Held at: Historical Society of Pennsylvania [Contact Us]1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Kirk & Nice, Inc., one of the oldest funeral homes in America, was founded in 1761 by Jacob Knorr as a carpentry shop that specialized in the construction and repair of furniture for the residents of Germantown, Pennsylvania. Knorr only occasionally received requests for making coffins, with the dimensions of the coffin determined by using a string to measure the deceased’s height. Jacob Knorr passed away in 1805, and his sons, George and Jacob Jr., succeeded him until 1813, when Jacob Jr. also passed away. Upon Jacob Jr.’s passing, William Johnson, son of George Knorr, purchased the business and ran it until 1830, when John Nice purchased the business for $2,200. John’s son Samuel was the primary manager and in 1848 hired a new apprentice, Benjamin F. Kirk, who eventually married into the Nice family. Kirk was the nephew of Charles Kirk, a member of the Abington Meeting and acquaintance of William Still's. Eventually Benjamin, along with Samuel’s second son, William, purchased the shop and in 1869 renamed the business Kirk & Nice, a name which it still bears today.
Even as Benjamin Kirk was apprenticing at the shop in 1848, its primary function was still to build furniture. Events of the 1860s, however, popularized funeral services within the United States. The Civil War helped to raise awareness of the practice of embalming, as deceased soldiers were embalmed in an attempt to preserve the bodies so that they could be returned to their homes and buried locally. The death of Abraham Lincoln also popularized the procedure, as he was embalmed so that his body could be transported around the nation for a two-week period of mourning. This act allowed citizens to outwardly mourn the passing of a person, and it changed the way funeral services were conducted in the United States. After Lincoln’s death, funeral services became much more elaborate, and the demand skyrocketed for beautiful, expertly made coffins and compassionate services. Benjamin Kirk recognized the opportunity for his business to shift from carpentry to funeral service, and worked towards that goal until his death in 1917. After Benjamin’s death, John Henderson, Benjamin’s grandson, assumed control of the business until 1957, when Benjamin’s great-grandson Malcolm Henderson inherited the business. In 1993 Stewart Enterprises purchased the business from Maryann Henderson, the widow of Malcolm Henderson. Stewart Enterprises now operates two funeral homes under the Kirk & Nice moniker, one in George Washington Memorial Park in Plymouth Meeting and the other in Sunset Memorial Park in Feasterville. Kirk & Nice is officially recognized as the United States’ oldest continuously operating funeral establishment, and 2011 was the 250th anniversary of its business.
The Kirk & Nice, Inc. collection consists of 148 volumes and four boxes of records that span the years 1831 to 1988 and covers multiple aspects of the funeral home's business. All four boxes and eighty of the volumes are dedicated to burial records from the business. These records include biographical information on the deceased, as well as information on services and items purchased by the family for the funeral and burial service. These records are organized chronologically and from 1886-1969 are comprehensive in nature. There are twelve record books for services which include dates and times for the services, but no financial data. These volumes appear to be organized chronologically by date of initial purchase (usually a coffin).
The collection includes fifty-six financial books. Eight of the volumes record daily transactions, one volume contains payroll records and another contains an index of names along with a general list of services that were available. If a service was purchased by the family for the deceased, there are marks that indicate the transaction along with notes concerning the payment status. The final forty-four volumes are account books recording family purchases for the deceased. The material is organized by year and account, and each account contains all services purchased for the deceased by the family, regardless of date of transaction.
Series I: Burial Records
Series II: Administrative Records
Series III: Financial Records
Gift of Kirk & Nice, Inc., 2009.
Accession numbers 2009.008 & 2009.015
- Burial Records--19th century
- Burial Records--20th century
- Funeral homes--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
- Genealogy & local history
- Lincoln Funeral
- Historical Society of Pennsylvania
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Matthew McNelis
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research.