Above is a 1909 postcard of the old Fitch Bros Livery. This is where the funeral home started.
In 1888 twins Thomas A. and Joseph T. Fitch, decided to stop attending school at the age of sixteen and begin a livery and drayage business. In the beginning they ran the venture out of their family’s stable. As with many others in the livery business they also supplied conveyances for funerals. When the state began licensing funeral directors the two were among the first group to obtain certification. The brothers’ continued success after 1888 was due in part to the fact that they were well known in the community as attentive caregivers.
By 1893 the brothers had become so successful they were able to move out of their family’s stable and establish themselves on property they purchased from R. H. Gould on West High Street. It was after 1893 that the brothers became more active in the undertaking side of the business. In 1910 they purchased a building for funeral services close to their stables on west High Street, expanding the facility shortly thereafter and moving part of the livery business to the new address. The Fitchs' were widely known and active in the community. They participated in numerous fairs and parades with their white horses, one of which, Snowdrift, was purported to be a descendant from a herd given to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant by the queen of England. After World War I the brothers replaced the horse-drawn hearses with motorized vehicles, becoming the first in the county to hold a completely motorized funeral. At some point the company began offering an ambulance service. Later, Thomas gave the local fire department a modern ambulance in an attempt to equip the recently organized rescue squad with as much contemporary life-saving machinery as possible. Sadly, Joseph caught tuberculosis in 1918, forcing him to retire from the business. Thomas continued to run the company alone until his son, Theodore “Ted” H. Fitch, joined him on the eve of the Great Depression. Ted had graduated from the Cincinnati College of Embalming before the economic calamity struck. He later became mayor of Lawrenceburg. The father and son team continued to run the business until Thomas’s death in 1955.
In 1958 Ted Fitch’s brother, Thomas, joined the company as the bookkeeper, remaining with the family business until 1964 when he sold his half interest in the firm to Ted. A decade later Ronald Denney assumed ownership of the company, changing the name of the business to the Fitch-Denney Funeral Home. Ten years after he took over the company Denney moved the operation to its present location, The Cornelius O’Brien Estate in Greendale.
In 1919 the house was built as shown in the photo above. John Deekin of Cincinnati was the architect.
Two interior photographs show the living room and dining room newly furnished. It was called the "Cottage", by comparison with the Cook mansion.
This home was built in 1919 on a lot being 1.713 acres in size. It was constructed for Cornelius and Anna O’Brien on a site next door to her Father A.D. Cook, a prominent businessman in the Lawrenceburg Community.
Cornelius O'Brien was the eldest son of William H. O'Brien, president of People's National Bank and Harriet Hunter O'Brien. In 1909 Cornelius O'Brien became involved with the A. D. Cook Pump Works. On April 14, 1909 Cornelius O'Brien was married to Anna Belle Cook. They had two daughters, Anna Belle and Mary. By 1915 the A. D. Cook Company employed about 80 people.
In 1932, the house was expanded to its present size by the same architect. Deekin also designed the stables and the remodeling at the O’Brien’s Aurora home, Veraestau, about the same year.
There are three floors in the house plus a full basement. Included in the home are seventeen rooms and seven bathrooms. There are three wood burning fireplaces still in operation today. The total sq. ft. of living area is 7,018 plus 2,264 sq. ft. of usable space in the basement.
The original house was heated by a large coal furnace which has been replaced by two gas furnaces and two central air units. The plumbing consisted of two complete piping systems, one of city water and the second one of soft water. The cost of construction is not known, but rumored to have been between twenty-five and thirty thousand dollars.
Following the death of Mrs. O’Brien, the house was willed to Indiana University. In 1983, Indiana University sold the house to Ronald Denney who moved the Fitch Denney Funeral Home out to Ridge Avenue from the High Street location.
“Christmas Morning, 1935” by M. O. Whitney
The photo above was taken by the noted Lawrenceburg photographer M. O. Whitney. He published “The Ghost City, Story of the Lawrenceburg 1937 Flood with Pictures.”
All the photographs of the Cornelius O’Brien House are from the Veraestau Archives, courtesy of Mary O’Brien Gibson.
Fitch-Denney Funeral Home | (812) 537-2080
455 Ridge Avenue, Lawrenceburg, IN