Located at 108 North Caswell Street in La Grange, Rouse Funeral Home is the oldest funeral home in Eastern North Carolina and is the oldest continuous business in La Grange.
It was in the 1870's that the United States was approaching its centennial that John H. Rouse, Sr. came to La Grange. Around 1882, Rouse opened a buggy factory known as the "Rouse Buggy Factory" where he developed and manufactured the celebrated lightweight sports model buggies known as "Rouse Buggies." On his stationery appeared the famous slogan, "The World Do Move, So Do Rouse Buggies."
Rouse Buggy Factory grew into quite a big business in its day, and at one time, employed about eighty men. The buggies were sold locally and also shipped, unassembled, by rail throughout North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.
Steam engines provided power to operate the machinery in the factory and Rouse also had a water tank by which water was pumped by a windmill. He was believed to have been the first person in La Grange to have running water in his home piped from this water tank. He later piped the water to nearby homes. During this time, when a death occurred, most of the caskets were made at home and friends provided the necessary functions for burial.
Since Rouse had the machinery and craftsmen in the buggy factory, he was often asked to make caskets and, in fact, made the casket for the first person buried in Fairview Cemetery.
Actual casket making started between 1882 and 1883 and steadily increased in volume. During this time, Rouse began to provide complete burial services, and thus did the funeral business begin. In 1886, after three years of experience in this trade, Rouse officially listed on his business stationery, "Undertaker and Funeral Director."
Rouse's first hearse, a combination of a buggy and wagon, was made by himself in the buggy factory. He later purchased a factory-made, horse-drawn hearse, which was eventually destroyed by fire.
In 1895, he purchased another factory-made, horse-drawn hearse made in Ohio. This was the first rubber tire hearse south of Richmond, Virginia. It is still owned and maintained Rouse family and is stored at the present day funeral home. Hand-carved out of solid mahogany, the hearse still contains the original drapes, coach lamps, foot warmer, and a wicker basket in which the deceased was placed for transportation to the funeral home. It was the last horse-drawn hearse purchased by Rouse and was used until 1920, at which time he purchased the first motor hearse sold east of Raleigh, North Carolina.
Rouse also brought the first three automobiles to La Grange under the name of Rouse Motor Car Company. On May 11, 1915, Rouse was offered a La Grange dealership by the Oakland Motor Company of Pontiac, Michigan, but declined the offer.
As buggies were replaced by the automobile, Rouse continued to maintain a buggy repair business for several years after he stopped manufacturing buggies. During this buggy phase-out time, Rouse continued to place more emphasis on the funeral business.
Rouse Funeral Home has stood in the same location for nearly one hundred years. We continue to practice the three basic principals adhered to by the sons of John H. Rouse: Always maintain sufficient modern facilities and equipment; always render the best service possible to all families; and always serve families and their loved ones with the same degree of compassion, dignity, reverence, and feeling.
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