Driving North Carolina highways and byways, you have likely noticed silver and black metal signposts standing on the roadside commemorating a noted personage or event. Under the ornamental state seal, the black boldfaced text tells of a nearby historic mill or battlefield, or the birthplace of a notable musician or educator. The state has erected over 1,600 such markers. At least ten commemorate Jews or places of Jewish significance. The Jewish-interest markers extend from Roanoke Island, where one notes Joachim Gans, the Jewish scientist who arrived in 1585, to the mountain hamlet of Rosman, where another describes the tanneries of Joseph Silversteen, who named the town for his partners Rosenthal and Omansky.
The Highway Historical Marker Program began in 1935. “Unlike monuments,” the Program states on its website, “markers do not seek to glorify or celebrate people and events,” but to educate citizens on “all parts of North Carolina history, both the good and the bad,…the tragic and the heroic.” The program is administered by both the Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. The Program and the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association decide who and what is worthy of recognition.
A Historical Marker Maintenance Endowment Fund has been established to defer the expense of repairing damaged markers. Contributions will allow the Program to allot more monies to increase the people and places to be commemorated.
The ten markers of Jewish significance also stand before the home of Jacob Henry, elected to the general assembly in 1808; Gertrude Weil of Goldsboro, leader of the state woman suffragist movement; the mills of the Cone brothers, Greensboro textile magnates; Temple of Israel of Wilmington, the state’s first synagogue; the home of Judah Benjamin, Confederate statesman educated in Fayetteville; a Rosenwald School in Edenton, one of 813 the Jewish philanthropist endowed in the state for African-Americans; Van Eeden, an agrarian settlement of Holocaust-era emigres; and the home of Harry Golden, the celebrated Charlotte journalist and civil-rights advocate.
Pictured here: JHNC historian Leonard Rogoff (far right) spoke at the dedication of the Joachim Gans Highway Historical Marker on Roanoke Island in September 2019.
Jewish Heritage North Carolina would like to add at least two nominees: the herbarium of the Wallace Brothers in Statesville, the world’s largest botanical emporium at the time; and the Mordecai Female Academy, established by Jewish scholar Jacob Mordecai in Warrenton in 1802.
Do you have an event or person of statewide significance in your community worthy of nomination for a historical marker? Please alert JHNC at email@example.com.