Temple Israel of Leadville, Colorado: Once the “Highest” Synagogue in America

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Temple Israel of Leadville, Colorado

 

Leadville, Colorado, originally known as Oro City, is located West of Denver at an elevation of 10,152 feet above sea level – making it extremely difficult to bake a good challah.

From the beginning of Leadville’s boom days in the 1870, Jewish businessmen were active in the life of the area – many having moved their businesses from the lower regions of Denver which is only 5,280 feet above sea level, where it is only moderately difficult to bake a good challah.

Leadville Postcard circa 1890.

Leadville Postcard circa 1890.

By 1883, Leadville boasted a population of 75 Jewish families and an equal number of single Jewish men out of an estimated population of 20,000.

There existed a Hebrew Benevolent Society, a Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society, a Jewish Cemetery and a B’nai B’rith Lodge.

In 1884, the Jewish community decided it was time to organize a synagogue.

Congregation Israel was established.

Young David May a the first Vice President of Congregation Israel in Leadville, CO.

Young David May a the first Vice President of Congregation Israel in Leadville, CO.

The founding officers were: Joseph H. Monheimer, President; David May (of eventual May Company fame), Vice-President; Samuel Berry, Treasurer; and Max A. Kahn, Secretary.

The building committee consisted of Samuel Meyer, David May, Isaac Baer and Max A. Kahn.

David May would open his first store here, the beginning of the May Co. Department Store chain.

 

The Guggenheim family were also active members of Congregation Israel.

Land was donated by H.A.W. Tabor – a leading non-Jewish citizen of Leadville.

Construction started immediately and the new synagogue was officially dedicated on Rosh Hashanah Eve that same year – making Temple Israel the second synagogue in Colorado – Temple Emanu-El of Denver being the first in 1875.

Temple Israel of Leadville in the 1890's

Temple Israel of Leadville in the 1890’s

Rabbi Morris Sachs, a recent graduate of Hebrew Union College led the High Holy Day services.

 

The Congregation functioned until the 1930’s

The Temple Israel Foundation was incorporated in 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.

In 1992, the Foundation purchased the Temple Israel building.  Having completed the restoration to its original 1880’s form in 2008, the Temple Israel building has been returned to use as a synagogue and museum commemorating the Jewish experience in the West.

The restored Temple Israel, Today.

The restored Temple Israel, Today.

Temple Israel building: 201 West 4th Street, Leadville, CO.
Temple Israel Foundation: 208 West 8th Street, Leadville, CO 80461
Office: 719-486-3625    Cell: 303-709-7050

 For more information see Western States Jewish History:

  • A Synagogue for Leadville, Colorado, WSJH, Vol. #16, Issue #2, 1984.

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