Ace Hardware becomes Jewish Synagogue monument

DERON TALLEY, EDITOR @DeRonTalley
The Ace Hardware store located on Railroad Avenue served as the Bikur Cholim, a Jewish Synagogue, from 1872 to the late 1940s.

The City of Donaldsonville has a history that is still being recovered. It has a uniqueness that is continuously discovered. Mary Ann Sternberg, the author of the “River Road Rambler” knew this but she didn’t think she’d find the Ace Hardware Store in Donaldsonville was once a Jewish Synagogue.

The old wooden structure on Railroad Avenue sells hammers, nails, paints, and garden tools, in a space that was formerly the Bikur Cholim Synagogue, built in 1872.  It served as a place of worship for the Jewish population of Donaldsonville and environs until the late 1940s when the congregation was dissolved for lack of membership, according to Sternberg.

“This is important to Donaldsonville,” Sternberg said. “I mean, there were mayors who were Jewish and Mr. Lemann who did everything here he was Jewish.”

In 1955, the building was sold to Western Auto and subsequently became Ace Hardware.

Sternberg partnered with Congregation B’nai Israel to unveil a poster after Ace Hardware owner Mark Gautreau approved. On Sunday, May 18 the poster was unveiled to a small crowd and will permanently be displayed in the store’s window that conveys the history of the building to store customers and visitors to Donaldsonville.

The poster, created and designed by Baton Rouge artist Elizabeth Randall Neely, is a double-faced exhibit including an historic photograph of the Bikur Cholim exterior from the 1930s as well as a drawing of what the interior of the synagogue looked like.   

Gautreau said it’s been interesting living in a Jewish Synagogue.

“Over the course of 37 years I’ve had eight sets of people interested in the Jewish culture here,” Gautreau said. “I enjoy being here and I don’t know if the Jewish Synagogue had anything to do with it I’ve enjoyed remodeling the upstairs and I found a few things here and there, some scarves and things that were original to the church.”

Sternberg’s book came out last April that has essays and short stories about unique or under appreciated places along the River Road. And one of them was this sight of the Synagogue built in 1872.

“I hope this is an addition to Donaldsonville to show that history of Louisiana,” Sternberg said.

Rabbi Jordan Goldson of Congregation B’nai Israel in Baton Rouge, said he was thrilled to “see all of you and in our tradition it’s really important to honor the memory of past communities and the people that we’ve loved and to see the connection you all have to the people who’ve come before you.”

“It’s a tribute to you and them and the importance of keeping those kinds of memories alive and trying to bring back those memories is a really important thing that we do,” Rabbi Jourdan said.

Rabbi Jourdan explained Bikur Cholim means “visiting the sick,” and said that’s significant the synagogue represented that.