History of Leavitt Funeral Home
In June of 1865 George Elmendorf Leavitt, founder of the business, was discharged from the Union Army's First West Virginia Calvary Regiment. He returned to his home at New England, West Virginia, where he opened a cooper, barrel making shop adjacent to the present site of the New England Baptist Church.
After a brief period of time George closed the shop and opened the general store at New England. Because he was such an excellent finish carpenter, people asked him to make "coffins" for family members. The founding date of the Leavitt funeral business is 1882, since this is the first recorded coffin sale found in the Third Accounting Book. However, in all probability, George began making coffins immediately upon his return from the Civil War in 1865. According to tradition, family members cut a stick as long as the deceased, carried this to George who then knew how big to make the coffin. It is not known whether George instituted the skills and techniques of embalming learned during the Civil War or if embalming was inaugurated by his son, CT Leavitt.
Carr Thomas Leavitt, known as "CT," was unexpectedly volunteered into funeral service by his father when a family asked George, "Since our wagon is broken, would you mind delivering the coffin to the house and then from the house to the church?" George said, "No, I can't leave the store, but my boy, C.T. will."
Although George founded the business, CT was an innovator who significantly impacted local funeral customs. He was the first "undertaker" to move his business from a "store front" into a "funeral home," a building used for the sole purpose of arranging and conducting funerals. He purchased the area's first "motorized" hearse; instituted the first ambulance service into the community with his "Invalid Car used exclusively for the living;" and introduced the modern casket.
CT and his father, George, opened a second, livery, harness and fertilizer business in Parkersburg, which was located at the present site of the Blennerhassett Museum until 1901.
CT then moved the "undertaking" business to 218 Juliana Street where it remained until 1919 when it was moved to 324 Juliana Street. In 1924 CT made a bold move to the present site, 403 7th Street. This was the area's first building used exclusively for funerals.
In the 1940's Charles, Ed and Ralph Leavitt, the sons of CT, became partners in the business. During the next 30 to 35 years, they witnessed only moderate changes in local funeral customs and rituals. The primary changes during this time were the movement of the funeral service from the church to the funeral home as well as the embalming process from the residence to the funeral home.
In 1975 the great grandson of George, Carr Leavitt purchased the business from his father, Charles, and two uncles, Ed and Ralph.
In 1983 the Belpre Leavitt Funeral Home was constructed. In 1986, at the direct request of the Franklin family, Leavitt purchased the Franklin Funeral Home and again the Burdette funeral home in 1987. During this time, Leavitt also purchased the Sunset Memory Gardens Cemetery and the Kirby Monument Company. The latter two were sold prior to 1990.
The 1980's and 90's saw the most significant changes in funeral service customs and in the business, both nationally as well as locally in American History.
One of the changes that has impacted funeral service the most is the massive movement of large national and international acquisition funeral companies buying up the locally owned and independently operated funeral homes. One result is that families are left with little - and in some communities no - choices. Today Leavitt Funeral Homes remains the only funeral home to have not been sold in the Wood County and Belpre, Ohio that has created an unbroken chain of service to this community.
The second significant change in funeral customs is acceptance of cremation as a final disposition of the body. It is estimated by the National Funeral Director’s Association that by 2025 over 50 percent of all funerals nationally will chose cremation as the final disposition. Understanding and appreciating this trend, Leavitt installed a crematory in 1994 and created the area's first Cremation Service and Merchandise Options Center. We also continue to see the trend that more families still chose to have visitation and services but instead of going to the cemetery for burial the services are followed by the cremation and then burial, scattering or keeping the cremated remains at home.
Third, years ago funeral rituals were standardized, but today people want individuality and personalization. Again, Leavitt has met today's changes in a number of ways. Much more time is spent training staff to help families develop their own memorialization rituals, ones consistent with the life of the deceased and meaningful to the survivors. Even high-tech has come to the Leavitt Funeral Home. Memorial cards given to families and friends are now generated from the computer with personalized choices of poems, hymns, pictures. Leavitt also individualizes their merchandise options and choices in services, merchandise and prices have become one of Leavitt's strong focuses.
Another significant change in the funeral business is that the Leavitt commitment to the family no longer ends with the funeral as it did years ago. The funeral home has obtained commitments from several local attorneys who donate their time to provide families with a free one-time legal consultation following the funeral. Carr's wife. Dr. Priscilla F. Leavitt, who did her doctoral dissertation in grief, provides the Leavitt families with a free consultation, as do other licensed therapists at the Counseling and Wellness Center, Market Street. In addition, for several years the funeral home has sponsored eight-week grief support groups. Many other post funeral services are provided by the funeral home. For example, in one instance an employee of the funeral home taught a widow how to drive a car. The funeral home has sponsored clergy seminars, developed an extensive library relating to grief for lay as well as professional people and was instrumental in setting up the local Housecalls Hospice Program.
Another significant change occurring in the business is the escalation of people planning their own funeral. Developing ideas and programs which enable people to do this as little or as much as they wish beginning in the 1970s. Extensive training, research of the best financial products and thought continues to go into developing the Leavitt funeral pre-planning program.
Although, the Leavitt Funeral Home purchased Burdette Funeral Home at the request of C. Richard Burdette, the Burdette Funeral Home was a standalone funeral home. In August of 1997 we moved the Burdette Funeral Home into the Leavitt Funeral Home and designated the 7th street side of the chapel as the Leavitt Funeral Home-Burdette Chapel. In the year 2000 Priscilla Leavitt, Carr's wife, created The Manor, a retreat center, out of the facility.
In 1994 Carr's son, Jon Leavitt, joined the business as the fifth generation of licensed funeral directors making plans to continue the family's commitment to local ownership. His roles where to meet with families and take care of much of the management part of the business.
In July of 1999 Carr K. Leavitt died at the early age of 58 from Liver Cancer. His two sons Jonathan C. Leavitt and Stephen P. Leavitt became fifth generation owners of Leavitt Funeral Home on March 13, 2000. That year Stephen obtained his funeral director & embalmer's license.
In the following year, 2001, the WV State Road project "Corridor D" took much of the back parking lot of Franklin Funeral Chapel on Camden Avenue. In June of 2001 Franklin Funeral Chapel was closed and the Leavitt Funeral Home, of Parkersburg, honored all calls and pre-arrangements previously held by Franklins. With the increase of cremation as a form of disposition, Jon and Stephen decided to move the crematory from the Leavitt Farm in Mineral Wells to the old Franklin Funeral Chapel, Parkersburg in 2001. This was close to the downtown location that created a better environment for families that wanted to participate in the cremation process and allowed the funeral home to maintain high standards for the cremations being performed for the families.
The Internet and Video phenomena came to funeral service. In 2001 Leavitt Funeral home launched its own web page. This allowed families to learn more about our services, read all obituaries online, get directions to the funeral home and have resources for grief, pre-planning and local florists. The Internet even allowed families across the US to watch the funeral live.
In the summer of 2004, the former BB&T drive thru bank at the corner of 7th and Avery was purchased by the funeral home. This was done for the ever-increasing demand for parking in the downtown area. It provided an additional 50 percent increase in parking for the families served by the funeral home. Following the purchase of the land, plans were made to meet a demand needed by families. The Family Center was built and opened in October of 2005. The canopy of the drive thru was torn down and an expansion of the existing bank building was built to create a facility that met multiple needs of our families and the community. It serves as a family reception facility following funerals, an educational center for grief, a seminar facility and meeting room for businesses and community groups, a space for private family functions (i.e., wedding rehearsal dinners, anniversaries, showers, etc.) and also provides additional parking for the funeral home.
In 2010 the addition was open at the Leavitt Funeral Home in Belpre to meet changing needs of families. The remodeled facility added a Children’s Lounge, Reception Room - a place to gather with food and visit, Computer Station - online register book, email, make reservations, Expanded Restroom and the Veteran’s Memorial - honoring those who have served our country.
Much has happened since we began in 1882 and as history moves forward we will continually change and make Leavitt Funeral Home a place to help families deal with losing a loved one and start them on the path to healing.
History of 403 7th Street
The 403 7th Street building was constructed in 1862, during the Civil War by General John J. Jackson Jr. who was the first federally appointed judge in what was at that time the western district of Virginia. According to tradition, verified by Willard Jackson, one of John's descendants, the appointment came from his father, John J. Jackson Sr., who apparently was "fooling around" with Jr'.s girlfriends. Jr. was so upset with his father that he took the appointment for himself, John J. Jackson Jr. graduated from West Point Academy at the age of 17. He fought in the Seminole Indian Wars.
Jr. built 403 7th Street for his daughter Belle, who married a man by the name of George Thompson who served as the first president of the Ohio River Railroad that later became part of the B & 0 System. George Thompson constructed the Sixth Street Railroad bridge, which was the first railroad bridge that crossed into the Northwest Territory. He also constructed the locks and dams on the Little Kanawha River. George and Belle were the first residents of the home. They had several children, one of whom, Ann, married a Gerwig. The Gerwig family was a very prominent family in Parkersburg who owned and operated the Bentley-Gerwig Furniture and Desk Company. The company failed because they refused to make metal desks. Another one of the Thompson girls married a Pearcy and it was from the Pearcy family that CT purchased 403 7th Street in the early 1920's.