The family of Jacob Simon was one of many Jewish families who left their native homelands in the mid-to-late 19th century and settled in Council Bluffs and Omaha where they could preserve their traditions and practice their religion freely.
They established grocery stores, meat markets, clothing stores and other businesses in their new cities.
Bernard Simon, the father of Jacob, came to Omaha from Russia in 1885. In the early 1900s, the family moved to Council Bluffs where Bernard opened a grocery store. In 1905, he and Jennie purchased the house at 602 W. Washington Ave. (The History We Live In; Sept. 2, 2018). It remained the family home until 1924.
Bernard died in Los Angeles in 1928 and is buried in Council Bluffs. His obituary states: “He was active in Council Bluffs affairs during his extended residence here, and was well-known for his work with charitable agencies. He was prominent in the Jewish synagogue.”
Jacob Simon was born in Omaha in 1888. He married Clara Pill in Council Bluffs on Oct. 21, 1906. Jacob and Clara had two children, Geraldine and Stanley. Jacob owned a grocery store and a wholesale meat market operation at 602 W. Broadway. He was an active member of the Council Bluffs and Jewish communities.
On April 22, 1904, according to an article in the Daily Nonpareil, Simon purchased additional property adjacent to his store at a cost of $12,500.
The Jan. 6, 1905, edition reported:
“With characteristic spirit, the congregation of Cherva B’Nai Yisroel has started a campaign to raise money for the completion of its new synagogue on Mynster street, the installation of a steam heating system and other improvements. Through the sale of pews the sum of $2,246 has already been realized and this amount will be increased. The purchasers and their heirs are entitled to the seats forever.
“The Chevra B’Nai Yisroel includes the majority of the Jewish population of Council Bluffs. It erected the synagogue last year at a cost of about $6,000, and dedicated it free of debt. A small part of the money was contributed by Gentiles, but the main fund came from the Jews themselves.”
The article mentions the names of “those who have bought pews up to this time” — including Jacob Simon. (This original building burned to the ground in 1930. The present building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was erected in 1931.).
An article in the Daily Nonpareil, July 5, 1911, carried the headline, “Grocers will picnic July 27”. The annual picnic was sponsored by the Council Bluffs Grocers and Butchers’ association and included Omaha businesses as well.
Committees included Arrangements and Grounds (Julius Keppner, chairman; Frank Petersen, M. Bernstein, Lou Simon (brother of Jacob), and R.E. Daniels; the South Omaha Soliciting committee (A. Metzger, chairman; Jacob Simon, F.E. Cave) and several other committees — even a Candy Wheel committee.
On Feb. 28, 1911, the newspaper reported that Jacob Simon, of the Central Grocery company, appeared before the city council with a proposition for constructing a retaining wall in the rear of his property, protecting it from the flood waters of the [Indian] creek. The proposal was to get the council’s permission to extend the wall.
“Discussion arose as to the correct creek line and the matter was so indefinite that the engineer was instructed to establish a new line for the bank through the city from Frank street to the Northwestern railroad tracks. He was also instructed to prepare specifications for a uniform retaining wall to be used in all such cases.”
In April of 1908, Simon purchased the 725 S. Eighth St. property from Judge E.R. Paige who had built his home on this corner in 1883. In April 1909, the Daily Nonpareil reported that a $7,000 10-room residence was being erected by Jacob Simon at the corner of Fifth Avenue and S. Eighth St. Jensen Bros. secured the contract, which called for the use of union labor throughout the project.
A column devoted to the labor unions followed construction through its completion later in 1909. Simon, age 31, was the owner of a wholesale grocery store and meat market at 602 W. Broadway. In 1916, Jacob and Clara sold the house and moved to Omaha where his address is listed in the 1920 census as 4833 Dodge St. and his occupation as “wholesale groceries.”
A recent survey of the South Eighth Street area, in preparation for listing of the district on the National Register of Historic Places, gives a description of the Queen Anne-style house with some Colonial features.
The house has a tall brick foundation that extends under the house and the massive wraparound porch on the front (Fifth Avenue) and Eighth Street sides.
Its notable features include a hipped roof, oversize dormers with Queen Anne-style decoration such as oculus windows and brackets, and a two-story bay with an ornamental brick chimney on the west.
Some of the fishscale shingles and windows are modern replacements, but the round-topped sash in the front-facing dormer appears to be original.
Within the wraparound porch, which has since been glass-enclosed, is a bow window with a leaded glass upper sash at the northwest corner, and cottage windows in what appear to be original moldings around the front door. The garage echoes the style of the house and appears to have been built at about the same time (1909).
The study concludes: “Its period integrity has been compromised by the introduction of vinyl siding and the replacement of some of the window sash, but it retains many elements that make it a strong example of late Queen Anne-style residential architecture.”
Jacob and Clara Simon spent their retirement years in Los Angeles. They are buried in Golden Hill Cemetery in Omaha.
— Thanks to the following sources: Council Bluffs Public Library; Ancestry.com census records, city directories; Pottawattamie County Auditor’s and Recorder’s Offices; Richard Carlson (survey consultant).