In America today, when a loved one dies, we reach out to a funeral home to handle the arrangements for a service and burial. This was not always the case. The funeral industry didn’t really get its start in America until the time of the Civil War, when soldiers died of wounds or sickness at the site of a battlefield and there was a desire to have the body brought home so that the family could pay its last respects. This was the start of the more regular use of embalming in our country. Prior to that, when people died, they would be laid out at home for those who wanted to say goodbye before burial in the local cemetery took place.

Oliver Lombard first established himself as an undertaker in Knightville in 1907. He continued in his profession until his unexpected death in 1926 at the age of 42. South Portland Historical Society photo

While embalming in America was a fairly new practice in the mid- to late-1800s, it really wasn’t until the early-1900s that the idea of moving a body to a funeral home became more common, and the profession of a funeral director started to become a thing. Schools opened to teach the technical skills of embalming. Even the name used for an undertaker evolved – sometimes called a mortician, but beginning to change to the more euphemistic “funeral director” in the 1920s.

Undertakers offered a variety of services: embalming, handling of service arrangements, transportation and burial. They also provided ambulance service; in these early days, South Portland did not offer an ambulance or EMS services through the fire department like it does today. Hearses at funeral homes served the dual purpose of acting as an ambulance if a sick or injured person needed to be transported to a hospital.

The beginnings of the funeral business in South Portland date to the early-1900s in the Knightville neighborhood.

One of the first undertakers that we’ve been able to locate is Fred E. Hanson. He was previously listed as a jeweler and watchmaker on Congress Street in Portland. In 1903, however, Hanson embarked on a new profession. In August, he purchased half of the lot on the corner of Ocean Street and D Street (the building on that corner today is numbered 81, but that building had been numbered 85 back then and was being used as the grocery of John A.S. Dyer).

Hanson immediately had a one-story building constructed just to the right of the Dyer grocery. He became a licensed embalmer by passing the exam of the State Board of Embalming Examiners in September, and his building was soon completed and he was open for business in Knightville as a jeweler and an undertaker. His business was short-lived, unfortunately, as his building was destroyed by fire in April, 1905. He did not rebuild after the fire.


The former building at 160 Ocean St. Oliver Lombard purchased the land on the corner of Ocean Street and Thomas Street in 1920, where he built his large funeral home. South Portland Historical Society photo

The next undertaker in Knightville that we found was Oliver G. Lombard. Lombard was born in 1884 in Old Orchard Beach, the son of John and Clara Lombard. He spent his childhood years in Old Orchard, then attended the Barnes School of Anatomy and Sanitary Science and Embalming in Boston. Lombard moved to South Portland around 1907, first partnering with James C. Tucker in their business called Lombard & Tucker, at 37 Ocean St. (a home on the corner of Ocean and B streets). Both Oliver Lombard and James Tucker lived in the home.

Lombard & Tucker appear in the city’s annual reports, showing that they provided traditional funeral and burial, as well as ambulance services. James Tucker left the business around 1911 and Lombard continued operating as an undertaker from 37 Ocean St. under his own name.

Interestingly, in May, 1919, while Oliver Lombard was still working as an undertaker, he was hired by the city of South Portland to serve as our first police chief. There was no official police department at that time (only a few police officers hired directly by the city). He only served for a couple of weeks and then resigned.

In October, 1919, Lombard bought two adjacent lots of land on Ocean Street, on the corner of Thomas Street. On this corner lot, he built a large home and two large garages in 1920. The first floor of the house was built as a funeral home with large undertaking parlors; the upper part of the home was built for residential use. Oliver married Bertha Fickett of South Portland in August, 1920. The home at 160 Ocean St. was completed by late September, and they immediately moved in and started the business. This building would play a large part in funeral services in South Portland through 1953.

Oliver Lombard was only 42 years old when he died of an apparent heart attack in December, 1926. He had driven to Waterboro with three friends to go on a fox hunt; on the return home, he collapsed at the wheel and the car veered off into a ditch. The car was going slowly so his friends were not hurt, but Oliver died instantly.

A 1935 advertisement for the Samuel Phillips funeral home at 160 Ocean St. Phillips operated the home from 1927 to 1941. South Portland Historical Society image

After Oliver’s death, his widow Bertha moved out of the funeral home and sold the building and business to Samuel Phillips in April, 1927. Phillips was 57 years old and an experienced undertaker, having operated his own funeral home in Palmer, Massachusetts, for many years. He came here with his wife Eva and their daughter, moving into the upstairs apartment over the funeral home. Samuel and Eva worked together in the business (Eva was listed as the “lady attendant”). One of their sons had relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida, in 1926, so Samuel and Eva would vacation in that area each winter.


In late 1941, at the age of 72, Phillips sold the business to George J. Henry and moved back to Palmer. After his wife Eva died in 1944, he moved to Tampa, Florida, to be nearer his son.

George J. Henry was born in South Portland in 1906, the son of Robert and Ana Henry. George’s father was a lumber dealer. After attending schools in South Portland, George Henry attended the New England Institute of Anatomy, Sanitary Science and Embalming in Boston.

After his graduation in 1927, and while he was still living with his parents in their home at 104 Ocean St., he partnered with Ralph M. King, who had been working as an assistant undertaker at S.S. Rich & Son in Portland (the predecessor of today’s Jones, Rich and Barnes Funeral Home). The two men established their own business in a home at 63 Ocean St., in the Knightville neighborhood of South Portland. Their business was called King & Henry Company. Ralph King and his family also lived in the home at 63 Ocean Street.

In June, 1937, George Henry’s father Robert bought the home at 108 Cottage Road, on the corner of Cottage Road and Broadway (where the Mill Cove Apartments is today). Robert and Ana Henry moved in, as did George with his wife and kids. The King & Henry funeral home also moved into the first floor of the home.

Ralph King was still listed as active in the business after it moved to 108 Cottage Road, but within a year, King retired and George bought out his interest in the business. George Henry still used the name King and Henry for another year or so, likely for continuity, but he then changed the name of the business to the George J. Henry Funeral Home.

George J. Henry served as a funeral director in Knightville from 1927 to 1953. South Portland Historical Society photo

George Henry only operated from that 108 Cottage Road location for a few years, before purchasing the 160 Ocean St. funeral home business from Samuel Phillips in late 1941. George moved into the home with his family. He operated that funeral home until 1953. At that point, he closed the business and went to work for the S.S. Rich & Son funeral home in Portland.


In 1955, Edwin L. Inness purchased the property at 160 Ocean St. from George Henry. Inness renovated the first-floor space to become home to his photo studio (he moved his Inness Photo business into the building from its prior location at 87 Ocean St.). The upstairs of the funeral home was left as a residential apartment for additional income. Inness Photo operated from the building for many years, into the 1990s. Edwin Inness’ son sold the property to the city of South Portland in 2000. The building was demolished in 2002 and the Mill Creek Transit Hub is now located on that corner lot.

We’ve had no funeral homes in Knightville since George Henry closed in 1953. The two funeral homes in South Portland today are Hobbs Funeral Home on Cottage Road on Meeting House Hill (founded by Frank and Betty Hobbs in November, 1941) and Conroy-Tully Walker Funeral Home on Broadway in Pleasantdale.

South Portland Historical Society offers a free Online Museum with over 16,000 images available for viewing with a keyword search. You can find it at and, if you appreciate what we do, feel free to make a donation by using the donation button on the home page. If you have photographs or other information to share about South Portland’s past, we would love to hear from you. South Portland Historical Society can be reached at 207-767-7299, by email at, or by mail at 55 Bug Light Park, South Portland, ME 04106.

This former home at 104 Ocean St. was once the Henry home, where George J. Henry lived with his parents, Robert and Ana Henry. The home no longer exists; the Waterfront Graphics building was later built on the site. South Portland Historical Society photo

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of the South Portland Historical Society. She can be reached at

In this mid-1950s image of a parade coming up Ocean Street, Edwin Inness had just moved his Inness Photo business into the former George J. Henry funeral home at 160 Ocean St. South Portland Historical Society photo

In this circa 1954 aerial view of Mill Creek, the Geo. C. Shaw Supermarket is on Ocean Street at the far left (Mill Creek Shopping Center would be built a year later). On the right side of the photo is the new First National Stores that had just opened in the large rectangular building. Just below that store in the photo is the former George J. Henry funeral home on the corner of Ocean and Thomas streets. South Portland Historical Society photo

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