Monday, March 15, 2021

Ninety years in the life of a fine old home

I wrote the other day about the 90th anniversary of the F.W. Woolworth Co. 5 and 10 Cent Store's 1931 arrival in Chariton as first announced in The Herald-Patriot of March 5 that year. Two days earlier, The Leader had announced another business transaction that would have a lasting impact on the infrastructure of the city's business and professional community.

But unlike the "Dime Store," just a memory now, Fielding Funeral Home, originally Beardsley Funeral Home and then Beardsley-Fielding and housed in what in 1931 was one of Chariton's finest residential properties, still is with us. 

The photograph of the funeral home as it appeared in early 1965, 30 years after its conversion, is from the Lucas County Historical Society collection. It took this shot Sunday, on a damp and chilly afternoon.

Here's the story about the transaction as published under the headline "Sam Beardsley Purchases H.G. Larimer Home" in The Leader of March 3, 1931:


A business transaction of unusual importance was completed Saturday when ownership of the Horace G. Larimer home on South Grand Street, now occupied by the Downs Funeral Home, passed into the hands of Sam Beardsley. Possession of the property will be given Mr. Beardsley April 1, according to the provisions of the contract, the cash consideration of which was not made public by the parties to the transaction.

The purchase of the property is a step in the plan of Mr. Beardsley to furnish one of the finest funeral homes in southern Iowa for Chariton. His present location on North Grand Street has been remodeled several times, as business demands made additional room imperative, and now Mr. Beardsley says, "Our present location is too small to care for our constantly increasing business."

The site on which the present Beardsley Funeral Home stands is not large enough to permit a larger building and the complete and well outlined surroundings that Mr. Beardsley desires, and this fact entered into the purchase of the Larimer property, where an extensive remodeling program, with beautifully landscaped lawn and surroundings, will make the new Beardsley Funeral Home one of the finest in this section, when the hopes of Mr. Beardsley are realized.

Work on placing the property in the desired condition will be started as soon after possession is given on April 1 as is possible. Mr. Beardsley stated today that he was unable to give a deailed outline of his remodeling plans at this time, but that his only thought was to give the city one of the finest institutions of its kind in this section.

Ralph Downs, of the Downs Funeral Home, stated today that no location had been definitely decided upon for the future of his institution. "We shall continue in Chariton with the same type of service we have rendered in this community in our new location, no matter where that location shall be." Numerous locations are now under consideration by Mr. Downs and a definite decision will probably be made within a few days.


The house known in 1931 as the Horace G. (and Willie Blanche) Larimer residence had been built during 1888 for Frank and Minnie Crocker to a design by Frank's brother-in-law, Edward Stebbins of Minneapolis. By 1902, when this image of it was published in the city's Chautauqua program, the Crockers still lived there and porches with stone plinths and classical-revival pillars had been added to the facade, probably about 1900. Those porches would be expanded north and a porte cochere added a little later.

Crocker was cashier of Smith H. Mallory's National Bank at the time the house was built and still was in charge of that institution during late 1907 when he managed to bankrupt it by channeling funds into ill-advised investments.

That led to his suicide during the fall of 1907. Mrs. Crocker and her family moved almost immediately to Minneapolis but managed to retain ownership of the house after a lengthy court battle with bank receivers. 

And so during October of 1910, Minnie sold it to Horace G. and Willie Blanche (Hollinger) Larimer, for use by their family. Larimer was a prosperous merchant and civic leader.

Horace Larimer died at the age of 52 during February of 1928 and Mrs. Larimer moved soon thereafter to smaller quarters, placing the house on the market.

The house did not sell as rapidly as hoped for, so during October of 1929, Mrs. Larimer leased the building to Ed S. Downs and his son, Ralph, of Albia, to house a branch of their Monroe County undertaking business. This was a smart business move on the part of the Downs and also a way out of Albia for Ralph, who had raised many eyebrows there by divorcing his first wife and taking a new bride some 26 years his junior.

This photograph of the house was taken soon after the Downs had moved in for what turned out to be a short stay. After being forced from the building by its sale, Ralph purchased a house at 604 North 7th Street, but it proved to be too small. In October of 1932, he purchased the Dr. J.E. and Gertrude Stanton home on East Court Avenue and that became the permanent location of Downs Funeral Home, later Mosher Funeral Home.

Sam and Edith Beardsley completed their remodeling of the Crocker-Larimer house in time for an open house during November of 1931 and the building remained relatively unchanged for many years. Keith and Mary Fielding joined Edith Beardsley as partners in the operation during 1952 and purchased the business outright following her death in 1958.

The image of the home at the top of this post was taken shortly before the Fieldings undertook the first of two major remodeling projects. The first project involved removing the porches and enclosing the area they once had covered to create more ground-floor room and a new funeral home entrance.

The chapel wing was added to the north in 1976, incorporating masonry and pillars from the original porches into its facade and creating the funeral home we're familiar with now --- 90 years after conversion commenced.

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