Hebrew Cemetery opened in 1817, on Richmond’s north side at Hospital and 4th Streets, overlooking Bacon’s Quarter Branch. One year earlier, in February 1816, Richmond’s Congregation Beth Shalome had charged three of its members with appealing to city council “concerning the appropriation of some ground that was laid off for burying-grounds, for the different religious societies some time back, and that they use their endeavors to obtain said ground for this congregation.” Their appeal took place just at the time that the city designated two acres for the burial of free people of color and slaves in this same neighborhood. The city council approved the congregation’s request a few months later, and it soon formalized the conveyance of one acre to Beth Shalome “to be by them held and exclusively used as a burying-ground, subject to their rites and laws, for that purpose and for that alone.”
Part of the congregation’s concern for a new burying ground came from the crowded conditions at the narrow, privately-held Franklin Street Burying Ground, which had served Jewish residents since 1791. Arrangements were made to transfer remains to the new ground, where the site was laid out in a grid pattern with graves facing east. A small ritual house was erected on the spot for the preparation of the deceased for burial, and the whole was enclosed by a wall. The site would be called the “Jews Cemetery,” the “Jews’ burying-ground,” and then “Hebrew Cemetery” by the 1850s, in a firm indication of its identity. With the arrival of more German-speaking Jews in the nineteenth century, the congregation Beth Ahabah formed in 1841 and began operating the site jointly with Beth Shalome.
One of Hebrew Cemetery’s central features is a Confederate Soldiers’ Section, which was established by the ladies of the Hebrew Memorial Association in 1866. In a widely-distributed appeal for donations that year, Mrs. Abraham Levy noted that the ladies intended to care for “the sacred remains of many a loved brother, son and husband, to whose relatives, in the far sunny South, it would be a solace to know that the pious duty of preserving from decay the last resting place of their lost ones, although denied to them to perform, is yet sacredly fulfilled by the members” of her group. With their resulting collections, the group commissioned an ornate iron fence and orchestrated memorial day activities. The thirty original markers in the section have since been replaced by a central stone.
In 1898, a substantial brick chapel was built to replace the cemetery’s earlier ritual house. The cemetery expanded several times from 1871 to 1920, including a separate addition south across Hospital Street. By then, control of the site had been transferred to the Beth Ahabah congregation, which continues to care for the site. Hebrew Cemetery now holds over 2,600 burials.
Podcast for Benjamin Wolfe (city councilman, first burial at Hebrew Cemetery), 1767?-1817, by Alexandra Hines and Jonathan Tyktor:
Podcast for Joseph and Louisa Millhiser (husband and wife, businessman, Confederate veteran), 1822-1866, by Rebecca Earnhardt and Jaimi Hecht:
Podcast for William H. Schwarzschild (jeweler), 1879-1952, by Daniel Pepio and Crystal Rager:
Podcast for Edith Lindeman Calisch (theater critic and songwriter), 1898-1984, by Abigail Monroe and Akiva Smith:
For more information, see:
Margaret Peters and John Peters, NRHP Report for Hebrew Cemetery, 2006, Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Myron Berman, Richmond’s Jewry, 1769-1976: Shabbat in Shockoe (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia for the Jewish Community Federation of Richmond, 1979)
Herbert T. Ezekiel and Gaston Lichtenstein, The History of the Jews of Richmond From 1769 to 1917 (Richmond, Va.: Herbert T. Ezekiel, 1917