Russell Funeral Parlor

March 14, 2010 - Over the course of the past number of years, flooding along the river and creeks that flow through Livingston Manor has inflicted serious property damage upon the many residences unfortunate enough to be in the path of the river valley's designated flood-plane. Still, the devastation caused over the course of the past few years by these floodwaters pales in comparison to the destruction amassed in just a few short hours by the work of large machines designed to destroy. This past week, three buildings in the Manor area that were included in the federal flood program, recently signed onto by the Town of Rockland to help mitigate future flood damage, have been demolished, leaving vacant lots in their wake. Large excavators tore into the the recently vacated buildings, clamping its mechanical jaws on building section after section, ripping the structures apart, leaving a pile of splintered rubble to be carted away. In just a blink of an eye, well over one hundred years of history has vanished just like that, traces of which are now relegated only to memories and photographs.

One of the finer structures on Pearl Street became one of these victims to the jaws of the excavator. What was recently known as the Bryant house had been particularly hard hit by the numerous, recent floods. This large, three story, four-gabled structure followed an architectural style that was common during the late nineteenth century. Consideration had been given to preserving the building and maintaining it as a residence, perhaps by raising the structure so it would sit above the flood-plane's high-water mark, but its location, size and other physical aspects to the structure made it cost prohibitive, joining the growing list of flood-plane structures that are now gone....

Hawley Russell and his wife, the former Mary Ellen Davis, moved to the Livingston Manor area from the Delaware County community of Shavertown in 1889, taking over the undertaker business of W J Bullard, located across the street from the Sturdevant House. It was a time when many within the undertaker business who crafted their own caskets also practiced the trade of cabinet-making, the finish product being similar in both vocations. It was also a time when caskets were borne from the funeral to the burial site by horse-drawn carriages, the area's finest horses leading the somber procession. "Wals" Davis, proprietor of the Davis House and noted local horseman, provided what were considered the town's most handsome pair of black mares for these occasions, housing both mares and funeral wagon at the hotel's stable. Wishing to expand his business, Russell purchased a building-lot from Elizabeth Sherwood, Jack's wife, located within the low-lying wetlands below the Methodist Church in 1895, building his new, large residence, which housed the undertaker business, along with a stable next door which would store the hearse and horses.

Over the years, the Russell undertaker business flourished at its new location on Pearl Street, remaining in the Russell family as Hawley's son, James Russell received his license in 1915. James moved the funeral parlor from the house into the newly renovated stable in 1925, which was later torn down and the funeral home completely rebuilt. Later, Russell further renovated the funeral home in 1939, enlarging the chapel, installing an elevator and adding a showroom on the second floor. With James' untimely death in 1942, his wife, the former Loraine Collins, who herself had become a licensed undertaker, continued on with the business...
For nearly three-quarters of a century, the funeral home at Livingston Manor was owned and operated by members of the Russell family, until 1962, when Loraine Russell transferred the business over to Sigmund Berry, while she retained and continued to reside in the original Russell house next door. When the Herbert and Kathy Bryant family moved to the Manor, they acquired both the funeral home and the Russell house. It has been during their tenure at the Pearl Street residence these past twenty-five years when the Livingston Manor community experienced what may be considered the worst of the ever-continuous series of devastating floods, as their home received arguably the worst of the floodwater damage.

As each flooding event at Livingston Manor appears to become more and more severe than preceding flooding episodes, the foolishness of allowing building upon the flood-prone wetlands within the village by early town developers is now quite apparent. Options for those who now reside in this flood-stricken area are few; either ride out the wave of floodwaters generated by the next storm, or join onto the Town's flood program where both the flood experience along with the homes that they left behind, become only a memory.