J.T. Oldham came to El Dorado from Iowa in 1879 to establish a furniture factory, be a dealer in furniture and carpets, and as was the case most of the time during this era, to establish an “undertaking parlor.” In all likelihood, Oldham manufactured the caskets or “coffins” in the same area he made furniture. In 1893, Oldham sold half of his furniture business to J.R. Putnam, and in 1900, Putnam purchased the remaining half of the furniture business.
Oldham continued the undertaking business and in 1904 took on an associate by the name of Harry Washington. The 1902 El Dorado Business Journal also lists under “Undertakers” A.R. Castle, who practiced in the “undertaking rooms” at the J.T. Oldham building. In 1916, F.M. Byrd of Parnell, Missouri, a graduate and practicing veterinarian, came to El Dorado and purchased the undertaking business from Oldham. While practicing veterinary medicine, Byrd was also preparing himself for the funeral profession and was issued a diploma and license by the State of Kansas. He was accompanied by his brother, C.F. Byrd, as a partner in the business until 1929, when C.F. Byrd moved to Wichita to open a funeral home in that city. The Byrd Brothers Undertaking Company operated in the Oldham building at 203 S. Main St. for four years, until 1920, when they purchased the Dr. Fullinwider home at 200 S. Star. They converted the Fullinwider residence into a funeral home, where the business has been located for over 80 years. In 1928, Clarence Wilke and Harry M. Harris joined the firm. These men were sons-in-laws of F.M. Byrd. The name was then changed to Byrd Funeral Home. In March 1931, a completely new addition and remodeled building was dedicated and billed as on of the “most modern funeral home in Kansas.” In 1936, Glen Dietz came to the funeral home as an apprentice under Clarence Wilke. He worked until he was called into the Navy during World War II. Upon his release from duty in 1945, he returned to his position with the funeral home.
In 1952, the funeral home was sold to Gerald and Carrol Byrd of Wichita, the sons of Claude F. Byrd. At this time, Glen and his wife Loretta purchased a funeral home in Erie, Kansas where they remained until 1956, when they returned to El Dorado and purchased the funeral home. They, along with Jack Pittman, the manager of Byrd-Snodgrass, operated the funeral home until 1960, when the Dietz family became full owners. A new chapel was added to the home in 1968, and the firm was re-named Dietz Colonial Chapel. In 1974, Eugene and Betty Carlson moved to El Dorado from Solomon, Kansas and purchased the funeral home and operated it until the death of Eugene in January 1993. Betty continues in the operation of the funeral home to the present day.
Over the years, many changes have taken place both inside and outside the building. Most notable were the erection of the four large pillars and porches on the front of the building in 1931 and the chapel in 1956. Many changes have occurred in the funeral service industry since the origination of this funeral home. In an issue of the El Dorado City Directory during the 1880s, the funeral home advertised that they “used lowering devices.” These replaced lowering the casket into the grave by the use of ropes. Also, motorized equipment replaced the horse drawn hearse. Later changes that have affected the funeral business include government agencies, such as the F.T.C., O.S.H.A. and the Environmental Protection Agency, which are becoming more and more involved.
The staff of Carlson Funeral Home who are serving the El Dorado and Butler County area are Betty Carlson, who is still strongly active in the funeral home and other various organizations; Lionell Butts, a lifetime resident of Leon and El Dorado; and Darla Deaton, a lifetime resident of El Dorado. We here at Carlson & Kirby-Morris strive to provide a professional service to families that will make a lasting impression of care and comfort.