Jan. 20, 2011 - Jim R. Wilson moved to Texas in 1875 as a lad of 13 years, living in the Valley Creek area with his family. In 1880, when the foundation stones of the City of Leonard were laid, he sought employment and went to work for the Thomas and Saxon livery stable. In 1888, Jim went into business for himself, opening a furniture store and undertaking parlor on the west side of the square, located where the Leonard Family Dentistry and Leonard Chiropractic offices are currently.
Jim R. and Pattie Wilson had several children, including two sons, Pat and Mara, who are buried in Leonard Cemetery. Mara died the day he was born on Aug. 31, 1903. Other known children were Mrs. Murray Bryant, Mrs. P. C. Frieson, Jap and Rodney Wilson.
Their son Pat joined his father in the furniture and undertaking business for a number of years before his fathers’ death on July 14, 1935. Jim R. had divorced Pattie and was married to a woman named Ada at the time of his death.
The J. R. Wilson Funeral Home operated out of the location on the west side of the square until April 1940, when it was relocated to the corner of Collin and Elm streets in a building Pat had built to house both the funeral home and family living quarters. The business was downstairs, and the residence was upstairs.
Pattie died Feb. 20, 1948 and is buried beside her son Pat in the Leonard Cemetery.
The previously existing Crews family home had been torn down for the new structure. The new structure included a holding or cooling room, a washroom, an embalming area, an inset area where bodies were placed for viewing, an office and a large sitting room with double French doors that allowed removal of the caskets.
Stairs leading to the second story had a pull down pocket door that was closed when a body was lying in state. The original upstairs had a large living/dining room with a gas burning fireplace, a kitchen, three bedrooms and a small bathroom. At the back of the house was a three-car garage for the funeral home vehicles. The new structure had a much smaller front porch area than the front porch that the Crews house had, which extended all the way across the front of the home with a second porch on the second story.
The Wilson’s living quarters upstairs had a much larger kitchen added onto the west side, along with a laundry room sometime while Pat and Bessie Piner Owens Wilson lived in the home - which is believed to have taken place in the 1950's. All of the doors upstairs in the kitchen/dining/laundry area are pocket doors, but the bedrooms and bathroom have hung doors.
In 1946, Pat Wilson bought the west side of the square that had previously been damaged by a large fire and contractor Lawton Wilson (no connection to the family) rebuilt the south part of the west side of the square. Pat Wilson then relocated the furniture store to the present location of The Furniture Gallery.
The Wilson Funeral Home, which remained at the Collin and Elm Streets location until its closure in the 1970's, was the oldest business in Leonard at the time.
After the Wilson family closed the business, the Jackson family bought the property for $19,000 and ran an antique and collectible business out of it for a time. In 2000, the place was sold to David and Freda Hancock Riley.
The Riley’s stripped the house of carpet, four layers of linoleum, and five layers of wallpaper. The wallpaper exposed 12-14-inch boards that were used for the walls throughout the structure. All of the 12-pane wooden window frames are original, though 160 windowpanes have been replaced by the Riley’s due to breakage. The windows and screens were repaired to allow circulation of outside air through the home. The door frames also remain in their original state.
The plumbing and electrical wiring were all replaced, as well as broken tiles were replaced. The house had sustained damage from a tornado and the damaged area was repaired. The three-car garage had fallen in and was removed. The overhead pocket door leading from the downstairs is still in place, but has been secured in the open position.
The former funeral home office is used to house a large chess collection, the former casket-viewing area is now set up with several aquariums, and the former visitation room is a museum of spinning wheels and weaving equipment - some from former Hancock family members and some acquired by Freda. Several paintings grace the exposed wood throughout the house on the walls and floors; all painted by Freda, a former art teacher in area public schools.
The downstairs body wash room has been converted to a large bathroom with an added walk-in shower and toilet. One door leading out of the dining area to the south is a stained glass door that came out of the Brandon house located down the street. The coffee table in the upstairs living room is a bench that formerly served as the pedestal for caskets as bodies were lying in state. The Riley’s have added a glass top to make it a coffee table.
Freda had an aunt that worked for The Leonard Graphic and has in her possession a manual typewriter used to formerly produce the paper, as well as a story that is framed that was written by her aunt. Besides the collected items formerly mentioned, the Riley’s have several Wilson Funeral Home or Wilson Furniture Store items, such as yardsticks, calendars, and recipe books.
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