The mold seen above is about all that remains to indicate that this was once home to one of the biggest industries in town and the state’s leading manufacturer of caskets, which also held the distinction of being the largest supplier to the U. S. military until the Vietnam War. It is also suggested that the company supplied the specially-made casket for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s burial.
R. W. McNeely came to Toccoa as a young man, bringing his skills as a pattern carver to the Simmons Furniture Company. When James B. Simmons closed the business, Mr. McNeely purchased it and like many in the furniture trade at the time embraced a “cradle to grave” philosophy in his enterprise. This meant families could buy cradles for their infants as well as caskets for their dead, all in one place.
McNeely was very successful with this concept and served as director of the Farmers and Merchants Bank, on the city council, and as mayor of Toccoa several times. He eventually renamed McNeely and Company the Toccoa Casket Company and he expanded from his downtown location to this more modern factory on the edge of town. These photographs represent a very small part of the campus.
The Toccoa Casket Company was an iconic local business throughout most of the 20th century and when I was in town photographing the Schaefer Center for the Fox Theatre Institute last year, local officials suggested I go out and make a few shots, as the place was on the market and facing possible demolition.
There was a good deal of vandalism at the site and I must admit it was a bit creepy wandering around the abandoned buildings.
The work spaces of the old factory are just a cluttered mess today.
Lifelong friends of mine in the funeral business always spoke highly of the quality of Toccoa Caskets. Charles Caldwell echoed the sentiment, noting: This is most sad for me. After using Toccoa Caskets for many years and appreciating the product, they are no longer available. I’m sad for the workers and economy of Toccoa, where so many worked. But most of all, I’m sad for all of the funeral directors, like me, that cannot purchase one of these fine caskets for their loved ones and client families.
Mark Slaughter notes that the factory buildings were all gone by the mid-2010s.