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Toccoa Casket Factory History

August 29, 2018

 

James B. Simmons, the original owner of the Simmons-Bond Inn, was a prominent businessman in the city of Toccoa, and connections to him and his family can be found in many industries in the city. One of those business is the Toccoa Casket Company.
Mr. Robert William McNeely, commonly called “R.W.,” or "Mr. Bob" was born in
Atlanta, Georgia on February 15, 1878. A skilled pattern carver from an early age, he came to Toccoa, Georgia in 1890 at the age of 22 and began working at the Simmons Furniture 

Company (1).


An ambitious man, he bought the Simmons property when the factory closed and began to produce wooden furniture out of it. Soon after, he founded McNeely and Company in the three-story brick building next to the Merchants and Farmers Bank, the later location of the
Belk-Gallant Department Store on Doyle Street, downtown Toccoa.

 

 

As McNeely & Company, the business operated separate trades on each of the three floors. The first floor held the furniture and hardware store. The second floor held the casket company, and the third floor held the mortuary. Many stories were told about how he and his employees had to carry cadavers up the steps of each floor to reach the mortuary on the top floor of the building.
The motto of McNeely and Company was “From the Cradle to the Grave”, an apt vision considering the nature of Mr. McNeely’s business. As a devoted public servant, Mr. McNeely invested himself in the affairs of Toccoa business, being the Director of the Farmers and
Merchants Bank in 1906 and a member of the Toccoa City Commission in 1915, when the town’s first electricity-generating plant was built.


He also served as Mayor of Toccoa in 1935, 1938, and 1941. Mr. McNeely’s business model proved successful. His furniture manufacturing plant in the old Simmons property (and later Wright Manufacturing) expanded into a larger facility next door. Mr. McNeely named this business the Toccoa Casket Company, which later became the largest suppliers of caskets to the U.S. Military in the world until the end of the Vietnam War. Legend has it that Toccoa Casket Company provided the glass top liner-equipped cherry casket in which the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was buried.

 

The building housing McNeely and Company looks very much the same as it did when it was constructed in the late 1800's. The three-story structure is typical of Commercial Storefronts in the Twentieth Century, featuring large bay windows on the second floor, and simple brickwork and windows on the third floor. In the right light, the “McNeely & Company” lettering can still be seen above the entrance of the structure.


Currently, this building houses the X-Factor Grill and Cornerstone Restaurant, a local downtown eatery and catering company.

 

(1) A furniture-maker and lumberman, James Simmons’ woodworking skill is evident and preserved in the home.

 

-Information provided with assistance from Stephen Edmondson and Craig McNeely Edmondson.

 

Courtesy of Jena Bailey Brunson.

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