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Cleveland's Jewish Cemeteries


Willet Street Cemetery          Fir Street Cemetery        Mayfield Cemetery

Willet Street Cemetery - 1840  1,500+ burials   (sometimes spelled Willett)
Cleveland's first Jewish cemetery.

In 1839, soon after the Alsbacher party of 15 arrived from Unsleben, Bavaria, the Israelitic Society was formed. In April 1840 it petitioned Cleveland City Council for a half-acre section of the Erie (East 9th) Street Cemetery. City Council said 'no'. City law allowed only the sale of family plots.

Read the story of that failed petition.

In July 1840 it arranged to buy an acre of land in Brooklyn Township on the west side of the Cuyahoga River for $100 from Josiah Barber.

See the deed of sale on our pages.

The Israelitic Society soon became Anshe Chesed congregation.

Tifereth Israel, founded in 1850, bought about one-third of an acre south of Anshe Chesed's land from Joel Scranton on April 20, 1854 for $100. In 1871 and 1881 it added small adjacent parcels.

In the drawing below, sections E - J were owned by Anshe Chesed. A - D by Tifereth Israel.

The cemetery is north of I-90, where Fulton Road (once Willet Street) and Monroe Avenue intersect. The address is 2254 Fulton Road. The phone number (216) 321-1733 is Mayfield Cemetery's.

Though headstones will be found here for burials as late as the 1950s, Willet Street Cemetery has many empty spaces. They are the result of the removal of graves to Mayfield Cemetery, for reburial among children and grandchildren. Examples include Simpson and Regina Thorman and Moses and Yetta Alsbacher.

Since 1890 Willet Street Cemetery and Mayfield Cemetery have been owned and maintained by United Jewish Cemeteries, an association owned by The Temple - Tifereth Israel and Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple.

The website includes an informative History timeline


below: Google Satellite View

Who was the seller, Josiah Barber?

Josiah Barber (1771-1842) and his partner in real estate development Richard Lord, owned the land along the lake west of the Cuyahoga River. They were son-in-law and son of Samuel P Lord, an investor in the Connecticut Land Company.

Barber had another brother-in-law Leonard Eckstein Case Sr. who had also married a daughter of Samuel Lord. Case managed the sales of the land east of the Cuyahoga River. In 1843 he would make the Great Gift to the Jews of Cleveland — land for their first synagogue.

Why buy on the west side?

To our pioneer Jews, who lived where Progressive Field stands today, near the Cuyahoga River, the near west side did not seem so far away. For them, cemeteries were aways outside the town.

Cost, alone, would have ruled out a nearby burial ground. Their one acre on Willet Street in Brooklyn cost $100. An acre in the city would have cost $3,000. (For comparison, Eagle Street Synagogue cost $1,500 to build.)

How did they cross the Cuyahoga River?

They probably used the Columbus Street Bridge, built in 1835. It had a draw section to let vessels pass. It took time and sometimes money to pay tolls to cross the Cuyahoga. That may explain why communities downtown would move east, and those west of the river would move west. 

Picture: Columbus Street Bridge in 1837, looking northeast.


The early marble and limestone headstones have fared poorly; some are unreadable. Here on the near west side, near Cleveland's industrial valley with its steel mills and oil refineries, and the use of coal for heating and later to generate electricity, dirtied the air.

Later came auto emissions from the nearby highways. What we now call "acid rain" has dissolved the surfaces. Granite stones, which began to be used in the 1900s, offer much more resistance to erosion, as can be seen at the newer Mayfield Cemetery.

Is it spelled Willet or Willett?

Jeffrey Morris, chronicler of our cemeteries, notes on his page on this cemetery that early maps and deeds spell the name both ways. City Council Archives say it was Willett.


We prefer Willet. That is how the cemetery's owner, United Jewish Cemeteries, spells it. Perhaps because the deeds of sale, from Josiah Barber in 1840 and Joel Scranton in 1854, also say Willet.

The first burial at Willet Street Cemetery

A Bavarian-born peddler named Alexander Kahnweiler was buried here on August 7, 1840, the same day the deed to the cemetery was recorded.

For the story of that day, a challenge to our community and we believe is the reason our first congregation chose the name Anshe Chesed, click here.

Photos: 1, 2-5 by Nate Arnold, 6-8 by Arnold Berger 3 Google Satellite view
Arnold Berger  July 12, 2023

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