Pence Funeral Home, Conway, Arkansas

While death and burial have always been part of human life, the concept of funeral homes is a relatively recent development. In Conway, Arkansas, the Pence, Doolin, and McNutt funeral homes served the community and surrounding areas, playing a vital role in the evolution of funeral practices.

During the 1940s, burial associations, often partnered with these funeral homes, provided funeral products and services to members. Additionally, funeral home cars doubled as transportation for members to Conway Memorial, filling a crucial need before the advent of hospital ambulance services in the 1970s.

Established in 1879 by John Pence, Pence Funeral Home was the oldest of the three. Initially, it operated as an extension of Pence’s woodworking and cabinetmaking shop on Front Street. Families would provide measurements, and Pence would craft personalized wooden caskets, typically made of pine or oak, with flannel interiors, handles, and often, an epitaph on the lid.

In 1886, a devastating fire destroyed Pence’s shop along with much of Conway’s business district. While rebuilding, Pence and his partner, George Donaghey, divided the business, with Donaghey retaining the cabinet shop and Pence focusing on undertaking.

A pioneering figure in the funeral industry, John Pence was a charter member of the Arkansas Funeral Directors Association and instrumental in establishing the Arkansas State Board of Embalmers in 1909. He was recognized as the oldest funeral director and undertaker in Arkansas at the time of his passing.

The Pence Burial Association, founded in 1934, grew to include 20,000 members across several counties by 1940. The funeral home maintained detailed ledgers documenting the individuals it served from 1881 until 1971, offering valuable insights into the history of Conway’s funeral practices. Pence Funeral Home eventually relocated to North Street, where Sherwin-Williams currently stands.

Pence Funeral Home Records, 1881-1945

The following are indices to the actual records. They can let you know whether your ancestor was interred by the Pence Funeral Home during the years listed.

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