Lorenzo Dow Pearson, a cabinet maker from Shelby County, moved to Louisville in 1832 to find a broader market for his products. The town was home to only about 15,000 souls, but he soon built a prosperous store that included handmade coffins.
â€œWhen you had a death in your family, you went to the furniture store to pick out a coffin,â€ said Larry Robbins, co-owner of Pearsonâ€™s Funeral Home (149 Breckenridge Lane). â€œThe furniture maker either made one or finished an existing one, and brought it to the house on his wagon. He also took it to the church and the cemetery. In many rural areas today, the local funeral home may still be connected to a furniture store.â€
The making of coffins expanded into the arranging of funerals and burials. Over the years, Pearsonâ€™s has had several addresses, including Old Louisvilleâ€™s elegant Ferguson Mansion, now home to the Filson Historical Society. Its carriage house once held horse-drawn hearses.
The current Pearsonâ€™s was built in 1951 as a satellite location for the downtown facility.
â€œSome people thought they were crazy for going out into what was mostly country,â€ Larry said. â€œThe trolley came out this far, then turned around and went back downtown. Looking east, youâ€™d see corn and potato fields.â€
In January 2011, Rob and David Pearson â€“ the fifth generation of the family to lead the business â€“ sold it to Larry, John Keith and his nephew, Roy Keith Jr.
â€œAll of us want Pearsonâ€™s to stay a local business, rather than be owned by a conglomerate. Rob and David allowed us to have that opportunity,â€ John said. â€œThey are still involved as consultants. When a family wants to talk to a Pearson, David or Rob comes in. We have a great working relationship with them.â€
In 1991, Pearsonâ€™s formed a partnership with the Ratterman Brothers Funeral Home on Lexington Road. Together, they built the Pearson-Ratterman Brothers Funeral Home in Middletown. The Pearsons have since sold their interest in that location, and it will drop their name by the end of this year.
Larry, who grew up in Carrollton, is a second-generation funeral director and has been on the Pearsonâ€™s staff since 1985. John Keithâ€™s background is in memorials, especially through the Keith Monument Company; his friendship with Larry began 25 years ago during his frequent appointments at Pearsonâ€™s.
Since purchasing the 61-year-old facility, the new owners have been making improvements. They have added 19 spaces to the parking lot, along with a walkway, a lamp post and new shrubs.
â€œWeâ€™ve also remodeled the lower level. As in most funeral homes, our display room used to show only corners of caskets,â€ Larry said. â€œFor some homes, it was a space consideration; but the funeral industry also thought it would be easier on families. We now show entire caskets, so people can truly see what theyâ€™re getting.â€ The full selection is also displayed online.
Like weddings, todayâ€™s funerals may be highly individualistic. Pearsonâ€™s staff organizes each familyâ€™s requests and requirements into a dignified ceremony.
â€œIn the monument world, we listen to what people say about the person theyâ€™ve lost. Then we create a monument that tells a story,â€ John said. â€œThe funeral industry is now doing the same: We listen, advise, and show the family what is available, including photo collages and videos. Our job is to help the funeral be more of a celebration of life.â€
In an era when many funeral homes are being purchased by conglomerates, Pearsonâ€™s is determined to remain locally owned.
â€œBeing independent allows us to do whatever the family needs,â€ John said. â€œThere are no set rules. We donâ€™t have to call someone in Texas or Ohio to ask if we can do something. We live here. We know people here. Louisville is like a big family.â€
Pearsonâ€™s currently has a full-time staff of eight, with four licensed funeral directors and embalmers, including Johnâ€™s daughter-in-law, Amanda Keith. Her primary responsibility is pre-arranging funerals, but she also speaks to clubs and senior groups.
â€œOne reason we were interested in buying Pearsonâ€™s was that it has an excellent reputation and its history is steeped in this community. We didnâ€™t want that to be lost,â€ Larry said. â€œWe donâ€™t want to change anything beyond improving what they had. There arenâ€™t a lot of family-owned funeral homes any more. Itâ€™s hard to tell who owns what. Itâ€™s nice to still be able to have the members of the Pearson family around.â€
In some funeral homes, John noted, there can seem to be a wedge between families and the people who are serving them. Pearsonâ€™s goal is to â€œcross that wedge.â€
â€œItâ€™s all about putting the family on a pedestal and thinking of things that need to be done before they think of them,â€ he said. â€œWe want to be there for people in that time and help them make decisions they feel good about, so that in two weeks or a month, they say, â€˜We did the right thing.â€™â€
Pearsonâ€™s Funeral Home is located at 149 Breckenridge Lane. For more information, visit www.pearsonfuneralhome.com or phone 502.896.0349.