City’s first funeral home evolved from family furniture business

Agnes Heinrichs, wife of Heinrich Heinrichs, in 1857 purchased property on the southwest corner of Jefferson and Capitol from the Jefferson City Land Company for $2,097. On this property, the Heinrichses built a house and a business manufacturing furniture. This business would eventually evolve into the first funeral home in Jefferson City.

Prussian natives, the Heinrichses arrived in New Orleans in 1851 with their many children. On the passenger list were: Heinrich, 55; Agnes, 50; Jacob, 23; Johann, 20; Mathilda, 16; Joseph, 18; Lina, 14; Heinrich, 12; Theresia, 7; Agnes, 6; Wilhelm, 5; and Johann, 3. The youngest, Johann, may have been the son of Jacob.

The 1860 census shows the Heinrich family with a furniture store and six of the children living with them including: Jacob, a carpenter; Henry, a bookkeeper; William, age 15, a laborer; and John, aged 13, some names Americanized. The two daughters Theresa and Agnes were domestic servants.

Jacob and Henry would later be listed as cabinet makers and would take over the business. In 1867, Jacob had an ad in the paper as an undertaker. “All kinds of coffins constantly on hand, at the old stand on Jefferson Street near the Levee.”

By the 1870 census, Henrichs had died, and Agnes was living with Jacob, an undertaker, William, a barber, and John, a clerk. Henry Heinrichs, a cabinet maker, and his family are listed next door.

In 1874, the Heinrichs children lost their mother, Agnes. And before her estate was settled, Henry’s house and the furniture business were lost in a fire in February 1876. According to The State Journal, “Tuesday night the alarm of fire rang out on the sharp wintry air. Few were on the streets. But in a twinkling, everyone was rushing in the direction of the great bright light that lit up the center of the city. It was not long till the truth was known and the report flew with lighting rapidity over the city, ‘Heinrichs’ Furniture Store is Burning.'”

The fire engine was not far away being located at the intersection of High and Madison. The fire originated in the basement where the factory department was located. The workmen were manufacturing mattresses made of “Excelsior,” also called wood wool, a product made of wood slivers used as stuffing or padding.

They lost the fine furniture on the first floor and John Heinrichs’ desk with all the account books. The paper reported other buildings were in jeopardy and “Great flakes of flame were borne by the wind to the east and enveloped the stave factory, Hibbard’s residence and fell with alarming profusion around the governor’s mansion.”

John F. Heinrich eventually took over the business in 1879, moving it to one of the storerooms under Bragg Hall at the corner of Monroe and High streets. Then in 1897, the business was moved to 207-209 East Main (Capitol). John became known as the “Furniture King” of Cole County and was called that name. He provided undertaking and upholsterer services and sold carpets as well as furniture.

In the Sunday News and Tribune in 1935, an article describes four generations of Heinrichs in the funeral business. But the article does not start with Heinrich, but with Jacob. “When Jacob Heinrichs came to Jefferson City in 1861 such places as funeral homes were unheard of. It was in this way that the Heinrichs family became identified with funeral work. Jacob Heinrichs was a cabinet maker. He was called upon time and again to construct coffins and though no one knows how many he made in his time, the number probably mounted to several hundred. It fell to the furniture maker to construct coffins for the dead and the two naturally developed together.”

The article says John was the son of Jacob. But as many family stories evolve through the years, it appears Jacob and Heinrich have become blurred. The article says that Jacob “was well along in years when he came to America. With him came his wife and fifteen children.” In fact, Jacob was 23 when he arrived, and it was his parents who were well along in years and had many children.

John served as mayor from 1910-11, was a member of the school board for 12 years, served on the board of Lincoln University and was president of the Germania Club.

Under Charles Heinrich, son of John, funeral work became an identified business which required extensive service and equipment for such as embalming. Charles sold the furniture business, and he and his son, John, continued the funeral business. In 1931, the Heinrichses’ home at 712 E. High St. was converted into a funeral home. Prior to this, funeral services were held in the home of the deceased. The house is now the High Street Retreat. After Charles’s death in 1942, the business was sold to the Dulle family.

Deborah Goldammer is retired from state government and now pursues her interest in Cole County history.



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