Sitting atop an unassuming street in Hopkinsville is a host of graves belonging to members of the once thriving Jewish community in town. Known descendants of the 35 people buried there have moved on, but one local man of Jewish faith is on a mission to preserve their resting ground.
Jonathan J. Eisenhauer, a local physical therapist assistant who is of the Jewish faith, approached Hopkinsville City Council at a recent meeting, asking the city to take ownership of the now overgrown Elb Cemetery at the end of Hope Street.
The council agreed to discuss the costs of upkeep for the cemetery at an upcoming Committee of the Whole meeting after they get a cost analysis of the undertaking from Hopkinsville Public Works Director Mike Perry.
Eisenhauer said about a year ago, Public Works and a group of inmates went and cleaned up the grounds of the cemetery, but Perry let him know that because the cemetery was private property, it wouldn't be a regular task.
Eisenhauer hasn't been able to pinpoint a living owner through his research.
According to a Christian County history book at the Pennyroyal Area Museum, a synagogue called Temple Adath Israel was built in 1925 on Sixth Street between Clay and Liberty streets.
"Jewish families started moving in (to Hopkinsville) after the Civil War, and they were strong contributors to the community," said Alissa Keller, executive director of the Museums of Historic Hopkinsville-Christian County. "A lot of them built stores, and I think they started the cemetery in the 1860s, so they would have a place to bury their families."
According to a copy of a handwritten deed Eisenhauer obtained, a man named Louis Elb bought the cemetery from Eveline J. Sharp, the executor of the estate of F. Sharp, in 1865.
It's unclear if the local congregation took ownership of Elb Cemetery when the synagogue was established. The building collapsed under the weight of heavy snow on Nov. 5, 1977, and local Jews had the synagogue demolished. The Torahs were given to congregations in Evansville and Chattanooga, according to an online encyclopedia on Southern Jewish Communities.
"My best guess is that (the cemetery) is (owned by) one of the synagogues that the Torahs went to, but no one knows or wants to step up and take ownership of it," Eisenhauer said.
Keller said the situation with Elb Cemetery is similar to Union Benevolent Society Cemetery No. 5 that was discovered on Vine Street years ago. The site is the burial ground for approximately 700 African-Americans who were either former slaves or veterans of the Civil War, but once the local society dissolved, no one kept it up. However, in 2016, city council voted to take ownership of it and rededicated the cemetery in 2018.
The Jewish cemetery is in a similar state. Weeds and trees now blanket the headstones and a fence that was installed by Eagle Scout Corey Over in 2007 is damaged.
"It's really sad that it's in disrepair," Eisenhauer said. "I was going to take it over myself, but I can't with my surgery."
Instead, Eisenhauer is making sure people know a cemetery is there in hopes that the history of those buried there won't be forgotten.
"I started doing the research on each individual person, and it will blow you away when you learn about what all these people were," he said.
Elb, was a Union sympathizer and a merchant in Hopkinsville who used his resources to help Union soldiers during the Civil War, the online encyclopedia stated.
"There probably wouldn't be a Hopkinsville if it wasn't for him," Eisenhauer said. "During the Civil War, there was a blockade up and no other supplies were able to come in, but Louis Elb ordered all these extra supplies under his name for all the mercantile stores in the area and provided for everybody."
Eisenhauer said he hopes to get a historical marker installed one day to acknowledge the Jewish community's place in Hopkinsville's history.
"I love going over and saying yahrzeit," he said, which, among Jews, is the anniversary of someone's death.
"On the High Holy Days, I go over there and I sound the shofar (an ancient musical horn), and I know the neighbors over there are wondering what's going on," he said, laughing. "We Jewish people believe that all Jews, we are all family. ... I just feel all of these historical sites should be memorialized the way they should be. They're our history; they're where we're from."
Reach Zirconia Alleyne at 270-887-3243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.