By Meghan Chapuran, North Jersey History and Genealogy Center
The beginnings of Morristown’s rich Jewish history dates back more than 165 years, to the Sam and Sire families.
The Sam Family
Samuel and Deborah Sam, a German Jewish couple, settled in Morristown circa 1857 with their four children. Samuel, a merchant and tailor, was born in 1825, and Deborah, in 1829.
Prior to settling in Morristown, the Sam family lived in New York City, where three of their eight children–Sophia, Caroline, and Solomon–were born. We know from 1860 federal census records that the Sams’ second son, Mayer, was born in New Jersey on Sept. 10, 1856.
The advertisement below is probably the earliest advertisement for a Jewish owned business in Morristown to appear in The True Democratic Banner or The Jerseyman. It also places the Sam family in Morristown a little more than a year before their son Jacob was born, on Sept. 5, 1858, which might make him the first Jewish child born in town.
Samuel owned a clothing store throughout his time in Morristown. In 1873, the store occupied an extension of the Arnold Brothers’ store on the north side of Market Street. In 1874, he had leased one of the Atno stores on Washington Street to sell boots and shoes. On May 9, 1876, The Jerseyman had a small article about the items that could be found there.
By the end of the 1870s, Samuel Sam’s three oldest sons were starting their own businesses in Morristown. For Solomon Sam, it was cigars, in one of his father’s stores. That was around 1875, when Solomon was about 20 years old.
Mayer and Jacob joined together and started “Mayer Sam & Co.” selling boots and shoes not long after.
Solomon Sam was an innovative and successful businessman. He expanded his inventory, installed new machines, and utilized new technology to attract customers. One innovation included an automatic smoking image, which was detailed in The Jerseyman in 1875. Another way he drew customers was with a soda fountain, four years later.
Solomon Sam opened a cigar and tobacco store in 1875, and by 1879 it also carried brandy, wine, and liquor for medicinal and family use, along with imported and domestic ales, porters and lagers.
In addition to being a wholesaler and retailer of tobacco and cigars, Solomon sold all sorts of smokers’ articles. He appealed to young and old with confections and, of course, soda. He also served as a newspaper and magazine salesman.
By 1880, Solomon Sam’s business was named “Solomon Sam’s Confectionary.” It became so profitable that he was able to install Morristown’s first telephone, connecting his store with his brothers’ store, “Mayer Sam & Co.”
Unlike many Jewish families that followed, the Sams did not stay in Morristown for generations.
Samuel Sam took his wife, Deborah and their two youngest children to New York City by 1870. Solomon Sam and his brothers Mayer and Jacob left by 1885. Mayer and Jacob moved because their store was being rented to someone else and they could not find another suitable location in Morristown.
In addition to an advertisement the brothers took out in The Jerseyman, the newspaper also ran an article about their move:
“Mayer Sam & Co. propose to leave Morristown in the Spring, and preparatory thereto are closing out their stock of goods, as may be more fully seen by referring to their advertisement in this issue.”
A few months later, The Jerseyman ran another short article about the brothers’ store:
“Messrs. Mayer Sam & Co. will close their shop in Morristown on the first of April, after which they will be located at 2035 Third avenue, N. Y.”
Even after leaving Morristown, the Sam family merited mentions in The Jerseyman. An obituary for Solomon Sam’s 2-month-old son months appeared in the newspaper on July 29, 1887, when Solomon and his wife Caroline were living in Rochester, NY. When Samuel Sam’s wife Deborah passed away in New York City, her obituary ran in The Jerseyman on April 10, 1891.
Finally, a visit from Solomon Sam in December 1895 to friends still living in Morristown garnered the The Jerseyman’s attention.
“Solomon Sam visited friends in town last Saturday after an absence of fourteen years. He is now employed as an agent for Clausen’s brewery. His brothers, who formerly had a shoe store in Morristown, now have four in New York city.”
The Sire Family
Henry and Rosena Sire, a German Jewish couple, settled into a home on South Street with three children who were born in Germany: Barney, Annie, and Minnie. Their fourth child, Benjamin, was born on March 30, 1860, in Morristown. Their fifth child, William, was born in 1864. A daughter, Jennie, rounded out the family in 1866.
Henry Sire was a horse dealer; a small stable behind his home on South Street housed more than 100 horses. It is said that during the Civil War, he sold horses to the Union Cavalry.
This map of Morristown from the 1868 Beers Atlas shows the home of Henry Sire (spelled Syer on the map) at the corner of South Street and New Vernon Road, which later would be renamed James Street.
By the 1870s, his business expanded to include a large stable on Speedwell Avenue at the corner of Early Street. Henry had his sons working with him from a young age. His oldest son, Barney, branched out from Henry’s business to exclusively trade horses among other traders and farmers. Benjamin was brought into horse dealing when he came of age. Henry changed the name of his business to “Henry Sire & Son,” with Benjamin bringing hundreds of horses to their stables.
The map below is from the 1874 Map of Morristown, Morris County, NJ, surveyed and published by Geo. L. Hull. It depicts the growth of the Sire business, as it expanded to include the large stable at Speedwell and Early. This stable was quite close to where Samuel Sam and his family lived on Speedwell Avenue.
The map below is from the 1887 Robinson Atlas of Morris County. It depicts how the Sire business continued to grow, even as Henry Sire no longer owned the land at the corner of Speedwell Avenue between Flagler and Spring streets. The map also shows that the Sam family no longer owned the plot at the corner of Speedwell and Flagler.
Rosena Sire passed away on April 23, 1886. Henry Sire followed his wife less than 10 years later on Dec. 27, 1894.
After Henry’s death, Benjamin began working with William and changed the name of the family business to “B. Sire & Brother.” Wishing to expand the business, they began traveling to the midwest and worked with western traders to purchase more horses. The horses were shipped to Morristown in freight trains, unloaded at the Lackawanna freight yard. The unloading and herding horses up Morris and Spring streets brought out regular crowds.
All of Henry and Rosena Sire’s children married, and most had children. Minnie Sire married Beruch Schloss about 1876 and resided in Newark. They had three children. Annie Sire married Nathan Meyer in 1873. They moved to Wabash, Ind., and had five children.
After her husband passed away in 1911, Annie moved with her youngest daughter to Newark to live with her sister Jennie. In 1920, Annie was living with her daughter Corinne and son-in-law Sidney Raysed. Jennie Sire married Jonas Kind, a widower, in Newark on April 11, 1898, at the age of 35. She had no children of her own.
Barney Sire married Tillie Walter of Newark on Nov. 7, 1877. In 1880, the couple lived in Morris Township and had two young children. A decade later, the couple moved to Newark with their children. Barney and Tillie had at least four offspring.
In 1889, Benjamin married Celia Schloss of Newark. Celia was born on March 30, 1867. The couple had only one son, who they named Albert Jerome Sire. He was born on Jan. 19, 1891. William married Clara Lorsch of Newark on April 17, 1892. They had one son, Herbert Henry Sire, who was born on Sept. 1, 1897.
Benjamin Sire, his wife, and son Albert, were the only members of the Sire family to live in Morristown until their deaths. Albert took over the family business when his father, Benjamin, passed on Nov. 17, 1926. He continued the business until the ever-growing affordability of the automobile put an end to the Sires’ once-prosperous horse dealing business.
Once Albert disposed of the enterprise, he began to invest in stocks and bonds. He was so successful that he was estimated to be worth $2 million.
When Albert died on Nov. 20, 1971, he was buried in Evergreen Cemetery because he was not considered a member of the local Jewish community. In his will, he bequeathed his estate to a cousin, several friends, his housekeepers, many Morristown institutions, and the Town of Morristown itself. The institutions included hospitals, churches, and the Morristown Jewish Community Center.
A Jewish Community in Morristown
During the decades that the Sam and Sire families lived in Morristown, more Jewish families came to live there. The 1890s brought an influx of families making Morristown their home. They no longer wanted to travel long distances by train or wagon to larger Jewish communities outside of Morristown to attend temple for the High Holidays, or to have their children attend a school that taught their faith.
By 1898, a hardworking Jewish community was formed. It rose $35 to purchase a small Torah, enabling local Jews to hold their own services. The first High Holiday services were held at 4 Race St., in the home of Abraham Mintz.
By Jan. 5, 1899, there were enough Jewish people in Morristown to incorporate and form the House of Israel, first at Abraham Mintz’ home. They purchased a regular-sized Torah for the newly incorporated House of Israel. Jewish families from Madison and beyond began attending services in Morristown.
The House of Israel was housed in multiple locations across Morristown, until 1916, when members of the Morristown Hebrew Synagogue Association purchased the estate of Heyward G. Emmel.
An article in The Jerseyman read: “Morristown Hebrew Synagogue Association had purchased a piece of land on Speedwell Avenue from Benjamin Reiser for erection of a temple to cost between $20-25,000. Committee in charge were Herman Fine, Max Schlesinger and Morris Holland.” When they bought the estate of Heyward G. Emmel, it included a 25-room house, a lake, and a cottage. Hebrew school was held upstairs in the house, while services were held downstairs.
In 1928, plans to build a synagogue center that included a house of worship, a school building, and community center facilities were under consideration. In 1929, the cornerstone for a new structure was laid by David S. Salny, a founder of the Salny Brothers clothing store, former president of the congregation, and a member of the new board of directors.
By 1929, the new building was built and included an “auditorium-gymnasium, showers, bowling alleys, and meeting rooms for various Jewish organizations.”
Both the Sam and Sire families lived in Morristown long before the House of Israel Congregation was formed. They traveled long distances by train or wagon to larger Jewish communities outside of Morristown to attend temple for the High Holidays.
It is unknown what Jewish congregation the Sam family belonged to during its residence in Morristown. However, when most of the Sam family moved to New York City, they were buried in the Mount Neboh Cemetery. This cemetery is near the Brooklyn-Queens border in Glendale, Queens, and was founded in 1886 by Mount Neboh Cemetery Association.
While Albert Sire did not belong to the local Jewish community in Morristown during his life, his family belonged to the Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, now in Short Hills. Established in 1848 on High Street in Newark, it rapidly evolved from Orthodox Judaism to Reform Judaism by the turn of the 20th century. The Sire family that stayed in Morristown and Newark, or returned to Newark, are buried in the Congregation B’nai Jeshurun Cemetery.
- State and federal census records, North Jersey History & Genealogy Center collections
- The Jerseyman newspaper, North Jersey History & Genealogy Center collections
- The True Democratic Banner newspaper, North Jersey History & Genealogy Center collections
- Map and Atlas collections, North Jersey History & Genealogy Center collections
- Curtiss photo collection, North Jersey History & Genealogy Center collections
- Archival and Manuscript Collection, North Jersey History & Genealogy Center collections
- Boyd’s Morris County Directories, North Jersey History & Genealogy Center collections
- Sire and Sam family vertical files, North Jersey History & Genealogy Center collections
- Subject vertical files, North Jersey History & Genealogy Center collections
- Ancestry database, North Jersey History & Genealogy Center collections
- Scherzer, Carl B. Early Jewish History in Morristown. Morristown, NJ: Scherzer, 1977.
- Weiss, Ermaline. “The Horse-Trading Sires of Morristown.” Morris County. Autumn 1984.
- “Center Here Since 1899.” Daily Record. October 31, 1964.
- “County’s oldest Jewish group marks 85th” Daily Record. November 20, 1984.
- Lazarus, Shirley. “Morristown Jewish Center Marks 75th” Daily Record.