Call Box: Oodles of local history behind the Naugle name
Dear Call Box: I noticed that the street alongside Naugle Funeral Home and Cremation Services is now called Naugle Way. I know the funeral home has been around a long time and was wondering what you could tell me about its history.
Dear B.G.: Naugle — with its stained-glass egret window, coquina-covered brick walls and digital time clock that can be seen from Interstate 95 — is the oldest family-run funeral home in Jacksonville.
Its roots go back to 1919 when Thomas M. Burns opened a funeral home at Hendricks Avenue and Miami Road, now Prudential Drive. Vernon Naugle and his wife, Stella Jones Naugle, took over the operation in 1928 and changed the name to Burns-Naugle Funeral Home in 1930. In 1937 they built the present corner facility at 1203 Hendricks Ave., a block from the original location.
Over the years, four generations of Naugles have operated the San Marco fixture. Sitting at the conference table where they consult with families, two of them looked through yellowed clippings and weathered black and white pictures as they discussed their history.
Cameron Naugle, current president and funeral director, said his great-grandmother Stella graduated from mortuary school in 1914 and is believed to be the first female licensed funeral home director in Florida. His great-grandfather Vernon graduated from Worsham College of Anatomy, Sanitary Science and Embalming in Chicago in 1907 and came to Jacksonville in 1924. He drove a truck from Central Florida to Jacksonville for several years to earn enough money to buy the Burns funeral home.
Stella assisted her husband until his death in 1947 and remained active until 1955 when her son, Robert, took over. Until her death at 84 in 1964, she still occasionally came to the funeral home. Meanwhile, Robert’s wife Helen was active as well, becoming known for her warmth with grieving families. She also was the first Florida woman to serve as captain in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II and helped run political campaigns of former Jacksonville mayors, such as Haydon Burns, according to a Times-Union story on her death at 87 in 1999.
Robert and Helen were followed by their grandsons, Robert and Paul, and now Paul’s son, Cameron. Paul, who serves as senior funeral director, said he started working at Naugle as a helper when he was 15. And sometimes, that meant washing cars.
The years brought changes, as did his duties. For one, a majority of people are opting for cremations because they’re not originally from Jacksonville, don’t have roots here or prefer a simpler or less costly service.
“The pomp and circumstance has given away to personalization,” Paul said. “Back in the day, we used to provide ambulance and limousine service.”
And they had some interesting clients who weren’t funeral related. Naugle was near the Hilton Hotel where Elvis Presley stayed during his Jacksonville concerts in the 1970s. His manager, Col. Tom Parker, would make the arrangements for Naugle to pick Presley up at the hotel and take him to eat or to the Coliseum or the airport but wouldn’t give any details until the limo got to the designated area. If he was being picked up at the Coliseum after the concert, they would be told to crank up the limo and back up to the chute. Presley, who was very quiet, would run to the limo, jump in and take off to a police escort, he said. Even so, aggressive fans still tried to run them off the road.
The Jackson 5 stayed at the Hilton as well, renting the whole floor and a reception room.
“They were very accommodating, very friendly and very nice,” Paul said, adding that they offered to share the seafood they always ordered. “They made you feel part of them.”
Now, most families don’t use limos anymore, many funeral homes have gotten rid of theirs and if one is needed, Naugle hires it from a limo service.
Moreover, the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department took over ambulance and rescue service decades ago, and Naugle no longer has the two ambulances it once owned.
In the 1960s, Naugle remodeled its building, adding the stained-glass window, enclosing the front porch and installing stucco over the sturdy red bricks believed to have been quarried from Lake Marco, a former clay pit. The facility is so solidly built that two errant drivers couldn’t penetrate the walls, Cameron said. It’s also soundproof so that semis going over the expressway can’t be heard.
As for the name change, it happened because the 911 Emergency Addressing Advisory Committee determined the portion of Gary Street between Hendricks and Kings Avenue needed renaming to differentiate between the two unconnected segments of the roadway due to the Overland Bridge project. New street signs have been placed at both ends of the one-block segment.
In March, Naugle crossed the St. Johns to add a second location at 808 Margaret St. in Riverside. It’s called Naugle Schnauss Funeral Home and Cremation Services.
And will there be a fifth generation? Cameron has a 4-year-old son but said he won’t influence his decision. In his own case, he entered the banking field before going into the mortuary business after realizing it was his calling. He worked for other Jacksonville funeral homes until his uncle, Robert, died five years ago, and he took over for him. Cameron’s father Paul, who had retired in 2011, came back to work 14 days after his brother’s death as well.