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Matamoras Minute: The Cunningham family

Photo provided by Jim Moore. This particularly old photo of downtown Matamoras shows the building and shingle of Cunningham’s early undertaking enterprise.

The Matamoras Area Historical Society and its museum are located at the intersection of Main Street and Ohio State Route 7. The man who had the structure built was R.H. Cunningham. He had served in the Civil War and came home with a plan for his future.

Robert Henry Cunningham was born in 1844 in Pittsburgh and was known to his friends by his middle name. He was first-generation, being a son of Matthew and Eliza Girt Cunningham who came from Ireland.

His father had come to America at the age of 13. Matthew became a carpenter and was located in Matamoras by 1846. This was the year the town was platted and it seems that he realized this would be a good place to settle. His carpentry skills would be in much demand as plots were being purchased by citizens who intended to establish roots in the community.

Matthew and Eliza had four children at the time of their arrival here. In addition to Henry there was James, Mary, and Sarah. On a personal note Mary was married to George Springer who was, like Henry his brother-in-law, a Civil War veteran. Upon Springer’s discharge he had the house in which I presently live built in 1870.

Before the Civil War, Henry followed his father into the carpentry trade. However, following his discharge, he had something else in mind as a future enterprise.

During the Civil War he had become friends with, and sometimes helped, an undertaker working with Union Troops. Henry began to think that such a profession would serve him well. And accordingly after his discharge and marriage to Allie Balentine, he established his own funeral business in Matamoras. At this point he built the brick building in which the society is now housed and opened his new profession. Later the couple moved next door to another brick structure.

He and Allie had four children, with one son, Robert M. born in 1881, taking up with his father as a partner in the embalming and funeral director profession. Andrews’ 1902 “History of Washington County” regarding the Cunningham Funeral Home states, “The fine business block, which also includes residence, is 60 x 120 feet in dimensions and is considered one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the town. Undertaking rooms are 50 x 24 feet in dimension and up to date in every respect.”

The father, R. Henry, died in 1905 and Robert M. continued the business until his death in 1940. His widow, Eunice, lived in the home on the western corner of the same block until her death in 1967.

John Miller is president of the Matamoras Area Historical Society. Membership dues are $15 per year single/couple. Life membership is $150. Contact the society at P.O. Box 1846, New Matamoras, Ohio 45767. Much of this column is built on the work of Matamoras’ historian, the late Diana McMahan.

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