Concord’s town hearse, built in 1860, and in the care Dee Funeral Home for a very long time. Joseph Dee Jr., one of the first generation of the Dee family to operate the firm, holds the reins. Courtesy photo.

Dee Funeral Home – going strong for 155 years

June 19, 2023

By Anne O’Connor

Dee Funeral Home, a well-established town business, has been burying Concordians for at least 155 years. 

“We probably interred people well before that,” said President and Funeral Director John Arena, III. The year 1868 just happened to be when the business started writing these things down.

Famous people like Louisa May Alcott, Henry David Thoreau and members of the Emerson family were transported to their final resting places in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in the same black horse-drawn carriage that now takes pride of place in the barn beside the funeral home.

Dee has been operating from the same location, with modifications, since it began. The original lot line extended one carriage length beside the house to accommodate the hearse. 

The carriage, built in Peabody in 1860 to be the town’s hearse, is very well cared for, Arena said. He plans to have someone take a look at it and make sure it remains roadworthy.

 President and Funeral Director John Arena, III, poses with the very well maintained hearse that Concord used in the 1860s. Courtesy photo.

Arena took the business over a few years ago. “I’m very honored to continue the tradition … of service while adapting to the needs of the present and future,” he said. 

Some adaptations were forced quickly.

The height of the Covid pandemic shutdowns presented challenges for the funeral home that prides itself on providing a home-like feeling for grieving families.  It even has a recently renovated children’s room for little ones who may not be able to sit through services.

For a time during the height of the shutdown, gatherings were curtailed. Even outside services at the grave were limited to only ten attendees for a while. People understood, Arena said.

“That was probably the toughest time, during Covid,” he said. 

Some things did not change for the funeral professional during the pandemic. Using personal protective equipment was already standard practice.

Dee Funeral Home, with a few name changes and renovations along the way,  has been doing business from the same location on Bedford Street for over 150 years. Photo by Anne O’Connor

The rituals of death change over time. It took two to four decades for advanced planning to catch on, he said.

“We’re open to honoring the family’s wishes as best we can,” the funeral director said.

A family can opt for cremation, a casket burial, or even a type of green burial in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. The service can be in one of Dee’s two chapels, at a church, at the burial site or even in a home or outside.

Arena takes pride in being a source of guidance and strength. “It’s uncharted territory. Everybody grieves differently,” he said.

During discussions with families, Arena may tell them their loved one does not need to be embalmed — only if the body is going to be held in care for an extended period or a visitation with an open casket is planned.

Many families opt for visitations at the funeral parlor. “People like that they can come in, tell stories,” Arena said.

Arena, like the Dee family, has deep roots in Concord. His family owned Arena Farm.

He is up on the local claims to fame too. He was quick to say that Dee Funeral Home might be the oldest operating business in Concord. They also assisted with burying inmates in the Concord Reformatory Cemetery.