F E Brown Sons Funeral Home Honored by NYS Senate, Local Chamber of Commerce
Located in the heart of Orchard Park and just a few blocks from the cemetery, the 169 year-old home is an ideal place for traditional funerals.
But the FE Brown Sons Funeral Home doesn’t just serve the traditional family – so owner Timothy J. Gardner decided to add on, so-to-speak.
In his 40 years as a funeral director, Gardner often heard family members remark how nice it would be outside on pleasant days. So he took that idea and turned it into reality.
Months of planning and a year of construction led to the September, 2016 opening of a new ceremonial park – named Potter’s Park – that Gardner and his son and friends built right behind the funeral home.
The picturesque addition to the community led to an award from the local Chamber of Commerce and a citation from the New York State Senate, honoring Gardner for “outstanding professional behavior, and enduring commitment” to his community.
Gardner, a graduate of SUNY-Canton who went on to study Business at the University of Buffalo, didn’t create Potter’s Park for recognition or notoriety.
He did it to make sure the Funeral Home continues its 80-year tradition of providing an important service to the community southeast of Buffalo.
Gardner said many in his town are accustomed to traditional services that make the historic home an ideal place.
But there is another group of residents not connected to a faith community who aren’t looking for a “traditional” service.
“Consumers who buy funerals have changed. Funeral directors are reluctant or they’re forced into change. I want to be ahead of the change,” Gardner said.
Tapping the skills he learned from his father who was in the nursery business, Gardner planted a variety of trees around the park’s main patio, and he contacted local facilities and organizations for materials he could re-use.
Cut limestone boulders – acquired after the Buffalo Zoo revamped its Polar Bear dens – frame a wall surrounding a heart-shaped patio.
Soil for the planting was gathered from St. Francis High School’s football field replacement project in Hamburg, NY.
The trees are embraced by a mid-19th Century double-posted fence built with black locust posts gathered from a local farm that started a hops plantation. The larch rails for the fence were made by the Amish in Belfast, NY.
Colorful Adirondack-style chairs and park benches serve as furniture.
The outdoors, surrounded by a “beautiful forest,” Gardner said, is an ideal spot for a memorial service. FE Brown Sons held eight services in the park in the few months since it opened.
“It’s positive, it’s not dark and dreary,” he said.
The park, named after the prominent businessman Allen Potter, who built his house there in 1848, is one more tribute to the locality.
Gardner culled years of history he gathered to create the Allen Potter House Museum in one of the Funeral Home’s rooms, highlighting the Potter’s history.
With original pine plank floors, 1877 picture frames and historically accurate furniture and window dressings, the room serves as a snapshot of the past.
Though Gardner is looking to embrace the future of funeral service, he still deploys the 1850’s-styled glass-sided, horse-drawn hearse his funeral home put into use after it sat in storage for nearly 100 years.
Improvements at the funeral home come at a time when Orchard Park is seeing a resurgence of activity, Gardner said.
“All the little villages around Buffalo are going through a renaissance … people are buying up old buildings. It’s kind of an exciting time,” Gardner said.
It seemed the villages had been stagnating for years, he said, and now “everything just seems to be turning around.”
When it’s open, people in the community are welcomed to browse the historic museum room at the funeral home.
And Gardner said he expects more functions to be taking place in Potter’s Park.
Visitors will likely be greeted by the newest addition at FE Brown Sons Funeral Home too.
Charlotte – an English Springer Spaniel Gardner received as a birthday present – was headed to obedience school and will serve as the funeral home’s Comfort Dog.
Gardner is convinced his father-in-law’s decision to turn the old home into a funeral home saved the stately, historic building.
And he’s proud to be continuing a tradition that’s lasted for decades in Orchard Park.
“For me to be able to take that baton and run with it and expand on it and come up with new and progressive services is just very exciting,” Gardner said.