Barnesboro, Pa. was an unincorporated logging and farming community along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River until late 19th century, when coal deposits were discovered nearby and mining became the largest industry of northern Cambria County. Barnesboro was incorporated as a borough in 1894.
The earliest Jewish settler in Barnesboro was most likely Louis Luxenburg. Luxenburg immigrated to New York City from Kovno province, in present-day Lithuania, about 1891, when he was thirteen years old. He moved to Houtzdale, Pa. about 1893 and worked as a peddler for ten years before coming to Barnesboro in 1903 to open a jewelry store at 1004 Philadelphia Avenue. In addition to his business interests, he served two-terms as burgess of Barnesboro from 1913 to 1921 and was elected to the position again in 1925, according to History of Cambria County, Pennsylvania by John E. Gable. Jewish families were holding religious services in private homes in Barnesboro as early as 1904, according to a Works Progress Administration Church Archives survey. The Jewish community chartered B’nai Israel Congregation as early as 1920 and built a synagogue on Maple Avenue in 1927. The congregation briefly employed a rabbi during its early years. In 1924, the B’nai Israel Sisterhood started a religious school under the auspices of the Southwestern District of Pennsylvania Jewish Religious Schools program. The school served children in Barnesboro as well as the nearby communities of Hastings and Spangler.
“Barnesboro was like the hub of a wheel whose spokes reached out to Nanty Glo, Clymer, Alverda, Cherry Tree, Spangler, Emeigh, and other mining villages,” former resident Florence Karp recalled in an unpublished memoir from 1988. “There was a Jewish family or two in many of these little towns and they came together in Barnesboro on the High Holidays for Orthodox services. Some of them stayed as house guests with Barnesboro residents for those days.” In its 1928-1929 edition, the American Jewish Yearbook estimated a Jewish population of 93 for Barnesboro. Including nearby boroughs and townships with population estimates listed in the 1928-1929 volume, such as Clymer (29), Gallitzin (13), Houtzdale (24) and Nanty Glo (45), suggests that Barnesboro could have been a central meeting place for more than two hundred Jewish people living in the vicinity during the years between World War I and World War II.
As the mining industry declined in Cambria County, the Jewish community of Barnesboro shrank. The 1940-1941 edition of the American Jewish Yearbook estimated a Jewish population of 52 for Barnesboro and 110 for the surrounding towns. The Barnesboro synagogue officially closed in 1968. The borough of Barnesboro merged with the nearby borough of Spangler in 2000 to create the Northern Cambria borough. A group Northern Cambria High School students conducted research into B’nai Israel Congregation and some of the Jewish residents of the borough for a project in 2011.