John Elsner: The “Leading Pioneer Physician” of Denver, Colorado

Dr. John Elsner

Values Codes H – I – E – L – P


John Elsner was born in Vienna in 1844, the son of Leopold David Elsner.

Dr. John Elsner, "Leading Physician" of Denver, #WS0257

Dr. John Elsner, “Leading Physician” of Denver, #WS0257

The Elsners came to America from Preesburg, (Bratislava) on the Danube River.

Leopold Elsner became a leader in the Hungarian revolution and with its failure, was forced to leave native land.


Along the way

They settled first in Utica, New York in 1848 where Leopold Elsner became the first rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, that had just been formed.

In 1851 the family moved to Syracuse, New York where John Elsner and his two brothers attended school. All three were to become physicians.

By 1863, John Elsner had graduated from the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary and was appointed by the United States Navy as examining surgeon aboard the U.S.S. Ohio, stationed in Charleston, South Carolina.

After a short stay, Elsner returned to New York and completed his medical training at Bellevue Medical College.

While studying medicine, Elsner also studied mineralogy and became an expert in the classification of stones and minerals.

When he received his medical degree in 1866, he traveled West to make his fortune in “precious metals.”

He bought a share of a mine located about 30 miles west of Denver.


Denver, Colorado

John Elsner joined a wagon train and either rode horseback or walked all the way to the Colorado Territory, arriving in Denver  — a frontier town of about 4,000 people – in June of 1866. There, he set up practice.

“Dr. John Elsner has taken a very good way to notify our citizens that he has settled among us. He has printed a large number of neat circulars for distribution with interest”

— The Rocky Mountain News, June 6, 1866



In 1870, Dr. John Elsner was appointed Physician of Arapahoe County.

He created first County Hospital in a small shelter at 9th and Mariposa Streets.

It had 29 beds – mattresses on boxes.


Elsner and his Jewish partner, Dr. David Heimberger, were part of the founding committee of the Denver Medical Society in 1871.

In the 1880’s Elsner was appointed Surgeon of the Loveland Guards – a National Guard unit stationed at Loveland, Colorado.



Dr. John Elsner was a charter member of the Denver Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1871, and was elected vice president.

The following year, 1872, Lena Eesner  helped organize the Hebrew Ladies Benevolent Society.


Mrs. John Lesner of Denver, CO. #WS0259

Mrs. John Elsner of Denver, CO. #WS0259


When Congregation Emanuel dedicated its first building in 1875, Dr. Elsner and Herman Silver gave the dedication sermons. [Click here to learn about Herman Silver]

In 1883 Dr. Elsner helped file articles of Incorporation for the Hebrew Cemetery Association, legally establishing what had been operating since 1860.

In 1881 Elsner and David Kline headed the establishment of the Free Sons of Israel.

In 1889 Elsner participated in the establishment of the National Jewish Hospitaland was a member of the first Board of Trustees and Chairman of the medical staff.

“Among the leading physicians, surgeons, and specialists, I do not mean Jewish alone, but all, is Dr. John Elsner, the leading physician of Denver.”

The American Israelite, Oct. 30, 1890, Front Page

Dr. Elsner was in great demand as a mohel (ritual circumciser), traveling throughout the Territory: Boulder, Pueblo, Blackhawk and Leadville. Elsner’s record book lists 169 circumcisions between 1867 and May 1925.

Residence of John & Lena Lesner in Denver, location of many fund raisers for civic and Jewish organizations, #WS0258

Residence of John & Lena Elsner in Denver, location of many fundraisers for both civic and Jewish organizations, #WS0258


The Denver Lodge of B’nai B’rith was organized with Dr. Lesner as the Lecture Master.

In 1874 he served as President of the lodge.

The B’nai B’rith Lodge had organized Congregation Emanuel in 1872, with Elsner elected as a Trustee.



In 1867, Dr. John Elsner married Lena Zalinger, the daughter of Joseph and Brunetta Zalinger, a local freight hauler.

Together they had a daughter and adopted a son.


Dr. John Elsner passed away in 1922.

He is buried in the Congregation Emanuel Cemetery.


“Jews in the News”

The Beginnings of Jewish Organizational Life in Colorado — 1871

Denver, Colorado. — On February 12, 1871, a benevolent association by the Israelites of this city, has been effected by the selection of the following named gentlemen as officers: President, Julius Londoner; Vice President, Dr. John Elsner; Secretary, Charles M. Schayer; Corresponding Secretary, Dr. David Heimberger; Treasurer, David Klein. Trustees: Moses Abrams, Henry Klein, Solomon Nathan, Joseph Gottlieb.

The name of the society is the Hebrew Benevolent Association of Denver. The object is to aid all Israelites in indigent circumstances who may reside here, or who may come here in future; as also for the mutual assistance of its members; and to promote social intercourse among the Israelites of our city.

D. Heimberger, M.D.

—The American Israelite, Cincinnati, March 17, 1871, WSJH 20/1.


  • Marjorie Hornbein, “Dr. John Elsner: A Colorado Pioneer,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly 13/4.