Gallitzin was settled in a gap in the Allegheny Mountains, west of Altoona, and incorporated as a borough in 1873. The population of nearly tripled between 1880 and 1890 and continued to grow into the beginning of the 20th century, reaching a high of 3,580 by 1920.
As the borough grew, it attracted a few Jewish families. In its June 21, 1907 issue, the Jewish Criterion listed Louis Persky of Gallitzin among those who had contributed at least $100 to pay down the mortgage on the Jewish Home for the Aged in Pittsburgh. Louis and Anna Isaacson opened a clothing or furniture store in Gallitzin soon after they immigrated to the United States from Russia around 1900. They had three children, Cecelia, Harry and William, and were still living in Gallitzin as late as 1940. Samuel Pollock (1885-1948) immigrated to central Pennsylvania from Poland sometime before 1914. Working at a general store in Altoona, Pa., he met an English immigrant named Lena Hollander (1888-1943), who was the bookkeeper for an Altoona wholesaler. When Samuel and Lena Pollock married in 1914, Hollander’s employer gave the newlyweds $500 in credit and a tip about a vacant storefront in nearby Gallitzin. They opened Pollock’s Department Store, which sold “Everything to Wear for Men, Women and Children.”
The American Jewish Yearbook listed a Jewish population of 13 for Gallitzin in its 1928-1929 edition and 20 in its 1940-1941 edition. With only a few Jewish families living in Gallitzin at any given time, the borough was never able to support formal Jewish institutions such as a congregation, a religious school, a charity or a club.
Even though Altoona had a large Jewish population, the Pollocks regularly traveled into Pittsburgh to buy kosher meat and other necessities. As retail merchants, they needed to regularly replenish their stock with the Jewish wholesalers on Fifth Avenue. Throughout the year, salesmen from those wholesale houses often stayed with the Pollocks when passing through central Pennsylvania. “We had an association with, I would say, ten or fifteen wholesalers on the Avenue,” Samuel Pollock’s son Mel said in a 2011 oral history “There was a personal, private association. My father and mother… treated them like members of the family. They weren’t treated so much as suppliers of merchandise.”