Main St.

But it wasn’t only the Jewish men of the community who served as an inspiration to others. In 1908, Rachel “Rae” Hoffstadt graduated from Hanover College cum laude with a degree in biology. She went on to become the first female graduate of Hanover to earn a PhD. Hoffstadt in 1915 was awarded a doctorate in botany from the University of Chicago. In 1923, she earned a doctorate of science from Johns Hopkins University.
During World War I, she served as a bacteriologist at Camp Sevier, S.C., where she perfected an oral typhoid vaccine for soldiers. In 1929 and 1930, she studied in Europe, receiving a Mary Pemberton Fellowship from the American Association of University Women, supporting her work at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. At this time, she traveled extensively across Europe, visiting health centers and learning about the types of experiments scientists were conducting abroad.

Sulzer Building

Photo courtesy of Jefferson Co. Historical Society Research Library

The Sulzer Bros. building was located where the Clearinghouse building is now on West Second Street.

During her time in Europe, she wrote her sister, Juliet, back in Madison lively letters about the places she was seeing and the people she met. Her hard-working nature found Paris a bit of a shock, writing, “Everything has been so different that it has been hard to get started. No one hurries, and everyone puts off until tomorrow what ought to be done today. Everybody sits – most people do nothing. The only things that move are the taxis, and they all but take your eyebrows off.”
However, she did not find the city totally without charm. She later writes her artist sister that, “Today, I went to the Rodin Museum. I love Rodin’s things. They give one a feeling of relaxation. Madison would probably drape newspapers over them.”
She taught for many years at Washington University in Seattle, and in a 1973 letter, professor Russell S. Weiser writes of Hoffstadt, “Her courses always generated lively discussion and many of her students continued with graduate work and took up professional careers in microbiology and medicine. Some of them have occupied, and several still occupy, positions of leadership, including heads of departments and important government positions.”

Hoffstadt Monument

Photo courtesy of Karen Phillips, formerly of the Jefferson Co. Historical Society

This tombstone in Springdale Cemetery in Madison marks the grave of Henry Hoffstadt, who died in 1894. It one of several Hoffstaft family graves in the cemetery.

In the 1920s, Indiana and Madison’s Jewish communities began to see signs of change. In 1923, the synagogue would close for good when the presiding Rabbi moved away. Federal legislation added increased restrictions to immigrants from Eastern Europe, meaning fewer Jewish families were moving to the state. Families who had originally come from overseas saw their children grow more Americanized, and this sometimes meant weaker connections to their minority communities. The Madison synagogue was sold to the Indiana Telephone Corp. in 1941, and a Madison Courier account at the time reports that it had not been used for congregation meetings for several years.
Former Mayor Sulzer, the sole surviving member of the original congregation, had overseen upkeep and repair of the property after it fell into disuse. The Nov. 27, 1941, article notes that, “Many of the Jewish people removed from Madison and many of the older ones passed away, and gradually the number of the faith grew smaller until only a few families remained.”
Today, the most obvious monuments to the Madison Jewish community are the gravestones in a small cemetery located off Wilson Avenue on the Madison hilltop, and in the Jewish section of Springdale Cemetery downtown.
In author Weinburg’s “Visitor’s Tour Madison, Indiana’s Jewish Community 1849-1923,” she describes the small hilltop cemetery “behind the house on the corner” on Wilson Avenue. She terms it the “Israelite cemetery,” and by her count it has 17 markers. It was used until 1877 when land was purchased in Springdale Cemetery. She says in the “Visitor’s Tour” that, “To my knowledge, Cincinnati’s old Jewish cemetery downtown remains the only one in this part of the country with existing markers older than these.”
There is some speculation that the purchase of the Springdale Cemetery land was due to some tensions between traditional members of the congregation and those who were more inclined to reform and modernization. It is possible that the Wilson Avenue cemetery was restricted to those who followed Orthodox Judaism. These cemetery stones stand as a reminder of the contributions made by many Jewish residents of the past. But that spirit of service and charity, of volunteerism and intellectual curiosity can be found throughout Madison even today. 

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