1885, Orlando was like a lot of other Florida towns – tiny agricultural
villages carved out of lush forests with numerous lakes and an
attractive climate – but Elijah Hand saw a special promise here. The
Indiana native decided to make Orlando his home, and he opened a
furniture and undertaking establishment to serve the small, yet growing,
While the combination of furniture and undertaking
may seem odd today, it was quite common in years past. The skill of the
cabinetmakers lent itself to the construction of coffins. The expansion
of furniture businesses to include undertaking was a natural extension.
In Orlando, prior to 1885, people who died in the morning were buried
the following morning. To advise friends of the time and location of
funeral services, notices of a death were printed on the undertaker’s
cards and placed on store counters.
Elijah Hand’s arrival in
Orlando changed things. He was an embalmer, the city’s first, and his
service meant funerals could be delayed several days, allowing for the
notification and arrival of distant friends and relatives. But Elijah
contributed more to Orlando than this one change. He was responsible for
a generous share of the development in the city’s central business
district - the Hand Building. Once the home of Elijah’s furniture store,
it still stands today as one of Orlando’s historic landmarks.
Hand, Elijah’s son, an embalmer, came to Orlando in 1907 to join his
father’s business. Carey bought Elijah’s share of the undertaking
business in 1914, and continued the family tradition of service and
entrepreneurship after the elder Hand died the following year.
1918, construction began on a modern funeral home across the street
from the Hand furniture and undertaking business. Designed by F.M.
Trimble with elegant arches and paired columns, the Carey Hand Funeral
Home was a stately Roman-Tuscan-style building. It was one of the first
funeral homes in Florida to have its own chapel. The crematory, added in
1925, was the first to be built south of Cincinnati, Ohio, and
During this period, the Carey Hand Funeral Home
was the largest in Central Florida, and the only such facility in a
five-county area. It served people from as far away as Polk and
Hillsborough counties, and since hotel accommodations in Orlando were
limited at the time, the second floor of the funeral home included a
number of guest rooms for grieving families. In the 1930s, other funeral
homes opened, as did affordable hotels and motels, and the guest rooms
were gradually converted into dormitory space for the staff.
only did Carey Hand operate an exceptionally progressive funeral service
business, he was an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and one of Orlando’s
leading citizens. His wife, Nellie, worked with him in the business and
on community endeavors. Carey Hand was a charter member of Orlando’s
first Rotary Club, among many other civic interests. The couple became
prominent in many of the city’s civic and social affairs.
During the first half of the 20th
century, it was common for funeral homes to also operate ambulance
services, especially in smaller communities. A Carey Hand tradition –
one that would continue for a decade after his death – was to provide
free ambulance service to bring new mothers and their babies home from
Carey Hand died in 1947, leaving Mrs. Hand to
operate the funeral business until she sold it the following year. The
new owners, O.C. Yeargin, C.M. “Neil” Franklin, and Russell Cole, were
licensed funeral directors who shared Mr. Hand’s commitment to quality,
compassionate funeral service.
In July, 1983, a spectacular fire
in the crematorium chimney lit up the skies of Orlando. Fortunately, the
fire and resulting damage was confined to the portion of the facility
that housed the crematory, storage and preparation areas and there was
no loss to any families. An interesting combination of progress and
preservation caused the closing of the Pine Street Funeral Home when the
City of Orlando purchased the building in 1987. The parking lot was
taken by eminent domain proceedings to further the development of the
downtown historic district. The Carey Hand business was absorbed by
other facilities with the organization.
Not all of Carey Hand’s
contributions to the city were carefully planned, but they were
nonetheless valuable. A decade before he was born, a fire destroyed the
original county court house and all its records. In later years, funeral
documents would serve to supplement the memories of citizens in
determining property ownership, next-of-kin and citizenship. In 1978,
original files from the Hands’ undertaking and funeral business dating
back to the turn of the century were moved to the special collection
section of the library at the University of Central Florida (then
Florida Technological University).
At the time, the records had
been stored in the Carey Hand Funeral Home on Pine Street, but were
beginning to deteriorate. The University was able to provide a
climate-controlled environment to preserve this important aspect of
Orlando native and licensed funeral director,
Robert Ramsdell, took a bold step when he opened the Colonial Funeral
Home at 2811 Curry Ford Road (then Conway Road) in Orlando in 1967. Most
of the funeral homes were located in or near downtown, and there were
few businesses of any kind in that area at the time. Orlando’s booming
growth proved the wisdom of Ramsdell’s decision, and he eventually chose
to become a part of the Carey Hand family.
efforts were completed at the Carey Hand Colonial Funeral Home. Stained
glass windows from the original Carey Hand Funeral Home were installed
in the chapel and viewing room, creating a warm, comforting atmosphere
for families and friends. Framed photographs from Orlando’s early days
contribute a sense of history and continuity to the facility’s ambiance.
most Americans tend to avoid talking about death, it is important to
recognize the funeral service is an important part of any community. The
process of bidding a final farewell to loved ones is one of the
strongest threads in the fabric of our lives. This is especially true in
Central Florida, where Carey Hand used his remarkable vision and
foresight to help bring Orlando into the future. His concern for people
began with their birth and lasted until they were laid to rest with
Today, the caring professionals at Collison Carey Hand
Funeral Home continue the caring traditions Carey Hand established
nearly a century ago.