This funeral home opened for business in 1886 in Bellbrook.
William and Lillie Morris owned a boarding house in the village of Bellbrook, catering to traveling salesmen (carpetbaggers). He decided that he could benefit the community in which he lived if he were to go into the undertaking business as well. He was wise enough to hire someone else to do the digging of the graves, but he did supervise to be sure the grave was appropriately prepared for the burial. Soon furniture was being constructed as it was usually a necessity for the business. Coffins could be made as needed, and if there was no immediate need, a piece of furniture could be turned out to make a profit using all the tools available.
At that time, “funeral homes” did not exist. The family often had a large enough area in the home so visitors could come to pay their respects to the deceased and the family. If this was not the case, a service would be held in the church or at the grave site.
Evidently the business was successful so he took on a partner, Mr. Crowl. “Hod,” as Morris was known to his friends, worked together with Crowl for several years. However they began to have different opinions about the business so William and Lillie, along with their five sons Austin, Warren, Art, John, and James E. and their daughter, Katherine, left Bellbrook and moved to Alpha where they bought a house which served as their residence and business. The house is privately owned today. The current owner found a sign in the barn which said “Morris” which evidently was in use when the family lived there.
As was often the case with those earlier settlers, the family moved again, this time to Xenia. They did not stay long in Xenia; perhaps because there was not enough business for an additional undertaker at that time.
The next move proved to be the best one for the family when they moved to Osborn in 1890. They purchased a large Victorian house which was perfect for the business. The family lived in the upper portion of the home, and the lower level was used as a funeral parlor. By this time, funerals were often held in a funeral home rather than in a private residence or a church. These large structures were adequate for a “visitation” period and also large enough to accommodate the family and other mourners in one location. Having a “viewing” at home became almost non-existent.
All five sons wanted to follow their father’s footsteps in the business and obviously that would have been a considerable number of people working at one location and in 1905 another site was purchased on East Third Street in Dayton. This consisted of three houses which were located adjacent to one another. The three were combined utilizing hallways between each so that each of the houses could have its own chapel. Morris Sons Funeral Home was then well established and meeting the needs of families in two different communities. That location was in use for 100 years then was closed with the property being sold in 2005.
Following the Dayton flood of 1913, the village of Osborn was moved house by house, business by business to a new location adjacent to the village of Fairfield during the early 1920s. The current Morris Sons Funeral Home in Fairborn was one of the homes moved at that time from its previous location near the Skyborn Theater. In 1974, a large handicapped-accessible addition was added which complements the original Victorian building.
Morris Sons continued with one generation after another taking on the responsibilities of caring for families in times of sorrow. The sons and grandsons were active in community affairs. Warren Morris served as president of the Fairborn Chamber of Commerce. All the family members were active in many other organizations in Fairborn and Dayton. John Morris served in the military and understood the difficulties in applying for benefits before the present system was established. He helped many other veterans in the Dayton area apply for the benefits they deserved.
James R. Morris, known to his family and friends as Bob, followed the footsteps of his father, James, and grandfather William becoming the third generation to become a mortician. He attended University of Dayton and Miami University before graduating from the Cincinnati Mortuary School. Then he then took on the responsibility for the family business. Bob and his wife, Nancy, were active members of the Fairborn community. Bob served as president of the chamber, Kiwanis and Optimist clubs in addition to many other organizations. Nancy worked with her husband at the funeral home serving as the office manager, bookkeeper, and aide in many areas.
Bob wanted to expand the services to another area and in 1974 constructed what is known as the Kettering location on East Dorothy Lane. Bob and Nancy had three sons but only the youngest was interested in carrying on the family tradition. Dale is the fourth generation to manage the Morris Sons Funeral Home along with his wife, Lora. He is an accredited embalmer and funeral director; she is also a licensed funeral director. Unfortunately no Morris grandchildren are planning to enter the mortuary business at this time.
If you would like to know more about the early history of mortuary science, a visit to the Bellbrook Museum would be helpful. Your visit will include a tour of the Crowl Museum of Undertaking. The museum is located at 42 N. Main Street. Hours are limited so call 937-671-0257 for an appointment.
This more-than-a-century-old building was the first Morris Sons Funeral Home.
Joan Baxter is a Greene County historian and resident.