Sawyers Family provided 45 Years of Service To Our Community
The older generations of Dayton and the surrounding areas certainly recognize the name Sawyers Funeral Home. The father-son family business served our families for over four decades. Colyar Paxton Sawyers, who was always known as C.P. Sawyers, was born and raised on a farm in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Mr. Sawyers was a staunch supporter of Middle Tennessee before moving to this section of the state. C.P. Sawyers began his career in the Undertaking Business in 1923, working for and studying under Mr. Higgins of the Higgins Brothers Undertaking Business in Fayetteville, Tennessee. He entered the Gupton Jones School of Mortuary Science and Embalming at Nashville, Tennessee.
In 1929, he married Linnie Loyd Jernigan of Pulaski, Tennessee. Three years later, they had a son and named him Elbridge Paxton Sawyers. Mr. Sawyers moved his family to Dayton where he worked for six years as the manager of R.J. Coulter's Funeral Home.
Mr. C.P. Sawyers became well known in Dayton and Rhea County. He became Chairman of the Dayton Chapter of the American Red Cross and was past president of the Dayton Lions Club. On August 3rd of 1941, after much encouragement from his family and friends, he began to organize his own firm and applied for a Charter of Incorporation which was granted on September 6, 1941. He purchased a Packard hearse, family car, and the necessary equipment to open his business, "Sawyers' Funeral Service". The business was located on Main Street in a portion of the old Aqua Hotel building. The space in the Aqua building proved to be sufficient for several years with part-time help, volunteers, and young Paxton.
In 1947, the Euclid Waterhouse home on the corner of Market and 4th Ave was purchased and became the new location for the new expanding business. The home was a three-story building made of white stoned. It faced 4th Ave. and was surrounded by some beautiful large trees. By this time, a daughter was born into the family. She was named Nancy Rose Sawyers.
Paxton graduated from the Rhea County High School in 1951. He went on to attend the University of Tennessee before joining the Air Force. Nancy went on to finish high school at Virginia Intermont and later attended Ole Miss. Paxton returned to Dayton to help in the family business in 1954, after his father C.P. Sawyers suffered a near fatal heart attack.
Mr. Sawyers was instrumental in the effort to get the Rhea County Hospital constructed and chaired the County Court for that project. Other than helping her husband in the funeral business, Mrs. Loyd Sawyers stayed busy with her homemaking, Readers Club, Bridge and being active at the First Methodist Church where the family were members. Paxton, like his father, became involved in many community and civic projects. Perhaps most known for being the Parade Marshal for the East Tennessee Strawberry Festival which was held each year in May.
Paxton continued to assist his father in the day-to-day operation of the funeral home business. In September of 1962, Paxton married his second wife, Kathryn "Kitty" Grace Todd Sawyers. She joined the family business after completing her schooling in Mortuary Science and Embalming. Paxton had previously been married for a short while in 1953, to Miss Sallee Ann Beaver of Amarillo, Texas. They had a son together E. Paxton Sawyers, Jr.
Tragedy struck, when the sudden and unexpected death came to Mr. C.P. Sawyers on August 3, 1963. The day began as usual for the Sawyers family. Mr. Sawyers was scheduled to conduct a funeral service for Garfield "Doc" Smith at 2pm at the Spring City First Baptist Church, afterwards a burial was to follow in the Spring City Cemetery. Apparently, Mr. Sawyers had overexerted himself during the burial. When he arrived back at the funeral home, he was profusely sweating. It was told that Paxton scolded his father for "over doing it" and reminded him that he had already had one heart attack. Mr. Sawyers quickly pointed out to Paxton that he was the boss, and would do as he pleased, it was his business. At this point, Mr. Sawyers was going to retire to his upstairs residence when he collapsed halfway up the stairs and died instantly.
Mr. C.P. Sawyers was to be the next funeral service conducted. On August 6, 1963, three days after his death his funeral service was held at the First Methodist Church in Dayton, afterwards he was taken to his hometown of Fayetteville, Tennessee and laid to rest in the Wright Cemetery.
Paxton and Kitty continued to operate the business together. Paxton's mother continued to live in the residence over the funeral home. There had been several additions to the building over the years. Then the Sawyers family decide to build a newer more modern facility. In the early 1980's, they obtained Rhea Memory Gardens and made the decision at that time to build a new and larger funeral home. In 1984, they moved the business from downtown over to the new location of the newly constructed building just off Hwy 27 Bypass near the Blythes Ferry (Hwy 60) intersection.
After the move to the new building in 1984, Paxton allowed the old funeral home building on Market Street to be used by a local club for the purpose of a haunted house on Halloween. There were some objection and criticism from local residents, stating that it showed disrespect to the families who had been served there. Ironically, the building burned the following month on Thanksgiving Day.
About the same time as the move, Paxton and Kitty decided to file for a divorce. In making this decision public, the couple decided to do it in a unique way. Being the parade marshal, Paxton always rode a scooter up and down-Market Street in preparation for the parade. This particular year at the end of the parade, Paxton and Kitty rode the scooter following at the end of the parade route. On the back of the scooter was a poster that read "We're calling it quits". Everyone along the parade route thought they were referring to giving up their work on parade day. Over time, it was learned that they had indeed decided to divorce.
After the divorce, Paxton and Kitty continued to work right along side by side in the business until they decided to sell and retire from their many years in the funeral business. On August 5, 1986, Sawyers Funeral Service conducted their final funeral before the new owner took over. Tom Vanderwall of Michigan purchased the business and it continued as Sawyers-Vanderwall for a short time before it officially became Vanderwall Funeral Home. Paxton retired and moved to Nashville to seek other endeavors. Kitty along with long time employee, J.C. Strader, stayed on working with the new owner. Kitty eventually retired about a year later and J.C. Strader became the last of the Sawyers employees to remain. He retired in the early the 2000's.
For all those families served by Sawyers Funeral Home over the years, it is usually the old downtown location that comes to mind when reminiscing. It is where so many of us said our final goodbyes to our loved ones.
Sawyers' first burial was Annie Jane Taylor, age 72, who died on September 6, 1941. She was laid to rest September 7, 1941, in the Buttram Cemetery.
Sawyers' last burial was Henry William Hilmer, age 76, who died on August 5, 1986. He was laid to rest on August 6, 1986, in the Laurelbrook Cemetery.
(Photos Courtesy of Jimmy Cunnyngham of the Cunnyngham Studio Archives)
Colyar Paxton Sawyers "C.P. Sawyers" passed away on August 3, 1963. He was laid to rest in the Wright Cemetery in Fayetteville, Tennessee
Mrs. Loyd Sawyers passed away on August 31, 1987. She was laid to rest in the Hamilton Memorial Gardens in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
E. Paxton "Skip" Sawyers, Jr. passed away in June of 2003. He was from Arizona and there were no services.
Paxton Sawyers passed away on November 10, 2005. He was laid to rest next to his mother in the Hamilton Memorial Gardens in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Grace Todd Sutton, aka Kitty Sawyers, passed away on April 20, 2019. She was laid to rest in the Whitfield Memorial Gardens in Dalton, Georgia.
Nancy Rose Sawyers Sugg passed away on September 16, 2018, in Sun City, Florida. She was laid to rest next to her father in the Wright Cemetery in Fayetteville, Tennessee
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