The oldest Jewish cemetery in West Virginia has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The Mt. Wood Cemetery in Wheeling, W.Va., which occupies some of the highest ground in the city, was purchased by Wheeling’s Jewish community in 1849, and is the final resting place for some of the community’s leading families.
Among those buried there are Samuel Kraus, a veteran of the Mexican-American and Civil wars who saw action at Antietam and Gettysburg; Simon Horkheimer, one of the civic leaders who worked to temporarily bring the state capital back to Wheeling, where West Virginia was formally established, and L.S. Good, whose dry goods store evolved into a department store empire with locations across the East Coast. Good’s house in Wheeling also is on the National Register.
According to historic accounts, the early Jewish settlers in Wheeling purchased the ground for the cemetery after a visiting rabbi died. They started a congregation, L’Shem Shomayim, from which Temple Shalom is descended.
“We’re very proud we got that honor,” said Howard Posin, chair of the Cemetery Committee of Temple Shalom, Wheeling, which owns the Jewish section.
The cemetery is actually part of a larger memorial park, chartered as “Mt. Woods” in 1848, which includes cemeteries for other faiths. The entire park was included in the designation.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History notified Temple Shalom on Sept. 13 of the designation.
Caryn Gresham, deputy commissioner of the division, said the designation is largely, but not entirely, symbolic.
“Basically, it [the cemetery] gets a plaque,” Gresham said. “When a site is listed on the National Register, it generally means there’s an acknowledgement of its historic value and provides opportunities for the owner or the organization that maintains that property to be eligible for different kinds of grants — grants they might use to preserve or repair parts of the cemetery. … Those are the monetary opportunities that come.”
Any state or federal agency interested in doing construction work on or near the site must first go through a review process by the state Historic Preservation Office, according to Gresham. “So there’s some protection for the property.”
Mt. Wood is not the only West Virginia Jewish site on the National Register. The Spring Hill Cemetery in Kanawha County, which includes B’nai Israel Cemetery and Lowenstein Family Cemetery, is also included.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)