Back in 1851, Calvin Oak after being diagnosed with tuberculosis was told he had six months to live and decided to move his family from Vermont to Jacksonville, Florida. At the time Florida was known as a sunny, exotic and healthy destination.
Apparently, that description of Florida was accurate as Oak lived another 30 years and became one of Jacksonville’s most prominent businessmen. The first factory he built was a gun plant manufacturing guns, barrels, and cartridges. At the same time, he owned a jewelry store and in 1856, opened a marble and mortuary business with his son Byron and Calvin became the city’s undertaker.
When the steamboats would arrive from Charleston, he would stand on the docks and with a tall rod gauge the height of the passengers as they left the boat. For the passengers he thought that wouldn’t make it through the winter, he would estimate the size of the coffin he would need and build it, so he was ready when the time came.
Calvin Oak died in 1881 and his son continued the business under his name as undertaker and marble dealer. Byron passed away in 1889 at the young age of 43. It is assumed that both 1886 and 1888 were very profitable years for him with the two-yellow fever epidemics.
In the early 1900s, the business as owned by Harry S. Moulton and Samuel A. Kyle and operated as Moulton & Kyle. They needed a new modern facility and hired the prominent Jacksonville architecture firm Mark & Shetfall to design a two-story, Prairie School style building. The building was completed in 1914.
After Moulton died in 1936, Kyle changed the name to S. A. Kyle Funeral Home and several years later sold the business to Samuel McLellan and the funeral home then became Kyle McLellan Funeral Home. In 1992 McLellan sold the business to Peeples Family Funeral Homes. One year short of a century of operating out of this building, Peeples moved to a new building in 2013.
Unfortunately, the old structure was left to decay and on the morning of February 11, 2019, a fire broke out on the second floor. The cause of the fire is undetermined, but the theory is it was caused by the homeless who were living in the structure.
The downstairs is described as very dark. Black mold can be found throughout and chipped tiles from collapsed ceilings cover many of the floors. You will also find old coffins, glassware used for embalming, photographs from the early 1900s and records dating back to 1896. Back then, your funeral and burial were cheap at $6.00, about $180 today. The average daily wage in Florida was $2.00 a day, so in three days your funeral would be paid for.