Isaac Schwarz

Map of Isaac Schwarz’s Property in Alexandria

Going through data on the City of Alexandria from the 1870 U.S. Census was very fascinating, especially when I tried to trace certain families into the 1880 U.S. Census. The Schwarz family consisted of Isaac (35), head of the household; Lenna (24) (correct name is Lena); Clara (7); Samuel (4); and Eada (1) (correct name is Edith) living in Ward 3 in 1870. I thought nothing else of the family other than they fit the profile of a typical German immigrant family in Alexandria. A quick search of Home of Peace Cemetery through the website, Find a Grave, showed that Isaac, Lena, and Samuel were buried there. Further research showed how the Schwarz family was a well-regarded German Jewish family in Alexandria during the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

The Schwarz family represents a unique part of Alexandria’s immigration history. Isaac and Lena Schwarz were both born in Bavaria. Isaac’s brother, Henry, emigrated before Isaac and had established a profitable dry goods business on the 500 Block of King Street in Ward 3 of the city by 1855.[1] The 500 Block of King Street was once owned primarily by Adam Lynn, Jr. who lost the properties due to the 1819 recession.[2] By the 1850s, the street was the epicenter of German Jewish immigrants and their businesses. The 1870 and 1880 Censuses reveal that this street was home to the Bendheim, Strauss, and Hinderstand families among others. Tracing these German Jewish immigrant families shows that many of them were merchants, clerks, bakers, or butchers. The block remained in these families for generations, particularly the Bendheims and Schwarzs.

Isaac Schwarz served in the 17th Virginia Infantry for the Confederacy during the Civil War and was honorably discharged after being injured in the Second Battle of Bull Run.[3] Isaac returned to Alexandria to run his brother’s dry goods store after Henry moved to Philadelphia by 1865.[4] Henry’s reasons for leaving a thriving business are unknown. Perhaps it was to start another goods store in Philadelphia or that, after the Civil War, Henry sought better opportunities in the North and he left the store to his fresh-out-of-the-army brother who could use the money and experience. Henry was an active member of the Jewish community and was a founding member of Beth El Hebrew congregation in 1859 and a part of the Hebrew Learning Society.[5] Isaac filled his brother’s shoes easily after he left. By 1870, Isaac is married to fellow Bavarian, Lena; however, it is also possible that the couple married before arriving in the United States. The couple have three children by this time and they would have a fourth, Fannie, in 1880. The dry goods store was doing extremely well with the Schwarz’s employing Ister Briven, a 22 year old Bavarian who lived with them in 1870, and they also had a white servant. The employment not only of Briven but also a servant demonstrates how Isaac was able to grow the business and maintain a healthy profit even after the Civil War. Isaac and Lena–by allowing Briven to board with them–is a testament to the community aspect among German Jews in Alexandria as they were willing to help a newly emigrated young man get experience in the merchant industry, especially those from the same kingdom.  It is even possible that they knew each other in Germany or were extended kin.

Isaac and Lena Schwarz appeared on the 1880 U.S. Census at 132 King Street as a dry goods merchant and keeping house as their respective occupations. The couple now had four children with 7 month old Fannie. In 1884, Isaac purchased the property adjoining his store at 522-524 King Street.[6] He continues to purchase the surrounding lots on King Street with the 1887 purchase of 102 and 104 S. St. Asaph Street.[7] It is not surprising with his purchases of property on one the most well-known streets in Alexandria that based on taxes Isaac was one the wealthiest residents of Alexandria by 1888.[8] This amount of property would put Isaac as one of the most influential German Jewish immigrants and possible of the most powerful residents in Alexandria.

The close knit quality of the German Jewish community, especially amongst those on King Street, and the status of the Schwarz family in the city was probably a driving force in the marriage of Isaac’s middle daughter, Edith, to Charles Bendheim. David Bendheim was a long time neighbor of Isaac who, by 1880, can be placed at 285 King Street. David was a prominent figure amongst the community and his son Charles was three years older than Edith. In the 1910 U.S. Census, Edith had married Charles, moved to Ward 4 in Alexandria, and had a son Leroy in 1906. Isaac Schwarz’s grandson, Leroy Bendheim, would go to become the Mayor of Alexandria from 1955-61 and a member of the Virginia Senate. Leroy, Edith, Charles, and David Bendheim are all buried in Home of Peace Cemetery.

With $2,000 of property in 1870, Isaac Schwarz made a name for himself in Alexandria. Perhaps that success was in part because of the central location his brother set up his dry goods store. The 500 Block of King Street was the gathering place of German Jewish immigrants, and their success is evident in the wealth of not only Isaac but also of David Bendheim. Isaac died in 1898 and was buried in Home of Peace Cemetery next to his wife, Lena, who passed away in 1893. The successful Bavarian left 518-520 King Street to his son, and the home remained in the Schwarz family until 1960. Leroy Bendheim then sold the Schwarz homestead to the Alexandria Regional Housing Authority (ARHA), and it was demolished in 1967 as part of an urban renewal project.[9] The 522-524 King Street property was passed on in a trust to Isaac’s daughters; it is unclear what happened to the S. St. Asaph Street property.[10]

[1] Amanda Iacobelli, “German and German-Jewish Immigrants: Michael German, Lewis Baar, David Bendheim, Max Pretzfelder, J.H Gerhard, and Henry and Isaac Schwarz,” http://alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/archaeology/AR500BlockGerman.pdf (2006), 6.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “The Gray: Isaac Schwarz,” Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City, http://www.jhsgw.org/exhibitions/online/lincolns-city/exhibits/show/mr-lincolns-city/blue-gray/isaac-schwarz.

[4] Iacobelli, “German and German-Jewish Immigrants,” 6.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

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