By Peter Becker
HAWLEY- Easily taking the record for the longest-run business in the Wayne/Pike county, Pa. area, operated by the same family, is the interesting combination of Teeters' Funeral Chapel and Teeters' Furniture. Owned in succession by four generations of men named Richard Teeter (and an uncle named George), the Hawley business has been on the same corner since it started in 1849.
Now, a fifth generation Teeter is rising up, with Dick Teeter's daughter Julie Teeter-Seiler presently studying at Pittsburgh Institute of Mortuary Science, pursuing a license as a funeral director. She has worked for her father for over 20 years.
Providing funerals and furniture is not all that strange a combination.
There were two combination undertaking and furniture businesses in Honesdale a hundred years ago, and there still is one in Narrowsburg. The historic link, Teeter said, was the need in the old days to manufacture caskets. These were sold along with the tables and chairs of the living, when household necessities had to be made as well as acquired locally.
Richard Adam Teeter was cabinetmaker as well as undertaker, serving the Hawley community from the corner of 18th and 16th streets. That's Main Avenue and Church Street for those more familiar with the town's street names of the past (20th) and present (21st) century.
Hawley was known as Falls Port in 1849; the Hawley name was established two years later. The village was growing quickly, with the arrival of the Pennsylvania Coal Company Gravity Railroad in 1850.
Originally known as Paupack Eddy, the village started to come together in the 1790's in the Eddy section by the falls. Whether there was a funeral business here before Teeter, has not been discovered.
Before a town had an undertaker, unless there was a local church, families, with the aid of friends, took care of their own.
The Baptists organized the first church here in the 1830’s. There was already a graveyard, the Eddy Cemetery on what we know as Hudson Street (Rt. 590) around the bend, which has graves of Hawley’s early pioneers.
We do know Teeter's business had competition in Hawley through the decades.
The 1872 street directory lists only Richard Teeter as undertaker. The 1912 directory lists both Richard A. Teeter with his brother George S. Teeter at "Main Ave. near Church" and another
undertaker, William B. Ammerman at "Church near Penn Ave." Ammerman and his wife Gertrude lived on Erie Avenue (Welwood).
A directory for 1925 lists two Hawley undertakers, "R. Teeter" at 327 Main Avenue and Michael J. Bohan, 325 Hudson Street. Dick Teeter recalled that Bohan’s funeral home was in operation in the early 1960’s and did most of the Catholic funerals in town. Teeters at that time served mainly Protestant families.
The same two funeral businesses operated in 1935.
There were three undertakers in Hawley in 1953. The directory lists, in addition to Richard A. Teeter and Michael J. Bohan, the funeral business of Franklin J. Myers at 620 Church Street. Franklin and his wife Marie lived at the same address. Within a few years, however, Myers had moved his family and business to North Main Street in Honesdale.
Dick Teeter stated that since 1963, Teeters has been the only funeral business in town, apparently as it was for his great grandfather.
Born in 1827 in Northampton County, Pennsylvania, the founding father of the business, Richard Adam Teeter, moved to Wisconsin and Missouri in his early teens. At that age he learned undertaking in St. Louis during plagues of black diphtheria, black small pox and cholera. At age 20 he returned east, and at 22 settled in Hawley. Here, he set up shop making cabinets and caskets, and did undertaking. His father, Adam Dieter Teeter, had plied the same two trades in Northampton County.
Richard Adam Teeter had a son, also named Richard but with no middle name. Born in 1865, Richard #2 (as we will refer to him) worked as an Erie Railroad telegrapher in Hawley. His father died in 1896. In 1904, Richard #2 received his license as an undertaker and continued this trade as well as selling furniture. He was an excellent amateur photographer.
Paper Box Company
He also ran the Hawley Paper Box Company on the third floor, making all sorts of boxes.
This business lasted till about 1920. One of their biggest customers was the Blooming Grove Hunting & Fishing Club, which ordered boxes coated with paraffin. The boxes were loaded with dry ice and used to ship fish on the Hawley train to New York.
Dick said Teeters’ kept receiving sample boxes into the 1950’s, and as a kid enjoyed playing in the great stacks of boxes.
Richard Teeter #2, who was married to Maud, died in 1917. He had been in business with his brother George Teeter, who was also a funeral director, furniture merchant and a railroad engineer as well. He raised chicken and fighting cocks- on the second floor of the store.
George, who died in 1942, was known as a renowned hunter and fisherman. He and his wife Elizabeth lived in the Teeter homestead at 509 Church Street.
Richard A. Teeter (initial only) was born in 1903. The "third" Richard and father of Dick Teeter, entered the family business in 1924 and was owner from 1941 to his death in 1970. He was known as the "whistling undertaker." He bought the business from Uncle George in 1941, and worked in both the undertaking and furniture sides, as well as delivering Parcel Post.
Moved a graveyard
In 1924, George Teeter and his nephew Richard A. moved a cemetery. They were contracted by Pennsylvania Realty & Investment Company for PP&L, to relocate the Pudrytown Cemetery. The graveyard was about to be flooded by Lake Wallenpaupack. Contracted to move 20 bodies and grave markers at $20 a grave, there were actually 54. They were moved a short distance to higher ground, in Paupack Township. Wallenpaupack Historical Society was granted ownership and care of the cemetery in 2010, and receives help from Sandy Shore residents.
Richard #3 loved to fish and travel, and was an early Hawley Rotary member.
He and his wife Helen were the parents of Richard Alvin Teeter, who we refer here as Dick Teeter, born in 1940.
The store built by Richard Adam Teeter in 1849-1850 was expanded over the years with three sections. The original building was a cabinet shop set back from the street; second came the store on the corner, with rental storefronts on the ground floor, and third was an addition, with three stories. Over the years, among the rental businesses, there were F.H. Phillips' jewelry store, Spall clothing store, confectionary, dry goods store, a law office, tailor, a pool hall and parcel post business. The Hawley Post Office was located here between 1897 and 1905.
The store was converted to completely furniture sales in the mid-1940’s.
Until 1928, the funerals were conducted in private residences (if not in churches), with arrangements by Teeters’. In 1928, the brick funeral chapel was built on Church Street, between the corner store and the Teeter residence. This was the first building constructed in Northeast Pennsylvania exclusively for funerals, Dick stated. The building was designed with a church motif, with Gothic-style windows.
Dick and Mary Anne Teeter lived at the Teeter homestead until 1977, when it became an extension of the chapel, and is known as the "East Chapel." Teeters’ also acquired the Pulici Plumbing & Heating store on the other side of the former family home, as an additional furniture showroom.
In September 1986, disaster struck, when fire wrecked the furniture store on Main Avenue, as well as the original 1849 workshop which was attached in back. The "First Chapel" and "East Chapel" survived. The furniture store was completely rebuilt, and opened nine months after the blaze.
Practically every year, the public gets to enjoy a treasured artifact of the Teeter legacy, when their horse-drawn hearse is included in a town parade. Built in about 1870, the hearse was refurbished in 1977 for the Hawley Sesquicentennial Parade.
Some remember another hearse they had. Richard A. Teeter, Dick’s father, operated one that doubled as an ambulance. Dick said that it was not uncommon in rural communities to have private ambulance service that was the same vehicle used by the undertaker. In this case the undertaker just "switched hats" so to speak. No medical training came with it; the patient was just picked up and given a ride.
This was before the Hawley Fire Department had an ambulance service in the 1960’s, and the present Hawley Ambulance & Rescue Company was formed in 1977.
Long-time employees in the furniture business today include Louise Hillreigel, Office Manager (25 years) and John Reid (20 years). Daughter Julie started with the business 24 years ago. Mark James serves as Funeral Associate with Dick Teeter.
Dick Teeter began working for his father in 1963 and bought the business two years later. His father passed away in 1970.
Dick Teeter's brother J. Kimble Teeter was actively in both the funeral and furniture businesses from 1964 until his retirement in 2008.
In addition to Julie Teeter-Seiler, Dick and Mary Anne Teeter have two more daughters. Mary Helen is wed to Randy Schmalzle. They have two sons. Jen is married to State Rep. Mike Peifer; they have a daughter and two sons. Julie is wed to Dick Seiler, and they have a daughter and a son.
Today, the furniture and funeral services are under separate corporations, but still under the same ownership. Dick Teeter is president of the funeral business, and daughter Julie is president of the furniture side. No, they don’t make the caskets anymore, but the ambitions of their forefather Richard Alvin Teeter continues to this day, a stellar example of small town family entrepreneurship.