Upland Chronicles: Atchley Funeral Home was established in 1920
With two horse-drawn hearses and a Model T Ford hearse, Jim Atchley founded Atchley Funeral Home on March 1, 1920. The funeral business was a sideline for People’s Furniture Company, which he operated with his brother Charles “Charlie” Atchley, who had just returned from serving in World War I. Charlie Atchley later sold his interest in the company to Jim, who became the sole owner.
James Harrison “Jim” Atchley was born Jan. 3, 1889, in the Catlettsburg community, where he was raised on a farm. On Feb. 23, 1916, he married Blanche Kyker, and they had three sons, Blaine, Bill, and Harold. Blaine and Harold made the funeral business their career as well.
Jim Atchley was involved in his community. He was a member and deacon of the First Baptist Church in Sevierville, and he was active in civic organizations. He served several terms as alderman and once served a term as state representative.
The first location of the business was on the north side of West Main Street in a two-story brick building. In the beginning, most of the caskets were sold over the counter and loaded on a wagon or truck; the funeral was handled by the community. Some caskets were sold with the handles sold separately.
During the Great Depression, Jim Atchley formed Atchley‘s Mutual Burial Association. Members paid premiums based on their age, ranging from 15 cents for a young child to 50 cents for a senior adult. An assessment was mailed to members each time a certain number of members had died. The average time frame was about once every three months.
In 1923, People’s Furniture and Undertaking Company moved to the old Public Square in the old Yett Building on the northwest corner of the square.
In 1928, Jim Atchley graduated from Gupton-Jones School of Embalming in Nashville, where he was taught the art and science of funeral directing and embalming. The school had two faculty members to teach students the courses in mortuary science. He was the first licensed embalmer in Sevier County.
The company began the first ambulance service in Sevier County in January 1929 with a fully equipped automobile, which was purchased from Meteor Motor Car Company in Piqua, Ohio, for $2,000. Traditions changed, and those things that were once done at home began to take place at the funeral home, which eventually separated from the furniture store and became a business of its own.
In 1933, Atchley’s moved to the southeast corner of the public square and the old Murphy Brick Building, which was built in 1900.
The funeral home moved to the present location at 118 E. Main St. in 1948. Known as the Penland-Blair House, the handsome two-story Victorian home was built by attorney James R. Penland in 1897. Architect Martin E. Parmlee of Knoxville designed the building, which was constructed by contractor William L. Murphy of Sevierville.
Penland moved to Knoxville in 1906, and the home was rented for about a year. In 1907, he sold the home to Frank E. Woody. Hugh C. Blair Sr. and his wife Julia Kate “Katie” Thomas Blair purchased the house in 1910. Hugh C. Blair Sr. died in 1929, and his son and daughter-in-law, Hugh C. Jr. and Robbie Houk Blair, lived there until they sold the home to Atchley in 1948.
The building has undergone extensive changes over the past 66 years. Today the old building has been totally encased between new walls and a new roof. The facility was first modified in 1951 with the addition of a chapel, measuring 32 feet by 55 feet. The new section with a stone façade is fronted with a protective overhang, supported by small pillars.
In the late 1950s, the family operated a branch in Gatlinburg, located on Highway 321. At that time Gatlinburg was still a seasonal town, and the venture only lasted for a few years before closing.
Jim Atchley died Feb. 26, 1969, at age 80. His funeral service was held March 1, 1969, the 49th anniversary of the establishment of the funeral home.
In 1969, another addition was added to the east side of the building, extending toward the street. In 1980, the gables on the original house were removed and a new roof was constructed over the entire structure.
When the Sevier County Ambulance Service was established in 1973, Atchley Funeral Home discontinued the ambulance service they had provided for 44 years.
By this time, the third generation of the Atchley family played an active role in the family business. They included Jim Atchley, son of Blaine; and Chuck and Albert Atchley, sons of Harold. Chuck resigned from the business, and Jim and Albert became partners with their fathers at a time when the industry was changing drastically
Jim and Albert kept ahead of the pace, making it easy to transition into a new era of funeral service. In 1988, D.J. Atchley, son of Harold, joined Blaine, Harold, Jim and Albert in full-time service at the funeral home. The deaths of Blaine in 1991 and his son Jim in 1992, along with the semi-retirement of Harold, left the direction of the business in the hands of Albert and D.J.
In the 1990s, the funeral industry was undergoing a major shift as large corporations bought out family-owned funeral businesses at an alarming pace. Instead of selling out, the Atchleys purchased a funeral home and cemetery. In 1997, Atchley Funeral Home acquired Smoky Mountain Memory Gardens and Funeral Home in Pigeon Forge.
Atchley’s acquired the property located on the west side of the funeral home in 1995 and converted a section of the multi-use building into the West Chapel in 1997.
In 2003, the Atchleys opened a new funeral home in Seymour along with Atchley‘s Seymour Memorial Gardens. Albert’s sons, Adam and Reed, have now joined their father and uncle as current owners of Atchley Funeral Home.
Harold Atchley once served as president of the Tennessee Funeral Directors Association and served several terms as a member of the Sevier County Commission. He also served as coroner of Sevier County for several years. Harold died Aug. 14, 2008, at age 85. His older brother Bill, 88, had died three days earlier.
Few Sevier County businesses of any kind can match the longevity, the rich tradition, and the incomparable service provided by four generations of the Atchley family. The Atchleys have earned an impeccable reputation by serving the needs of Sevier County families with dignity during their most vulnerable situations, for 94 years.
Carroll McMahan is the special projects facilitator for the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce and serves as Sevier County historian.
The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a column or have comments, please contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411, email firstname.lastname@example.org; or Ron Rader at 604-9161, email email@example.com