The Williams and Davis funeral home had come a long way since 1905.
Now, in March 1929, Williams and Davis were opening a state-of-the-art funeral home at 119 N. West St. “The establishment of the new home climaxes 25 years of service by the partnership in Lima and surrounding territory,” the Lima Star and Republican-Gazette wrote. “Williams and Davis are among the pioneer undertakers in this section.”
“Especially is the chapel outstanding,” The Lima News gushed. “It has a church-like atmosphere and a seating capacity of 125. An organ of unusual tone quality is at the front of the chapel. The windows of the chapel are stained and the floor has deep carpets.”
At the turn of the century, when C.C. (Carey) Williams and O.E. (Otis) Davis arrived, Lima was a bustling, routinely dangerous place. Railroad workers were crushed by trains, runaway horses trampled pedestrians and careless homeowners were occasionally gassed or electrocuted. And the oil industry was booming, at times literally. Oil field deaths could be spectacularly gruesome; the funerals interesting.
When an oil field worker from Cleveland named Earl Bush was killed in a nitro-glycerine explosion in October 1902, the Lima Times-Democrat noted that “such of the mortal remains” that could be found were “contained in a box that was about nine or ten inches square” making for an “unusual and pathetic funeral service at the parlors of the Bennett Undertaking establishment.” The day before the service, the story added, searchers, including the new widow, combed the site of the explosion. “They succeeded in finding what is believed to have been a portion of Bush’s scalp. Only a few small fragments of flesh and bone were found by the searchers during the entire day.”
Hall W. Bennett’s undertaking establishment was at 114 W. Market St., the former location of an undertaker named James E. Grosjean, who learned embalming and casket making as a young man in Holmes County, and came to Lima in 1892. Grosjean also built electric exhibits that were used in department store window displays. One of these, “Noah’s Ark,” can be seen today at the Allen County Museum. Shortly after the turn of the century, Grosjean sold his funeral business to Bennett.
Davis worked as an embalmer for both Grosjean and Bennett. Born Otis Elias Davis north of Elida on March 18, 1876, he was the son of Alvin and Mary Salina Crites Davis and was known as Ote. His father was in the livery business, a business Ote Davis was associated with early on, working for Hiram Colvin driving a horse and carriage between the Public Square and Lima’s passenger railway stations.
Around 1895, Davis went to work for Grosjean, earning his embalmer’s license “after several years of practical schooling,” according to the Times-Democrat.
As Lima moved into the 20th century, Davis moved briefly to a different career. “Ote Davis, who has been one of J.E. Grosjean’s most efficient employees during the past five years, has resigned his position and has purchased a half interest in the Columbia restaurant from Frank Schlupp. Mr. Davis is an exemplary young man and his legion of friends wish him abundant success in his business venture,” the Times-Democrat wrote May 16, 1900. In June, Davis married Schlupp’s daughter, Clara.
By 1903, he had changed course again, returning to work as an undertaker with Bennett, although not for long. “Mr. Ote Davis, who has been chief assistant to funeral director H.W. Bennett for several years has purchased a one half interest in the undertaking business of Jones and Williams and began his association with that firm today,” the Times-Democrat reported Dec. 1, 1905. “By reason of the purchase made by Mr. Davis, Mr. J.D. Jones, senior member of the firm of Jones and Williams’ will retire from the firm and the establishment will hereafter be known as that of Williams and Davis.”
Jones and Williams, according to the 1905 “History of Allen County and Representative Citizens,” was established in 1900 and was located in the southwest corner of the Public Square. ”Cary C. Williams, the junior member of the firm, was born in Defiance County, Ohio. He may be said to have almost grown up in the undertaking business, as his father was an undertaker for many years and he assisted from boyhood. He is a graduate of the Chicago School of Embalming.” The new firm set up shop at 114 W. Market St.
Among the assets Williams brought to the new partnership were Buck and Chief, reputedly the fastest team of horses to pull an ambulance. Williams and Davis, like most funeral homes, ran an ambulance service and Buck and Chief ensured it ran fast.
“Many Lima residents remember Buck and Chief, ‘the finest ambulance team that ever drew breath or an ambulance’ back around the turn of the century,” The Lima News recalled Aug. 21, 1946, as Williams and Davis took delivery of a new ambulance. “The magnificent beasts, tails and manes streaming in the wind, running effortlessly to the challenging cadence of the foot-operated emergency bell, are remembered along with the old bandstand in the Public Square, as an integral and realistic part of Lima’s history.”
On the night before Christmas Eve in 1908, a fast-moving fire at the A. Davis and Sons’ Livery on West Spring Street between Main and Elizabeth streets, operated by Ote Davis’ father and brothers, not only forced his brother, Alfred, and his wife, who lived above the livery, to scramble for their lives, but also destroyed some of the funeral home’s horses and equipment. “A valuable dun team owned by Williams & Davis, undertakers, was rescued from the rear part of the stable but that firm’s beautiful black hearse team, and a handsome driving horse, which had already been bargained for at a price of $300, and on which $100 had already been paid, were sacrificed to the flames,” the Lima Daily News reported Dec. 24, 1908.
Buck and Chief survived to retire to pasture. Buck died in 1920 at that age of 25; Chief two years later at 27.
Williams & Davis survived, too, despite stiff competition. On July 31, 1917, the Daily News noted Lima had nine undertaking firms “despite the fact that Lima’s death rate is supposed to be exceedingly low in comparison with its population.” Williams and Davis was among the oldest, the story noted.
In February 1930, not quite a year after Williams and Davis moved into their new quarters on North West Street, C.C. Williams retired, selling his interest in the business to C.B. Miller and his son, Arthur, who had operated a funeral home in Spencerville for 30 years.
“The Millers will retain their undertaking establishment in Spencerville, and the Lima firm will remain in its location on West Street,” the News reported Feb. 6, 1930. “Williams expects to retire from the business which he founded in 1900 in partnership with his father in law, John D. Jones. Otis E. Davis, who will become senior partner of the firm, succeeded Jones in the business 25 years ago.” The new firm became Davis-Miller and Son Funeral Home.
Williams died at 78 in Huntsville on Feb. 12, 1950. Davis died exactly one year later in Lima at the age of 75. The News said he “was probably the best known funeral director in Northwestern Ohio.”
The funeral home closed a little more than nine years later, on Sept. 27, 1959. C. B. Miller died at 83 the following summer, while his son, Arthur, died at 84 in July 1984.
Reach Greg Hoersten at TLNinfo@civitasmedia.com.