1874 - 2004

Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas
Historical Timeline compiled April 9, 2004, by Jim Moshinskie, Ph.D.,
Licensed Arkansas and Texas funeral director and embalmer;
President, OakCrest Funeral Home, Waco, Texas

3717 Old Marlin Road, Waco, TX 76705-9515 - 254-744-934
Homepage: http://baylor.business.edu/james_moshinskie
as an aid to

Genealogical Research in Garland County.

Award Winner.
This material was converted into an article for the
2003 Garland County Historical Society Annual Record.
It received the "Best Business History Article" Award
From The Arkansas Historical Society at its
annual Awards Banquet April 16, 2004 in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

This unofficial information was compiled from many sources and accuracy is not guaranteed.
Please let me know of any errors
or additions.
, 254-744-7934

April 18, 1874

The Beginning...

James B. McCaffrey (1831-1886) opened an undertaker's business in a downtown Hot Springs storefront on April 18, 1874, starting a business that still serves today as Gross Funeral Home.

McCaffrey came to Arkansas from Kentucky (quite possibly a former Civil War soldier) in 1873 and opened an undertaking business at first in Little Rock. McCaffrey’s firm was located on the bottom floor of the Dodge and Osborne Building on Fourth Street in Little Rock. Tax records show that his firm contained $750 worth of merchandise, and that he also owned a gold watch valued at $100.

There were several other well-established undertaking companies in Little Rock at this time, and McCaffrey apparently decided to move on to Hot Springs which was undergoing a growing period after the Civil War.

Thus, in the Spring of 1874, he moved his business to Hot Springs. This was two years before Hot Springs was incorporated as a city. McCaffrey found travel to Hot Springs easier in 1874 because the first railroad line into Hot Springs opened that year, replacing the robber-plagued stage line.  

1874 was a real boom year for Hot Springs. Besides the new railroad, a new mule-drawn trolley service started, a new national bank opened, and the bathhouses were flourishing. An advertisement (shown on the left) on the front page of the Hot Springs Daily Telegraph in 1874 read:

    "McCaffrey keeps constantly on hand metallic coffins, burial cases, and wooden coffins of all descriptions. Special attention to general undertaker’s business and embalming. All orders from abroad will be carefully attended to. McCaffrey’s store is in the lower end of the valley (now Central Avenue)." 

Hot Springs had a population then of just over 1,600 people, but its healing waters attracted invalids from all over the country. Many died in Hot Springs and needed McCaffrey’s services to ship them home for burial. Funeral records for the firm starts on April 18, 1874, and are available from the Garland County Historical Society. The only other thing we know about McCafferty was that in the June 1880 census, it was stated that his parents were born in Virginia.  

RESEARCH NOTES: McCaffrey is no relationship to Hiram McCafferty, another early Hot Springs undertaker who died in 1919. 

McCaffrey’s firm was located at117 Central Avenue and was the only undertaking company in Hot Springs. The 1881 city directory lists several porters who worked for McCaffrey and assisted in driving the horse-drawn hearses and carriages on funerals.

McCaffrey takes a partner..

McCaffrey takes on a young partner, A. S. "Gus" Buchanan (1861-1926), and changes name of firm to McCaffrey & Buchanan, Undertakers. The 1882 city directory states the firm was located on Central Avenue, "2nd door north of Arkansas National Bank." Their business was on the ground floor of a block of buildings in downtown Hot Springs.

December 6, 1883
Young Billy Gross...

Buchanan left McCaffrey to open his own firm with Peter Bentz as Bentz & Buchanan, Undertakers, in the middle store on the ground floor of the handsome Hot Springs Opera House.

To replace Buchanan, McCaffrey hired a young Bernard (Billy) Gross, forming McCaffrey & Gross, Undertakers. Billy was born in Affaltarach, Germany, on March 3,1854. His father was B. Gross and his mother was S. Mendel.

He came to America in 1868 at age of 14 with his brother Frank and they settled at first in Delaware County, New York. He later moved to Hot Springs in June1881 with his brother Frank.

Frank soon opened a leading dry goods store at 153 Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs near McCaffrey’s business. Billy lived with his brother and served as a clerk in the store. He was also elected treasurer of the first volunteer hook and ladder fire corps at this time. Relatives recalled Billy as a jovial, friendly person who made friends easily and enjoyed helping other people.

February 2, 1886

McCaffrey dies...

McCaffrey died at age 55. Old records at Gross Mortuary show that McCaffrey’s body was shipped back to Kentucky for burial. His death entry in the McCaffrey & Gross records was written that day with a red pencil – a red letter historical day for the then 11-year-old undertaking company.

Billy Gross became the sole owner, renaming the firm as B. Gross, Embalmer & Undertaker. The firm was located at 424 Central Avenue, across from Bath House Row. This two-story brick building still stands in downtown Hot Springs. The undertaking company was on the first floor, and other businesses and apartments were located on upper floors.  

Billy was a likable fellow and became a well respected business and civic leader.

A 1888 publication called the"Industries of Hot Springs" (page 111) gave this report on the Gross establishment:  

"Entire charge is taken of funerals. Mr. Gross and his assistants posses the natural .qualifications of a first-class undertaker. A specialty is made of embalming after the most scientific principles. He has several fine hearses and other funeral equipment which can be furnished at the shortest notice. His establishment is centrally situated and well-fitted and arranged and is the largest in Hot Springs."  

Around this time, Billy’s brother Frank moved back to New York to live near their sister, Sophie.


Gross moves into new building...

The Gross firm moved to 516 Central Avenue. It is interesting to view the early funeral records during this time. Sometimes, the Gross would provide a complete funeral – othertimes, the only entry next to a deceased name was "Handles and 12 screws, $1.25." Apparently the family built the coffin themselves and bought supplies from Gross to finish the coffin. It was good that the Gross firm kept records of even these purchases because they became valuable records for genealogists many years later.

Many people traveled to Hot Springs for its curative hot waters. The families of those who died here paid Gross to embalm the body, place it in a coffin, and ship it home on the train. Many bodies were shipped from Hot Springs to places all around the nation.  

Billy and his wife Fannie lived at 110 Court Street.

March 16, 1899

Gun and knife fight in Hot Springs...

The Gross firm helped with the removal of the five victims of the infamous downtown gun and knife fight between the sheriff’s department and Hot Springs police. Both sides were apparently fighting for control of lucrative gambling profits, and an open disturbance erupted in downtown Hot Springs.

When it was over, five officers were dead. At first, the bodies laid on the street, but finally a lone brave constable took control and ordered the Gross staff to remove the bodies to the undertaking company. A large delivery dray was used to convey the dead officers to the Gross establishment. The newspaper reported that feelings were so high that the constable had to follow the wagon with his pistols "in hand" as it headed for the Gross undertaking parlors (The political strife lead Billy Gross to run unsuccessfully for Garland County sheriff later.). 

The coroner’s inquest was held in Gross’ establishment, and Gross handled four of the funerals. The funeral for the fifth person, which was a member of the other gang involved, was handled by Bentz & Buchanan Undertakers. With feelings so high, it was unwise to mix mourners in the same building.

Also in 1899, Gross personally handled the funeral of Dr. Greenway, a prominent Hot Springs leader. The Hot Springs Daily News reported the funeral on its front page and complimented the way in which Gross conducted the funeral.

At the turn of the century, Gross was still at 516 Central Avenue with Henry Wienker as embalmer. Wienker had been the manager of Bentz & Buchanan, Undertakers. Other Gross employees were Robert Durrenberger, who resided upstairs in the undertaking parlor, and Julius Zaiss, a clerk. 

(After Wienker left Bentz & Buchanan in 1896 to join the Gross staff, they recruited and hired a young embalmer from Fort Smith named Paul J. Caruth, Sr. (1867-1943). Caruth later opened his own funeral home on Park Avenue in Hot Springs in 1919 after Bentz & Buchanan sold their firm to Chris J. Ledwidge. Ledwidge kept his firm open until 1935 at 204 Central. It featured a "drive through" entrance in the center of the building. That building was still standing in 2000 with a historical plaque on front of the building.)

Billy Gross was elected the second president of the Arkansas Funeral Directors Association which was founded in 1900. Billy represented Arkansas at many National Funeral Directors Association meetings, and he always returned home with new ideas for his funeral establishment.

Gross starts ambulance service...

One of those new ideas was "ambulance service." Many undertakers in the United States started ambulance service as a sideline business around the turn of the century. An ambulance service was especially needed in Hot Springs because it attracted thousands of invalids who came to the Spa to take advantage of the hot water treatments. The firm was then called B. Gross, Undertaker, Embalmer, and Prompt Ambulance Service. The first ambulance was a white horse-drawn ambulance.

Billy Gross and his wife Fannie resided at 1105 Central Avenue in a large, 2-story white frame house. Fannie was a native of Carrolltown, Mo. They were married in Saint Louis, and never had any children.

First Gross Horse-Drawn Ambulance 
This 1910 photo shows a young George Brenner, left.  
Dog was frequent hitchhiker on emergency calls.  

Billy Gross hired 30-year-old George H. Brenner, Sr. (1880-1934), as a part time embalmer. An individual with a friendly personality that never met a stranger, Brenner soon became a full time employee and in 1910 purchased 1/3 interest in the firm.

Before moving to Hot Springs in June 1903, Brenner had worked in the undertaking and embalming trade in Roswell, NM, since 1900. His wife, Kathleen Ellenbrook Brenner, was also actively involved in the Gross operations and become the first licensed female embalmer in Arkansas in 1921. She traveled the state to prepare Catholic nuns for burial, as at that time, nuns could not be touched by males. -- (Email from Janis Kathleen (Brenner) Smith, her granddaughter and G.H. Brenner Jr.'s daughter, May 2003.)

One of the first pictures of young Brenner was taken in 1910 showing him riding as an attendant on a horse-drawn Gross ambulance (shown above). Between him and the driver is a small white dog said to be a neighborhood mascot and frequent hitch-hiker on emergency calls.


Major fire in Hot Springs...

Billy Gross dashed into burning Jewish temple and saved the Sacred Torah during a major fire in downtown Hot Springs. Gross was located at 620 Central Avenue and his firm was not damaged by the fire.


Around Age 40

Billy Gross was named to the first Arkansas State Board of Embalmers; firm still located at 620 Central Avenue. He held embalmers license #2. He was re-appointed in 1910, but resigned because of ill health before finishing his second term.


Gross Undertaking Company
112 Prospect Avenue, right off Central Avenue
George Ellenbrook, shown on the right 

Gross moves to 112 Prospect Avenue...

Gross moved his firm into a large brick, 3-story building at 112 Prospect, a block off Central Avenue. The building included large plate glass front windows and a drive-through on the right side of the building that led the rear of the building where the horses and horse-drawn hearses and ambulances were kept.

First floor contained offices, reception room, showroom, chapel, morgue and trimming and warehouse rooms. Sleeping quarters were provided on the upper floors for attendants since the business was open night and day. Old timers remember that Gross kept canaries in large cages in the front windows of the company.  

Gross developed health problems during this time, and the Brenners took on many of the management responsibilities. Her granddaughter later recalled that "Mrs. Brenner was the first female licensed embalmer in Arkansas. As such, she traveled to many part of the state to embalm nuns that died because males we not allowed to touch the remains."

Many of the funerals were still held in the home of the deceased. One of the duties of the undertaking staff was to place hand fans in each chair placed in the home for the funeral (I have one of the original B. Gross hand fans in my collection.)

The minister was expected to give at least a one hour eulogy as a sign of respect to the deceased, and on hot days before air conditioning, these hand fans were well used.

April 10, 1919

Billy Gross dies...

On April 2, 1919, Billy Gross suffered a stroke. He was taken by his own ambulance from his long time home at 1105 Central (across from the present First Methodist Church) to the Levi Hospital, which Gross had helped start years earlier. Billy’s beloved brother Frank, who had moved back to New York, had died in October of 1918 and his death had greatly affected Billy.

At first, it seemed that Gross' health rallied, but on April 10, Billy Gross died from complications of pneumonia at 7:15 p.m. in the Levi Hospital in Hot Springs at age 64.

The newspaper reported that his funeral on April 12, 1919, was one of the largest in the history of Hot Springs. The funeral procession started from his undertaking parlor at 3 p.m., then passed the Levi Hospital where it paused for one minute in tribute for all of his leadership efforts here, then to the Jewish Temple for services. The pallbearers were some of the most prominent leaders in Hot Springs. After services there, the procession continued to the Jewish Rest Cemetery on Summer Street and Albert Pike for committal.

His large tombstone is still easily visible from Albert Pike. The Hot Springs Sentinel ran a headline that called Gross "One of the Best Known and Most Popular Men in Hot Springs." The obituary stated that: 

    "Perhaps no funeral director in the country has shipped the bodies of more prominent persons or has dispatched them to more divergent points than has Mr. Gross." 
Gross was originally buried next to Sadie Gross (1883-1884), the infant daughter of his brother Frank. The infant had become ill and died quite suddenly while Frank’s family visited Hot Springs in 1884. When Albert Pike was widened in the 1950’s, Gross’s grave was moved to the foot of Sadie’s grave. For many years, Gross' nieces put flowers on Billy’s grave on the anniversary of his death.  

It took 13 months to settle the Gross estate, and the Brenners purchased full ownership of firm and changed name to the Gross Undertaking Company. At first, Brenner was in partnership with his brother, H.H. Brenner, but he later purchased his interests.


George Brenner served as the 20th president of the Arkansas Funeral Directors Association.
According to Gross records, between 1874 and 1921, there were 6,759 entries in the firm’s records.

The day when Hot Springs was open to gambling...

George G. Ellenbrook, brother of Kathleen Brenner, was listed as the assistant manager of Gross Undertaking Co. Ellenbrook was a tall, distinguished-looking man who was well known and respected in Hot Springs. Henry R. Hollenbeck was listed as the embalmer.  

Hot Springs attracted many Chicago gangsters during this time as a safe hideout. The body of one gangster gunned down in Hot Springs was embalmed, placed in a open coffin, and put in the chapel for people to view as a ghastly reminder that crime does not pay. It was recalled that even school children where taken to the undertaking parlor to view the gangster’s body as a stern lesson to live right.

The gangsters rode to their Hot Springs hideouts on elaborate private train cars, and somewhere ill. The white Gross ambulance would meet the train and transport the patient to a Hot Springs hotel for the baths in an era before penicillin was available. 

April 4, 1923

Arlington Hotel burns...

April 4, 1923

The Gross ambulance, shown above, was pressed into service on April 4, 1923, during the Arlington Hotel fire. At first the ambulance crew stayed busy moving invalid guests out of the hotel. As the fire spread, the front wall of the large hotel suddenly collapsed. A fireman was killed and many others injured.



The Gross Undertaking Company on Prospect Avenue burned down. The Brenners quickly converted their home at 237 West Grand into a temporary funeral establishment and began making plans to build a new building. (The firm experienced another major fire on May 8, 2003.)

Motor ambulance was kept in garage ready to go

Later in 1923, Gross moved into a beautiful new two-story brick building at 1017 Central Avenue . In the old photograph above, given to the author by Granny Messenger of Hot Springs, the white emergency ambulance is shown parked in the right side, ready for action.

The building was a two-story structure with 56 foot front and 90 foot depth representing an investment of about $35,000. The parlor, office, chapel, trimming room, preparation room, and dressing room were on the first floor. The chapel featured two-tone reed furniture, and the electric lights in the chapel could be dimmed for services. There was a private family room with curtains that could be drawn shut for privacy during the funeral.

A showroom displaying 55 caskets, a merchandise room with dresses and suits, and a guest bedroom for families were situated on the second floor. The Brenners lived in an apartment in the front section of the second floor. There was also a bedroom upstairs for family members to stay near their loved one. The chapel opened into the garage section of the building and all funerals were loaded within the structure affording privacy and protection from weather.  

Also during this time, the name of the firm became Gross Mortuary. More families began using the mortuary for funeral services instead of the family home, and the name "mortuary" became a popular "modern" title for funeral establishments during this time, especially if it operated out of a building constructed purposefully for a funeral establishment. Some undertakers moved their establishments out of downtown storefronts and into large homes, thus giving rise to the word "funeral home."  

1920 Dodge Mercy Ambulance

First motorized ambulance...

The firm’s motorized ambulance, a specially made white Dodge "Chariot of Mercy", was kept parked in the front garage when there were no funerals. With two flashing red lights on the hood and a electric chrome siren on its front bumper, the ambulance was quite an attention getter in Hot Springs and city residents came by the view the new ambulance.

(The siren on the original ambulance served Gross Mortuary many years. It has handed down from ambulance to ambulance until the new battery systems would not longed accommodate the unit. It was then placed in the hallway outside the ambulance dorm. When the secretary received a "hot shot" emergency call, she would press a button in the front office of the mortuary. The siren would blow, and the crew know they had a call. As late as 1968, the siren was still in the hall.)


Major flood in Hot Springs...

The Hot Springs newspaper reported that Gross ambulance crews used the new pulomotor resuscitator to revive some of the people rescued during a major flood in downtown Hot Springs that day.  

At the state funeral director’s conference that year,  George Brenner took part in a skit which showed good salesmanship ideas during an arrangement conference. Another participant was John Healey of Healey & Roth Funeral Home of Little Rock. (Ironically, before George Brenner accepted his job with Gross in 1903, Gross had offered the same position to Healey who turned it down to open a funeral home with Clarence Roth.)

George Brenner hosted the Arkansas Funeral Directors Association conference in Hot Springs. An article in the American Funeral Director described all of the civic work done by Brenner, including being the volunteer director of the Rotary Club’s Boys’ Band which played at the convention.
Ellenbrook was featured in the January, 1926, issue of the American Funeral Director for a 2,800-mile vacation he took throughout the West. He rigged up his automobile to resemble a bath tub which contained the figure of the world. The article included a picture of him and his vehicle.

Bert Stitt, just out of high school, joined the Gross staff. Bert had played in Mr. Brenner’s Boy’s Band, and on one busy day at the mortuary, Mr. Brenner called him to help on the ambulance. This got him interested in the funeral business and he worked for Gross for three years. He went to mortuary school in Dallas, but stayed there after graduation to work for a Dallas funeral home. He later become an executive with the old Brewer Undertaking Company (now Sparkman/Hillcrest).

He retired in 1967 from the Dallas firm and returned with his wife Bratt to Hot Springs and joined the Gross Mortuary management staff. He was very knowledgeable in funeral merchandising.


Smartly dressed Gross ambulance crew 
in front of Gross Mortuary building, 1017 Central Avenue. 
Young Herbert Brenner in the center.  Their first duty each 
morning was to shine all the chrome on the ambulance. 

George Brenner’s two sons, Charles Lewis Brenner and George Herbert Brenner Jr., joined the family firm fresh out of high school. They at first worked on the ambulance (See photo above), then gradually began assisting at funerals with their parents.  

The Brenners moved out of the upstairs funeral home apartment and into a new home on Lake Hamilton called Brenner Haven. Brenner served as president of the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce this year.

Gross placed a new white Dodge ambulance into service. It featured leaded-glass windows with a red cross in the center of each window. The ambulance included a lot of chrome which had to be hand polished daily by the ambulance crews.
November 27, 1934

 George Ellenbrook standing by new Dodge ambulance. 

George H. Brenner, Sr., who had been in very ill health, died at Brenner Haven in Hot Springs at age 59; The Hot Springs newspaper reported that "several thousand people" attended the funeral and that a loudspeaker system had to be set up outside the mortuary. Six policemen helped to handle the traffic, and funeral directors from the other funeral homes in Hot Springs volunteered to work the funeral. Burial was in Greenwood Cemetery in Hot Springs. The Brenner family section is marked by a giant marker with the name Brenner on it.

His wife Kathleen, her brother George Ellenbrook, and the two Brenner brothers took over operation of the firm. 

September, 1935
Southwestern Burial Association was started by the Brenners. Within three years, it had written burial insurance for over 15,000 members. In the post-depression era, the burial association provided an economical way for families to pay for funerals.



The Gross chapel was remodeled. An alcove was installed at the front of the chapel with a private family room on the left side, and a music room featuring a full pipe organ on the right side. New reed furniture was placed in the chapel for mourners to use.

About this time, the entire mortuary underwent remodeling. A large brick marquee was added to the front of the building and it served as a large covered porch-entrance for people.  
Victor Maus joined Gross in the summer of 1943. His family lived in the house behind the mortuary on Oak Street across from the Hot Springs High School.

Victor did more than embalming. He built caskets for people that could not afford the expensive ones. Some of the Gross "Records of Funerals" show the casket as a “Vic Special”. They were rather unique since he made the caskets from the boxes the regular caskets were shipped in. The Vic Specials were very elegant lined with satin and brass handles. Additionally, he served as a Funeral Director.

Victor came from Pine Bluff and started as an ambulance driver with Holderness Funeral Home which later became Holderness-South. He learned embalming by helping in the operating room. Later he got his license.

Victor was working for Ralph Robinson and Sons in Pine Bluff when he went to Gross. He retired in the early 1960's from Gross and is now deceased. His son Bob still lives in Hot Springs (2003).


War times..

Mrs. Kathleen Brenner Sr. retired (She died at her home in 1955 at age of 76.).

Her brother, George Ellenbrook (1883-1958), Carlis Parker (1926-1995), and Henry Williams kept the mortuary operating while the two Brenner brothers were away in WWII.

Williams, who lived in the upstairs apartment in the mortuary, died suddenly at age 42 shortly after the war ended. Williams was a well liked Hot Springs resident and he dedicated his life to serving people through Gross Mortuary.  

Carlis Parker joined the Gross staff fresh out of high school and at first worked the ambulance, but later began performing other duties in the mortuary including funeral directing. He was a well known Hot Springs resident, and worked countless funerals and made thousands of ambulance calls in his career.

GI Movement...

When the Brenners returned from War, they helped form the GI Movement which organized efforts to clean up corruption in local government – very risky but the effort proved quite successful in removing some corrupt city politicians. (The group’s leader, Sid McMath, became Arkansas governor years later.)  

Gross relatives...
Also, on November 1, 1946, Louis Benedict, son of  Billy Gross’ sister, Amilia, died in Hot Springs. Billy helped young Benedict move to Hot Springs in 1888 from New York State, and Louis became a popular baker here. He was survived by three daughters, Mrs. Fannie McLaughlin, the longtime popular administrator of Levi Hospital (She was named after Billy’s wife); Mrs. Hannah Phillips, who operated a dress store on Albert Pike for many years; and Helen Mahaffey of Hot  Springs, They helped with the writing of the history of early Gross Mortuary and furnished a picture of their beloved "Uncle Billy.".

November 20, 1949

Mrs. Gross dies...

Mrs. Fannie Meier Gross, Billy’s widow, died at age 79 at St. Joseph’s Hospital of a stroke. Her body was shipped by the Drummond Funeral Home of Little Rock to her hometown of Carrollton, Missouri for funeral services and burial. She had married Billy in 1884 in St. Louis. They had no children. (Glen Davis, then a young embalmer at Drummond & Co., made the removal in the Hot Springs hospital. He would later become manager of Gross Mortuary.)  During the 30 years after her husband had died, it is remembered that Fannie lived a quiet life at home. She did do volunteer work at the Army and Navy Hospital in Hot Springs during World War I. 

July 12, 1958 

According to Gross records, between 1921 and 1957, there were 12,862 entries in the firm’s records.

Mr. Ellenbrook died at age 72, leaving the two Brenner brothers as sole owners.



Charles Brenner, Jr. joined the staff.

Gross Mortuary was incorporated this year with George H. Brenner, Jr. as president. The Gross funeral fleet consisted of solid black Cadillac coaches, which could double as ambulances if needed. The firm also had a fleet of black Cadillac limousines.  

Organists for funerals during this time included Mrs.Ruth Braughton (who was also a secretary) and Leona Dietrick (who was the organist at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Hot Springs). Mrs. Braughton died in 1998.  

The mortuary had two small staterooms downstairs, and two staterooms and a lounge upstairs. The casket selection room was always upstairs. 

In 1958, the firm operated a classy red Ford Edsel emergency ambulance. The ambulance was made from an Edsel Villager stationwagon with a modified rear floor and roof height, and was a very nice looking vehicle. In 1962, it was replaced by a red 1962 Buick Flxible ambulance, which was replaced in 1966 by a white Pontiac Consort ambulance from Superior (later repainted red and white). This ambulance had a short wheelbase and was one of 33 such units built by Superior for about $7,500 each. The ambulance, shown below, had a large revolving red light ("gum ball" machine) in the center of the roof, with four flashing bullet lights -- two on the front roof area and two on the back.  

The Gross emergency ambulance went by the radio name of "Car 6." Gross kept an ambulance crew on duty 24 hours a day in the mortuary. If things got busy, especially on weekends with automobile accidents, extra crews were called back to duty.

Non-emergency transfers were $5, and emergency calls were $7.50. During the time, the ambulance crews received CPR training from the American Heart Association.  

Gross ambulance loads two workmen 
injured in fall from hotel worksite in 1967
into the 1966 Superior Pontiac Consort ambulance
Photo by Bill Dever of Hot Springs

This is how Gross Mortuary looked in 1967.  Notice the funeral vehicles were all black.  The white Pontiac ambulance was parked in an ambulance garage in the right rear of the building. 

Gross Mortuary - 1967 photo 
Inside the Gross Chapel - 1967 photo  

Brenners purchased the property directly behind the mortuary, tore down the longtime ambulance garage, and extended a driveway to Orange Street behind the funeral home. This really helped family parking for funerals.

Gross Mortuary remodels...

The Brenners completed an extensive remodeling and expansion of the Gross Mortuary building at 1017 Central Avenue.

The building was expanded on the right side. Four staterooms were placed on the first floor, and new offices for management were added on the second floor. A lobby to the chapel was added with a side entrance to the parking lot.

The handsome building was dedicated with religious ceremonies and an open house on May 11, 1969. Gross funeral vehicles take on a two-tone brown color scheme.  

Remodeled Gross Mortuary 
1972 photo 


Ambulance crews in the 1960’s and 1970’s included James "Red" Hughes, Roy Pauley, Archie Reeves, Jack Lovett, Jon Ware, John Holifield, Richard Caldwell, Scotty Moss, Joel Kimery, Jack Smith, Pete Rushing, Julian Post, Buddy Johnson, Carlis Parker, and Gene George.  Gene managed the "ambulance department" for many years.

Embalmers during the 60’s and 70’s included Gene Counts, Jackie Trook, Joe Hargrave, Bob Bates, Shug Winthrow, Phillip Marlar, Bucky Sanders, and Jim Huson. 



  • Jackie Trook worked fulltime from 1963 to 1966, then worked summers while he completed a BS degree from State College of Arkansas in 1970. He has been with Trust Mark Insurance since then, and now (2000) lives in Roanoka, VA.
  • Joe Hargrave later returned to his homestate of Louisiana and operated a funeral home there many years.
  • Bucky Sanders operated a security business in Hot Springs, and in 1998, opened a casket store across from Greenwood Cemetery.
  • Phil Marlar later operated Arkansas Mortuary Service in Little Rock until his untimely death in the early 1980s.
  • Jim Huson later started the two successful Huson Funeral Homes (one in Little Rock and one in North Little Rock) which were later sold to SCI.
  • Gene Counts joined the staff of Humphrey Funeral Home until his retirement in 1994. He returned to Hot Springs and died in 1997.
  • Gene George later joined Hot Springs Funeral Home and retired from there in 2002.


1970 Gross added a bright yellow Ford van ambulance as its first out emergency ambulance. It was custom made by Superior Coach Company, and featured dual electronic sirens. The back of the ambulance had ample room for two stretchers. The ambulance was built by Superior by modifying a Ford Econoline van. Superior touted in its ads that these new style van ambulances were "extremely easy to maneuver through city streets and economical to maintain and operate..."
July 1, 1972

Brenners sell Gross Mortuary...

Word began to circulate in 1971 that the Brenner brothers were interested in selling the mortuary, and several other large state funeral homes as well as a group of Hot Springs investors expressed an interest in purchasing the Gross Mortuary. Finally, the Brenners decided to sell the business to the Leggett family of Little Rock. While they sold the "Gross" name, the Brenners kept ownership of the building and leased it to the Leggetts.

The Leggetts operated Griffin-Leggett Funeral Homes of Little Rock; Glen Davis, manager of the embalming department of Griffin Leggett, moved from Little Rock to Hot Springs to become general manager of Gross. Glen had joined the Griffin-Leggett staff in 1951 and was a very likable person.  

Gross funeral vehicles take on the same black and gold color scheme used by Griffin-Leggett for many years. In addition to the yellow Ford van ambulance, Gross also added a black and gold Cadillac combination hearse-ambulance to its fleet. 

July 1, 1973

Gross ends ambulance service...

Ambulance service had evolved into a business requiring emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and more life support equipment in the ambulances. Both Gross Mortuary and Caruth Funeral Home decided to end ambulance service simultaneously on July 1,1973. Gross was then making about 2,000 calls annually.

Service was taken over by the Hot Springs – Garland County Ambulance Service. Two members of the Gross ambulance staff joined the new ambulance service. Steve Nawojczk became the Director and James "Red" Hughes, longtime ambulance driver for Gross Mortuary, became the chief technician.  

Last Fleet of Gross Ambulances 
1970 Yellow Superior Van was "Gross 6"

Charles Brenner, Jr. served as president of the Arkansas Funeral Directors Association. Charles was also active in the Hot Springs Jaycees and Hot Springs Lions Club.

A Century of Service

Gross Mortuary celebrated its100th Anniversary with a year of events, including the publishing of its history by Jim Moshinskie in the Garland County Historical Society’s annual Record. Moshinskie also supervised the microfilming of the firm’s funeral records which go back to the first day. All of the records were rebound in handsome black books.

The advertising campaign for the 100th anniversary was based on the theme: "For 100 Years, A Name To Depend On." The mortuary sponsored a city-wide contest among school children to write what Hot Springs meant to them. Pews were placed in the chapel this year replacing the white chairs it had been using for many years. 

1980 - 1981

Gross moves to new location...

Harry Leggett, Jr., chairman of Griffin-Leggett, started searching for a new location for Gross Mortuary. He found a large 2-story mansion with white columns on Wrights Lane and the Higdon Ferry Road. He hired Stuart Todd of Dallas who operated the leading professional mortuary architectural firm to re-design the home into a new funeral home. Chapel, staterooms, and a garage were added to the mansion.

Construction began in 1980, and in 1981 Gross moved into its new location. The late Bob Forbes, who was working then for Griffin-Leggett in Little Rock, was moved to Hot Springs to supervise the move and serve as the Gross assistant manager.  

Name changes...
The name was changed to from Gross Mortuary to Gross Funeral Home. Glen Davis returned to Little Rock this year to manage Griffin Leggett Healey & Roth Funeral Home, replacing Perry Stewart who retired. Charles Brenner became president of Gross. The former Gross building at 1017 Central Avenue remained empty until December13, 1983 when it became Hot Springs Funeral Home. 

February 1983 George Herbert Brenner, Jr. dies in Hot Springs at age 73. He was buried in the Brenner family section in Greenwood Cemetery in Hot Springs.

J. Harry Leggett, Sr., founder of Griffin-Leggett in Little Rock, died December 8, 1988, in a Little Rock hospital at age77. After Griffin-Leggett purchased Gross in 1972, he and his wife Susie had moved to a home on Lake Hamilton in Hot Springs. They later retired to the Salem Community in Benton, Arkansas. He was buried at Rest Hills Cemetery in North Little Rock.

Hot Springs Funeral Home opened in the former Gross building at 1017 Central Avenue.


Gross installs crematory...

Gross installed a crematory in its new location and changed the name to Gross Funeral Home and Crematory. 


According to Gross records, between 1958 and 1992, there were 16,435 entries in the firm’s records.

Glen L. Davis died at his home in Hot Springs at age 66 after 40 years with Griffin-Leggett, including 10 years as general manager of Gross.

He had been ill for a longtime with cancer. Entombment was in Forest Hills Mausoleum near Little Rock by Griffin Leggett Health & Roth Funeral Home in Little Rock.


Gross joins Stewart Enterprises...

Gross Funeral Home joined Stewart Enterprises of New Orleans. Stewart Enterprises was the third largest provider of death care services in the United States. (Stewart has 575 funeral homes in 1999 – Funeral Service Insider)

January 7, 1994

Gross Funeral Home handled the funeral of Mrs. Virginia Clinton Kelly, the mother of President Bill Clinton. The funeral was held in the Hot Springs Convention Auditorium with burial in Hope, Arkansas. 

More than 1,000 persons attended the funeral, and many of them followed the Gross hearse 90 miles to Hope, Arkansas, for her burial there.  The Associated Press wired a picture to newspapers worldwide of a tearful President Clinton and his brother Roger leaving Gross Funeral Home after making arrangements. Charles Brenner directed the funeral.

February 22, 1997

Charles Lewis Brenner, Sr. died in Hot Springs at age 89. A special obituary in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette detailed Brenner’s career at Gross Mortuary, including the GI Movement.

(The GI Movement was a group of GIs who returned to Hot Springs after the war and found a corrupt city government. Meeting in secret in the mortuary chapel -- with the lights off so no one knew who was attending the meetings -- the group put together a plan to get rid of the corruption. They were led by Sid McMath, who later became governor of Arkansas.)

The obituary also mentioned that Brenner was a life member and past secretary of the Arkansas State Board of Embalmers. He was also founding stockholder and board member of the Selected Funeral and Life Insurance Company, a company that now owns several funeral homes in Arkansas.  He was buried in the Brenner family section in Greenwood Cemetery.

1998 Charles Brenner leaves Gross Funeral Home after almost 40 years of service. 

125 Years of Service...

Gross Funeral Home 
120 Wrights Lane 

On April 18, 1999, Gross Funeral Home reached its 125th year of continuous service. Creg Johnson was manager then.

The elegant building sits among a cluster of large trees, and the entire lot is surrounded by a handsome white fence. The firm still uses black and gold funeral vehicles.  

Duck sinks...

On May 1, 1999, a white and yellow  "duck" full of out-of-town tourists suddenly sank in Lake Hamilton, killing 13 people. Gross Funeral Home joined other Hot Springs firms in removing the victims and sending them to out-of-town funeral homes in one of the worst tragedies in this century in Hot Springs. 

Herbert Holmes retired from Gross. In the 1960's, he managed Caruth Funeral Home. He later moved to Mississippi and operated a funeral home there before returning to Hot Springs with his wife Virginia, and he joined the Gross staff at that time.
May 7, 2003

Gross burns...

Sentinel-Record Photo

Gross Funeral Home was heavily damaged by a fire that started while a cremation was taking place. The chapel and back of building were destroyed, and the rest of the two-story building was heavily damaged:

Photo from Bob Maus, whose father Victor was
a Gross employee 1944-1963.

Management and staff pledged that the fire would not stop the 130 year tradition of service for Gross and vowed to rebuild the funeral home.

Temporary building...

Former church was beautifully transformed
into complete funeral facility.

The funeral home began operating temporarily in a former church at 700 Richard Street in Hot Springs, shown above. The church was beautifully transformed into a funeral home, and the large santuary provided a spacious chapel. Four visitation rooms are included, and the large church kitchen became a spacious coffee lounge for families to use during visitations and services.

Several pieces of furniture and the framed picture of Billy Gross which were all saved from the fire were incorporated in the temorary location. An open house was held in August 2003.

October 2004

Remodeling work was completed on the "new" Gross Funeral Home and open house was held. The firm was beautifully restored, and the building began serving as a funeral home again.

Rebuilt Gross Funeral Home was re-dedicated in October, 2004