Rockwell Casket Company exhibit opens Sunday at Rockwell Museum
By Katie Scarvey
Founded in 1899, it was the first business in Rockwell. The Rockwell Casket Company is still family-owned and still thriving.
It’s the sort of business that is probably recession-proof, since its driving force ó death ó is inevitable.
The venerable Rockwell business is the subject of a new exhibit, opening Sunday, April 20, at the Historic Rockwell Museum in downtown Rockwell.
The current owner and manager of the company is Jeff Croner, the great grandson of John W. Peeler, who assumed control of the company during its first few years.
Originally named Rockwell Furniture Co., it seems doubtful that the business ever produced anything but coffins and caskets. Burial containers were important enough to the business that in 1905 the company letterhead read “Rockwell Furniture Company: Coffins and Caskets: Gloss Whites a Specialty.”
At the turn of the century, the company was capitalizng on changing burial customs. Cabinetmakers were beginning to discontinue the practice of taking lumber provided by a family and making coffins for free as a tribute to the deceased.
In 1917, fire destroyed the building. In 1928, the company changed its name to the Rockwell Casket Company to better reflect what it was actually making.
Another fire in 1933 almost destroyed the company, according to a 1962 story in the Salisbury Post.
Visitors to the Rockwell Museum exhibit will be able to see an old six-sided coffin, which features a head-sized key-hole shaped opening. Eventually, coffins ó which are wider at the top and narrow at the bottom ó were replaced by rectangular caskets in what was probably a general industry trend.
During his summers while he was in college, Croner, a Pennsylvania native, came to work for his uncle, J. Statler Miller, the grandson of J.W. Peeler. Later, Croner moved from his home in Berlin, Penn. to take over the business in 1973. He’s been there 35 years.
He hopes the business will continue to be family-owned.
“As long as I’m around, it will be,” he says. So far, his children haven’t shown an interest in getting involved in the business.
The casket business has seen a number of changes over the years, Croner says. These days, the majority of caskets ó 70 percent ó are made of metal insstead of wood. Cremation has also had an effect on the company, as has a declining death rate, Croner says. In 2007, casket sales in this country fell one percent. Import caskets have also had an impact. In 2007, Chinese caskets made up almost 2 percent of domestic sales.
The company currently has 11 employees, about half of what it had in 1962.
The Rockwell Museum exhibit features company memorabilia, including photographs of the company’s workers, dating back to 1903 ó men named Misenheimer, Bost, Goodman.
The exhibit opens at 2 p.m. this Sunday, April 20.
Located at 111 W. Main St., the museum is open Sundays, from 2-4 p.m..
For more information, call Ann Teague at 704-279-5783.
Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or firstname.lastname@example.org.