WILLIAMSBURG — For many families, the thought of walking into a funeral home after losing a loved one can bring a sense of dread and discomfort.
Bucktrout of Williamsburg Funeral Home has worked to provide comfort to families, carrying on a legacy that was started by Benjamin Bucktrout nearly three centuries ago.
Opened in 1759, Bucktrout is the country’s longest running-name in funeral service history.
Nearly Three Centuries of Funeral Service
As cabinetmakers in Colonial Williamsburg, Benjamin Bucktrout and Hay’s Cabinet Shop founder Anthony Hay provided wooden caskets for neighbors and friends. Bucktrout also generously provided his farmland for burial.
“Benjamin Buctrout was really Williamsburg’s first best neighbor,” Community Outreach Coordinator and Funeral Director Marcella Williams said. “When you have to bury your loved one, if you’re not a member of a church and you don’t own any land, it becomes very difficult. Benjamin Bucktrout actually offered up his land to folks in need.”
As a Mason, Benjamin Bucktrout created an elaborate ceremonial chair for the Grand Master Mason. The chair, which is signed by Bucktrout, is considered the most elaborate piece of Masonic furniture from eighteenth century America.
According to his namesake funeral home, it was the first funeral home to own and operate a crematory.
Bucktrout changed ownership a number of times over the years, and in 2011, was acquired by Altmeyer Funeral Home, a family-owned and operated business since 1917.
First founded in West Virginia, Altmeyer has since grown rapidly, now operating 17 facilities in Ohio, West Virginia and Virginia, including a location in Newport News.
Williams said that acquiring Bucktrout was a “no-brainer” for the company.
“The Buckrout name is known here in Williamsburg just like the Altmeyer name is known in West Virginia,” Williams said. “So it’s just a really good fit.”
Carrying on the Legacy Today
Today, Bucktrout carries on Benjamin Bucktrout’s legacy of never turning a family away and being a neighbor to the community.
After the Altmeyer family purchased the facility, located at 4124 Ironbound Rd. in Williamsburg, the funeral home was restored and renovated to both reflect its colonial history all while giving it a warm and modern aesthetic.
“We feel like when you step in here it’s a very modern and comfortable space,” Williams said. “You do have a lot of families who are very traditional here. We get a nice mix of old school traditional Williamsburg, but we also have families who are new to the area. We want people to feel comfortable whether they’ve been in Williamsburg 10 years or two.”
However, Bucktrout remains a firm part of the Colonial Williamsburg history. It also serves as a resource for the Historic First Baptist Church excavation project.
“We reached out to the Let Freedom Ring Foundation to come and take a look at the site. We were able to see the original layout of the church and where they felt like the cemetery was,” Williams said.
Williams said that Bucktrout is “open to the discussion” of how it can assist in the mission of placing the human remains somewhere dignified.
In recent years, Bucktrout has also taken pride in its diverse staff with its funeral directors being predominantly female.
According to the American Board of Funeral Service Education from a 2017 survey, nearly 65 percent of graduates from funeral director programs in the United States were female.
“I think about even in Benjamin Bucktrout’s time, he built the coffin, but it was women who were doing the cleaning and dressing and preparation of the bodies, and making sure there was food for family and visitors,” Williams said. “So it’s always been something that women were a part of. People want care and compassion, and as ladies, we bring a different skill set to the table, and I think that’s a pretty neat thing.”
While operating a funeral home at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge, Williams said that Bucktrout was steadfast on serving the community.
Community outreach included delivering baskets to honor “healthcare heroes” and drawing chalk artwork and messages for seniors in retirement homes to see from their rooms while quarantined.
The Future of Bucktrout
Though firmly rooted in Williamsburg’s past, Bucktrout is continuing to grow its services.
An expansion is planned for the facility in the next few years that will see the addition of a multipurpose room, more bathrooms and another office space.
“We’re excited about the growth of the building,” Williams said. “The idea of expanding is very exciting because it will enable us to serve the community better.”
According to Williams, Bucktrout was also the first funeral home in Williamsburg to adopt an in-house grief support, or therapy, dog.
Benjamin Doodle Bucktrout, or “Benji” for short, is trained to help comfort families in grieving at the funeral home. He also gets taken to visit first responders after particularly difficult cases.
“He has been such an amazing gift,” Williams said. “He will sit at a family’s feet during a service. He’s been out to gravesides.”
“There’s something about having a puppy presence that helps to calm families,” Williams said. “There are some families that come back just to see Benji and bring him toys.”
Williams said that having Benji there at Bucktrout is reassuring to visitors during a difficult time.
“To have Benji here providing that type of comfort, it harkens back to that idea of what Benjamin Bucktrout was to his community,” Williams said.