The history of Hart's Mortuary and Cremation Center in many ways reflects the history of our city, founded in 1823. In 1899, with the population growing rapidly, Jesse B. Hart, a successful Macon entrepreneur with several business interests already established, joined his friend, C.M. Branan, to buy out a local undertaking firm owned by Dennis A. Keating. This merger marks the beginning of Hart’s as we know it. Two years later, Jesse bought out his partner’s interest and purchased yet another local undertaking firm, this one owned by Maconite Arthur L. Wood. The first Hart’s establishment was located at 550 Mulberry Street beside the Hotel Lanier, built one year prior to Hart’s opening.
After Hart's Mortuary and Cremation Center new acquisition and subsequent expansion, the building on Mulberry was enlarged in 1904 to include a mortuary chapel for those families wishing to conduct a funeral at a site outside the home or church. This new service was the beginning of a change in the role of mortuaries – from serving as undertakers only, to handling the deceased and serving their families from death… to funeral service… to burial. A newspaper article published during that time read:
“The custom of conducting funerals from the undertakers’ chapel has long prevailed in the North and is coming more and more into use in the South. This advantage is much appreciated by those families in which a death occurs after a long illness, the home being in disorder.”
The year after the initial expansion of Hart’s, the firm added a horse-drawn ambulance, and later, when automobiles came into general use, the first automobile ambulance to be used in the city. Said the newspaper:
“Mr. Hart has always been progressive in the equipment of his establishment, having white, gray and black horses with complete equipment and their own carriages.”
Other advances in the industry were to follow, including the hiring of a lady embalmer by 1911.
As Hart’s grew, more professional assistance was added. Employees were loyal and by 1926, the 6-member staff’s collective years with the company totaled an impressive 88. Jesse’s brother, J. Freeman Hart, had joined the business around 1908 and the name had subsequently been changed to “Jesse B. Hart & Brother.” Both brothers held distinguished offices in their industry’s trade associations, with both serving terms as president of the Georgia State Funeral Association, and Jesse being a member of the legislative committee of the National Funeral Directors Association. Freeman was appointed to the State Board of Funeral Examiners and later served the elected offices of secretary and treasurer.
In 1926, Hart's Mortuary and Cremation Center was recognized by the local press as “one of the largest and best-known establishments of its kind in the state” -- a distinction that continues to this day.
With the Hart family’s commitment to compassionate funeral care, the firm eventually outgrew it original building, Freeman contracted with R.H. Smalling & Sons to design and build a new funeral home at 765 Cherry Street, its current location since 1931. After his brother’s departure from the business to pursue a banking career, Freeman continued at the funeral home and was later joined by his son, J. Freeman Hart, Jr. In 1982, J. Freeman Hart, Jr. sold the business to J. Milton Heard, III of Macon. Hart’s Mortuary continues as a family-owned and operated firm.
The high business standards set by one Macon family were continued by another. One newspaper account published in 1911 reads:
“Mr. Hart’s personal attention is given to the conduct of every funeral, thereby assuring the proper arrangements being made in every detail.”
From its beginnings in 1899 to today, highly-personal, quality service has distinguished Hart’s Mortuary. Employing the highest ethical practices in the industry, the firm continues to offer compassionate care and memorable tributes to the families of Central Georgia.
Hart's Mortuary opened its first branch location in August 2008 at 6324 Peake Road, the former home of the Cupola, the headquarters of the Homebuilders' Association of Middle Georgia.
Hart's Mortuary opened its second branch location in January 2015 at 307 Pecan lane, Gray, Georgia 31032.