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WILL ADAMS - COFFIN MAKER
By Marshall McClung
"To every thing there is a season and a time - a time to be born, and a time to die." Ecclesiastes 3:1-2.
In the earlier days in Graham County, persons with a particular skill or talent were much in demand in their community. Such was the case of Will Adams who was skilled in making coffins or caskets as they are now known. It is not clear how Will got started making coffins, but he was said to be good at carpentry and had a way with wood. During his time of making coffins which was said to be over a span of thirty years, Will made over 200 coffins. It took about a day to make a coffin. Will was assisted at times in constructing the coffins by Posey Hedrick and Thurman Hooper. Will did not charge for the coffins.
Will was married to Martha Smith. There are two of the children living today, one of which is Lexter Adams of the Snowbird community. Lexter, their youngest child said he helped his father Will with the last coffin he made sometime in the 1940's. Lexter recalled that it was or a baby. Lexter has a daughter Martha Adams Hooper who was named after Martha, Will's wife. In addition, a great - great grandson, William Wayne Adams, son of Dalton and Renee Adams was named in part after Will.
Will made his coffins from white pine lumber which was sawed and stored in a barn on West Buffalo near where the coffins were made. Will used a variety of hand tools including hand planes and hand saws in the process of making the coffins. Will had a pattern cut out to make the coffins by. A reminder that death is no respecter of age, Will had a pattern for adult coffins which was around six feet long, and a separate pattern for children which was about three feet long.
The coffins were made with a hinged lid using small door hinges. When it was taken to the cemetery for burial, the coffin lid was nailed shut. The coffin was placed in the grave in a box made of rough lumber, and a lid nailed over the coffin. The coffins were padded with cotton. The inside of the coffins were lined with white satin, and the outside was lined with black satin. Usually, ladies in the community where the death had occurred assisted with this and in also preparing the body for burial. This was referred to as "laying out" the body for burial. Bell Lovin Hooper, Winnie Hooper, and others in the nearby community often assisted with this task.
In later years, Snider's Store in Robbinsville began to stock coffins. An early photograph of the store shows coffins being advertised over one of the windows. The coffins or caskets as they were now beginning to be called were ordered from the Toccoa Casket Company in Toccoa, Georgia. Bill Snider said the caskets ranged in price from the top of the line copper caskets at $295, to $40 for less elaborate caskets. Carol Ward said funeral shrouds which was a type of burial clothing was also available. The shrouds were open in the back~similar to a hospital gown. The last burial shrouds purchased were priced at $18.50.
W.D. Townson began operating a funeral home in Murphy sometime during the 1930's. For a period of time, persons who died in Graham County were taken to Murphy for burial preparations and then brought back for burial.
Graham County had it's first funeral home in 1958. It was located in the building now being used as the Graham County Schools Youth Developmental Center near the Graham County Health Department. Heyward Crawford, who began working for Townson in 1950,became Graham County's first licensed funeral home director in 1958. Charles Pearson also worked for Townson a while during this period of time. Heyward Crawford said he purchased the last eight caskets Snider's had in stock sometime around 1959 or 1960. Wallace Smith and his son Johnny Smith took over operation of Townson Funeral Home in 1977 and it became known as Townson-Smith Funeral Home.
In time, death came for Will Adams as it will for all of us. Will Adams, the coffin maker died in 1970 at the age of 86.
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
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