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Moulton & Kyle Funeral Home | Photo © 2016 Bullet, www.abandonedfl.com

Moulton & Kyle Funeral Home

Location Class:
Built: 1914 | Abandoned: 2013
Status: Burned DownDemolished
Photojournalist: David Bulit

Calvin Oak, Undertaker

Located near downtown Jacksonville, the history of the city’s first funeral parlor, the Moulton & Kyle Funeral Home, can be traced back to 1851. At the time, Calvin Oak was told he had six months to live after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. Due to its reputation at the time as a sunny, exotic, and healthful destination, Oak moved his family from Vermont to Jacksonville, Florida.

Calvin Oak lived for another 30 years, becoming one of Jacksonville’s most prominent businessmen as a gun dealer and watchmaker. He built the city’s first factory, a gun plant that manufactured guns, barrels, and cartridges, and also owned a jewelry store located on Bay Street. In 1856, he opened a marble and mortuary business with his son, Byron Edgar Oak. Byron would return to the family’s home state of Vermont to fight for the Union during the Civil War where he served in the 12th Vermont Infantry. He returned to undertaking following the war.

The business of Byron E. Oak, once located at 25 Laura Street.
The exterior of the undertaker and marble dealer establishment of Calvin and Byron Oak at 25 Laura Street. c. 1870.

It was said that during his time as the city’s undertaker, Calvin Oak used to stand at the docks when steamboats from Charleston came in. With a tall rod, he would gauge the height of passengers as they left the boat. Afterward, he would estimate the size of the coffin needed for any of those passengers he thought wouldn’t make it through the winters and would have the coffins already constructed so there was no delay when the time came.

Brothers Charles and George Clark joined Oak in the funeral business in his later years. The two brothers had studied embalming in New York having learned how to use makeup and wax to prepare a corpse for an open casket, a new concept for the time. Following Calvin Oak’s death in 1881, his son continued the business in his stead as an undertaker, marble dealer, city sexton, and superintendent of cemeteries. When Byron died in 1889, the Clark brothers took over the business. By that time, the brothers had founded their own business, the Jacksonville Marble Company in conjunction with the George W. Clark Undertaking Company.

calvin oak
Advertisement for Calvin Oak’s undertaking business from the 1878 Webb’s Jacksonville City Directory

Clark & Burns, Undertakers

By 1891, however, the brothers’ partnership had ended as George focused on selling marble headstones while Charles, who has been listed as a “commercial traveler”, returned to undertaking. In the late 1890s, George partnered with Thomas M. Burns and founded Clark & Burns, Undertakers. Following the Great Fire of 1901, Charles Clark hired Michigan architect Thomas White to construct a three-story structure across from the Laura Street Trio to house his funeral business, Charles A. Clark Inc.

The building known as the Chas A. Clark Building featured a decorative urn at the top of the building which would later be placed at the grave of Calvin Oak after the building was demolished. By 1905, Harry S. Moulton and Samuel A. Kyle were apprentices under George Clark and Thomas Burns. In 1909, Moulton & Kyle was established. By the time they had their new funeral home built in 1914, Charles Clark was no longer an undertaker and was operating the Chas A. Clark Building as the Republic Theatre.

s l1600
The Republic Theatre can be seen on the top left of this photo, the neon sign which reads “Republic Theatre.”

Moulton & Kyle

The Death of E. O. Painter

Moulton and Kyle became caught up in one of the more reprehensible acts at the time when in 1914, E. O. Painter, a fertilizer manufacturer and printer who had taken over the Florida Agriculturist Jacksonville newspaper in 1886, died when he fell overboard from a ship in a “fit of coughing.” Friends saw him struggling in the water and even though he was thought of as a good swimmer, he soon drowned. Harry Moulton and Samuel Kyle fished his body out of the St. Johns River and it wasn’t long before the news spread with headlines such as “Gruesome Story in Dixie in Dissection of Remains.”

Painter carried a life insurance policy of $2 million, worth about $52 million and the insurance company was desperate to find any evidence of suicide, nullifying the agreement. The Tampa Tribune wrote, “Doctors representing insurance companies invaded the death chamber with knives, saws, and surgical instruments, and literally cut the body of E. O. Painter to pieces.” It continues, “The skull of E. O. Painter was sawed off and his brain removed—his stomach was cut open and his intestinal organs removed—his chest was cut open and his heart removed.” The coroner told the press that, while morally wrong, dismembering a corpse by doctors acting as agents of an insurance company was within the law.

Snippet from the Palm Beach Post about H.S. Moulton's death, dated Oct 21, 1936.
A short article from the Palm Beach Post about H.S. Moulton’s death, dated Oct 21, 1936.

Moulton & Kyle Funeral Home

As the business required a new modern facility, architecture firm Mark & Sheftall was hired to design a two-story, Prairie School-style building. Architects Earl Mark and Leeroy Sheftall had studied under prominent Jacksonville architect Henry John Klutho for four years before starting their own firm. They were in partnership for 22 years, collaborating on several Prairie-style buildings in Jacksonville, most notably the Most Worshipful Union Grand Lodge at 410 Broad Street.

Construction of the new funeral home was completed in 1914. Several years later, an attached garage was added on which featured a turntable, enabling cars to drive into the building and then turn around to head back out to the street. It would operate as Moulton & Kyle, Funeral Directors until 1936.

When Moulton died in 1936, the business briefly operated as Kyle-Swanson until Swanson died in 1938 wherein the name changed to S. A. Kyle Funeral Home. In 1961, Samuel Kyle partnered with Samuel Meggs McLellan and changed the name to Kyle-McLellan, Funeral Directors. The business would continue to operate under that name long after Kyle died in 1969. In 1992, Peeples Family Funeral Homes purchased the business from McLellan. After nearly a century of operating out of this building, the company moved to a new facility in 2013, leaving the old structure to decay.

1949 sanborn funeral
1949 Sanborn Insurance Map for Jacksonville, Florida. The funeral home is labeled here as ‘UNDERTAKER’. Library of Congress

The decaying husk of what was once known as Jacksonville’s oldest business had become a popular spot for vagrants, drug addicts and dealers, and prostitution. The roof has partially collapsed due to the lack of maintenance over the years and the large amounts of water damage have caused many of the floors to collapse as well. On the morning of February 11, 2019, firefighters responded to a fire at the building which started on the second floor. While the cause of the blaze was undetermined, it is thought to have been caused by vagrants living within the structure.

The Kyle-McLellan funeral home after its abandonment. J. Grey, CC BY-NC 2.0

The building was ultimately destroyed on January 9, 2021, by yet another fire. The roof and second floor of the building collapsed soon after firefighters arrived at the scene causing the exterior walls to become unstable. Over 100+ firefighters battled the three-alarm blaze for over an hour, attempting to get the fire under control and preventing it from spreading to the 7-Eleven gas station next door. Haz-mat crews also worked on preventing propane tanks at the 7-Eleven from overheating and exploding. An emergency demolition permit was ordered and the 107-year-old building was demolished on January 13, 2021. The Jacksonville Historical Society had listed the property on their endangered properties list in 2020.

You can read about the Moulton & Kyle Funeral Home and many other abandoned places in my books, Abandoned Jacksonville: Remnants of the River City and Abandoned Jacksonville: Ruins of the First Coast. They are also available on Amazon and at your local bookstores.

The Moulton and Kyle Funeral Home was destroyed likely by arson on January 9, 2021. Jacksonville Fire and Rescue

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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