Randolph and Harriett Freer built a large brick house on the
corner of Center and Washington streets because it was their wish that
each of their four sons would marry and bring his bride there to live.
Randolph was used to a large family. His father Lemuel had three
children by his first marriage and 15 by the second. The nine Freer
sons of Lemuel and Catherine were described as “being remarkable
for their physical development being of more than ordinary size.”
Randolph came to Ashland in 1850 to go into the grocery business with his brother Jonas and Eli Wallack. Four years later he married Harriet Smith and their first home was the home on the northeastern corner of Center and Walnut streets. In 1873, about the time that the Freer brothers started the Farmers Bank, Randolph purchased the property one block down the street from Philip and Mary Ducomb for $2,500 and built his home.
Although the sons did not return to live in the family home after their marriages, three of them built homes on Center Street. George, who followed his father in the banking business, built the home at 841 in 1902, a year after his brother Charles had started construction on the home next door at 847 Center Street.
Frank’s home was on the west side of the street and was razed when the trinity Lutheran Church was built. With their father’s financial help, Charles and Frank brought out the Wiley, McCauley and Jones men’s clothing store in the Farmers Bank building band operated the Freer Brothers Clothing Store for a number of years. The fourth son, Walter, was set up in a jewelry store across the street.
Active in the Presbyterian church, the March 4, 1880, edition of the Ashland Press reported “over 90 people shared the pleasures of the social for the benefit of the Presbyterian church last Thursday evening at the R.D. Freer home.”
Randolph died July 21, 1884; his wife in 1902. The Freer heirs sold the home to James Shaw in 1912 for $10,000. Shaw not only was an undertaker but also served as a state senator.
Up to this time funerals were most frequently held in the home or perhaps a church. Undertakers often would take a board to the home, and rest it on two kitchen chairs. Place the body on the board and embalm it there. A wreath with a black ribbon placed on the front door was symbolic of a death in the family. At least one Ashland resident is reported to have gone to funerals early to get a rocking chair.
During the influenza epidemic in 1918 only graveside serves were held to prevent spreading the disease.
Harry W. Denbow took over the business his stepfather had started and continued as an undertaker for 50 years, for a time in partnership with Richard W. Bear and more recently with Roger Primm, one of the current owners. The barn where the horses that formerly pulled the hearse were stabled, was used as a garage for the emergency service ambulance which the funeral homes provided.
Later the barn was torn down and an addition was put on the rear of the home and the parking lot extended. A center rear entrance made access from the lot more convenient. The furniture and the décor of the home’s interior reflect the Victorian era in which it was built.