Prior to the Civil War, a funeral was usually a family affair held at home. Only later in the 19th century, when furniture dealers took over the job of making caskets, did the concept of undertaking rooms and embalming become the norm. When Levi Cortright, the first Hillsdale County soldier to be killed in the Civil War, was sent home for funeral services, his funeral service was held in the Hillsdale County Courthouse. He had been embalmed, which was quite a shock to the family. During that time such practices were viewed with great suspicion and apprehension.  

One of the earliest undertakers in Hillsdale was William Donaghy, who in 1874 advertised “Wholesale and Retail Dealer in Coffins, Caskets and all kinds of Undertaker’s trimmings, shrouds, etc.” at No. 4, Farnum’s Block on Broad Street.

The building at 18 S. Howell St. was purchased in 1890 by J.B. Howe, one of the first two undertakers in Hillsdale County. According to the deed, the building once housed the Palace Skating Rink, a one-story building. When it was purchased by Mr. Howe, a Dr. Mason owned the building next door and together they added a second floor to both buildings. After the second floor was built, it held an undertaker and furniture store, and eventually Howe Optometry. In 1918 a fire broke out, due to overheated pipes in the basement, gutting the undertaking business, then owned by C.E. Singer, plus the Liberty Theater building to the north, which was run by Mrs. Amy Wood Wilson. A second floor apartment, occupied by Mr. & Mrs. Frank Scoville, was also gutted.

Just north of there, at 6 S. Howell St., O.W. Ferris and Cortez Singer occupied a storefront where they sold furniture, carpeting and caskets. Upon her death in 1915, it was noted that Mrs. Singer was the first licensed female embalmer in the state of Michigan. 

 In 1909, when J.H. Miner joined forces with Irving Hayes farther north on Howell Street, they found it necessary to add a two-story brick addition to the back of the store to accommodate their undertaking business.  

It wasn’t until 1920, when L.J. Dutcher bought the Fischer Block on South Howell Street, that undertaking became an exclusive business separate from a furniture store. The Dutcher Funeral Home (right) remained at that site until closing in the 1960s, bringing to an end the era of the “downtown” funeral home.



In 1910 William Blauvelt was the first known mortician in Jonesville and was located on the southwest corner of Chicago and Maumee streets. He sold out to Olin Beebe in 1924. 




What is now the funeral home on Main Street in Reading was once the fine resident of the C.D. Schermerhorn family, who owned the Acme Chair Company located nearby.

Carol A. Lackey