The town of Etna, Pa., along the Allegheny River at the mouth of Pine Creek, was settled in the early 19th century. A small scythes and sickle factory was established in 1820 and converted into an iron mill in 1828 by H. S. Sprang. The Sprang Steel & Iron Company built a large plant in Etna in 1880 and 1881. Etna was incorporated as a borough in 1868.
The first documented Jewish event in Etna occurred in early 1907, when L. D. Rosenfeld collected $16.50 in donations for the Home for the Aged at a bris milah (ritual circumcision) at the home of William Leiber. The National Council of Jewish Women started a religious school in Etna in October 1914. The school later became associated with the Southwestern District of Pennsylvania Jewish Religious Schools program.
By late 1917, the Jewish community of Etna was raising funds for the Central Relief Committee under the name “Congregation of Etna, Pa.” The members listed in the fundraising notice were Mrs. Parowsky, H. Gorman, H. Caplan, Herman Labowitz, Victor Rivlin, Sam Weisberg, I. Levine, F. Gluck, A. Danech, I. Stein, H. Wilner, N. Rivlin, Mr. Lieber, Sol Sigmund, P. Levine, E. Stein, Mr. Rom, H. Horowitz, Mr. Rubin, N. Wilner, Mr. Kolowski, Mr. Lieberman, B. Neiman, Mr. Rubin, B. Rivlin and S. Abe. A 1919-1920 edition of the American Jewish Yearbook listed 58 people in the Jewish community of Etna and a directory in the edition included a listing for the Etna and Sharpsburg Hebrew Congregation with an associated Hebrew School of Etna. Herman Labowitz was listed as the president of the congregation. Labowitz had been elected to the Etna borough council in 1913 as a Republican, representing the second ward. As early as 1927, the Etna congregation was meeting in a building at 386 Butler Street, which appears to have been the offices of a roofing and furnace company with Jewish owners.
Etna was a meeting place for Jewish families in towns along the Allegheny River north of Pittsburgh, including Sharpsburg, Aspinwall and Millvale. The American Jewish Yearbook did not include a population estimate for Etna in its 1928-1929 edition but listed a population of 44 for Sharpsburg and 15 for Aspinwall. In its 1940-1941 edition, the Yearbook listed populations of 35 for Etna and 35 for Sharpsburg—the two figures might be counting the same population—and a population of 10 or fewer for Aspinwall.