May 24, 2017

Leadville Jewish Cemetery Project

The Hebrew Cemetery – Leadville, Colorado

Leadville Jewish Cemetery Cleanup

Leadville Jewish Cemetery Cleanup

History & information provided by: The Temple Israel Foundation

As Leadville grew explosively during the late 1870s, it quickly realized and satisfied a need for amply interment acreage.  The Jewish community first required space with the passing of Gustave “Fred” Jelenko during June of 1879.  He was settled into the southwest corner of the newly established Evergreen Cemetery by the following January, 1880 (he may first have been buried in and then removed from Kokomo on nearby Fremont Pass), at which time title to about 101,000 square feet of that southwest corner had been transferred to the Hebrew Benevolent Association to hold the mortal remains of the pioneer Jews of Leadville.

During the ensuing decades, the Hebrew Cemetery came to serve as a resting place for some 130 souls (now 132), including the last “old time” Jewish Leadville native – Minette Miller (born 1894, died 1981).  Only 59 original markers remain and the locations off 12 people have been lost.  This is the sad result of a long period of neglect which ended only in the late 1980s with the creation of the Temple Israel Foundation and its subsequent acquisition of the cemetery through a quiet title action during June 1993.

Since taking control of the cemetery grounds, very significant volunteer efforts, led by B’nai Brith Denver, have cleared much of the site from heavy overgrowth, constructed a encircling fence, contributed an entry arch and a monument, and culminated in the reconsecration of the cemetery in August, 1999.  The replacement of missing markers was completed in 2004.  The cemetery has available grave sites; for information please contactWilliam Korn at the Temple Israel Foundation.

B’nai B’rith Denver continues its annual clean up each June with volunteers cutting weeds, pruning branches, painting the picket fence, and sprucing up the entire site.

The Temple Israel Foundation

Temple Israel - Leadville, Colorado

Temple Israel – Leadville, Colorado

Leadville, Colorado, from the late 1870s through the First World War and on deep into the 20th Century has developed as one of the best examples of a classic western American mining boomtown.  During its glory days of gold and silver strikes, Leadville could have stood as a prototypic movie set populated by the full range of remarkable western caricatures.  Leadville’s culture and commerce were quickly absorbed into the rapidly growing structure of America’s industrial economy, supply not just precious metals but also, ultimately, metals for the production of steel and other fundamental uses.  Amongst the many groups of people attracted to the mine fields in the high Rockies was an eclectic sample of then recent Jewish immigrants.  Representing all strata of society from mine owners and important merchants to itinerant laborers and trades people, they and their fellow pioneers made new lives for themselves and their families while contributing to America’s evolving preeminence.  It is to their memory that Temple Israel Foundation is dedicated.

The Temple Israel Foundation was incorporated in April, 1987, “to acquire, historically rehabilitate, and maintain” the Temple Israel building and to research the history of the Jewish community in Leadville as a whole without losing sight of the particulars of individual lives.  In October, 1992, the Foundation purchased the Temple Israel building.  On June 18, 1993, the Foundation was awarded title to Leadville’s Hebrew Cemetery by the District Court.  This action rejoined in ownership both parcels originally help by the Congregation Israel and expanded the mandate of the Foundation to include the restoration and maintenance of both properties.  The Hebrew Cemetery, which is separate from the temple site, has benefited from several years of increasing efforts from B’nai B’rith Denver volunteers and from several hundred individuals and has been consecrated and reopened for burials.