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Collison Carey Hand Funeral Home
In 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, community.

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.

Carey 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.

In 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 Washington, DC.

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.

Not 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 the hospital.

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’s history.

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.

Major remodeling 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.

Though 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 dignity.

Today, the caring professionals at Collison Carey Hand Funeral Home continue the caring traditions Carey Hand established nearly a century ago.


June Williams
Born: 6/19/1939
Died: 8/11/2017
Susan Sullivan
Born: 1/17/1959
Died: 8/8/2017
Jackie Daughtry
Born: 7/25/1942
Died: 8/1/2017
Merlynn Wright
Born: 4/15/1926
Died: 7/26/2017
Mark Green
Born: 2/12/1973
Died: 7/23/2017
Riley Thomas
Born: 1/19/1994
Died: 7/21/2017
Cesar Castillo
Born: 4/7/1923
Died: 7/19/2017
Dolores Bacon
Born: 4/11/1927
Died: 7/19/2017
Vyleta Skipper
Born: 9/20/1925
Died: 7/15/2017

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