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  • Writer's pictureTyeal Howell

The Boyd Family Legacy

346 Hill Street stands at the entrance of what once led to the old factory pond on the grounds of the Urbana Woolen Mills (known today as Bundy Baking Solutions, one of our Festival sponsors!), and where Hill Street ends to the east. The landmark pond is virtually gone today, but it was also a source of income for the Boyd family who occupied this home for decades.

In the winter, when the pond was frozen over, William F. Boyd would cut ice from the body of water for his ice business. Mr. Boyd was born in Urbana in 1838 with his parents being among the earliest and most prominent African American families of the community. William Boyd and his wife Marie (also known as Mariah or Maria) were successful entrepreneurs and worked together to build their ice company that began in 1867.

Bit by bit the company grew until its annual sales reached $3,000 by 1880 ($82,000 in today’s value). In 1879, William Boyd made history by being the first person of color to hold elected office in the city by serving on the city council He was selected twice to serve as that body’s President during his tenure in office. He was also elected to serve as a Director of the Champaign County Infirmary in 1886. Mr. Boyd was also a believer in Spiritualism which had many layers to its beliefs in the 19th century. Among them were equal rights and women’s suffrage. There were also physicians who practiced Spiritualism who believed a body could be cured through ceremony and gestures to put the body’s internal fluids back into balance. When Mr. Boyd became ill, he sought out a Spiritualist from Columbus to cure him according to his faith, but he passed away at his Hill Street home in 1888.

William and Maria Boyd were the parents of four children. Among them was their son Elmer who would become an entrepreneur in his own right. Elmer Boyd would establish one of the first black owned funeral homes in Cleveland around 1905. He would return to Urbana in 1910 for the purpose of marrying Cora Stewart who was sister-in-law to famed Professor E.W.B. Curry who operated the Curry Institute on East Water Street.

Following their marriage, Elmer and Cora Boyd would continue to build their funeral home business in the Cleveland that still exists today. Four generations of the Boyds have been involved with the company for the past century. Elmer Boyd would go on to establish the Cleveland Association of Funeral Home Directors as well. He died in 1944, but his son William Boyd II continued with the business. William Boyd II would be honored as one of the longest serving funeral home directors in America in 2012. He would pass away just shy of his 100th birthday in 2014. Like his grandfather and namesake, the latter William F. Boyd played a role in civic affairs serving as the President of the Cleveland School Board in the 1960s, and hosting the first Freedom Fund dinner for the Cleveland NAACP in 1959.

The Boyd funeral home continues today under the name of E.F. Boyd and Son.

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