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The Yellow House: The Home of Herndon’s First Undertaker

The Yellow House as it looks today at Pearl and Oak Streets. Photo by Barbara Glakas.
The Yellow House as it looks today at Pearl and Oak Streets. Photo by Barbara Glakas.
By Barbara Glakas

Now sitting at the corner of Pearl and Oak Streets is a home commonly referred to as The Yellow House. Built approximately 150 years ago, the home has always been a shade of yellow, but it has not always been located at its present location. The house was originally located at 721 Elden Street, where the Adams-Green Funeral Home now stands. This small plot of land, surrounded by Elden Street, the former railroad track and other neighbors, was held by many different owners in its early years. 

In the mid-1800s the land where the Adams-Green funeral home now stands was part of a larger tract of land owned by James S. Purdy. (The Purdy house once stood on Elden Street where the Main Street Bank is now located). In the late 1850’s this portion of land was bought by Sumner and Sophoronia Coleman. The Coleman’s then sold the land, measuring about one acre, to Jacob M. and Electa Lester in 1859. Tax records from 1861 do not indicate any building on the lot. Records from 1862 to 1866 are missing from the Fairfax Archives; they were lost during the 
Civil War. The Lesters defaulted on a lien. As a result, the property was bought by R.B Norment at an auction. Norment then immediately sold the land and premises to Madison and Sarah J. Whipple in 1867. Mr. Whipple was the Herndon postmaster in 1866. At the time of this sale the 1867 tax records show a substantial building on the lot, built by the Lester family. Therefore, we know that the Yellow House was built sometime between 1862 and 1867. 

The ownership of the house and the land is complicated between 1867 and 1888. Records show that Elizabeth D. Sweetser (sometimes misspelled as ‘Sweetzer’) had a claim to the land due to a debt Mr. Whipple owed her. A trust was written to this effect, although Whipple and his wife still occupied the property. However, Madison Whipple sold the land and premises to Charles H. Moulton in 1873, pending the debt to Elizabeth Sweetser. 

A deed in 1885 indicated that there was a pending court suit against Whipple in which the county court commissioner confirmed that Elizabeth Sweetser had bought the property and its premises in a public auction in 1880. The court presumably invalidated the sale to Moulton. The first official map of Herndon -- the G.M Hopkins map of 1878 -- shows the Whipple, not Moulton, associated with the property. The Yellow House is clearly indicated on the map. In 1888 Elizabeth and Moses F. Sweetser sold the property to Thomas Edgar and Lillie L. Reed. Today, 
the Yellow House is widely known as the former residence of Thomas E. Reed (1856-1918), Herndon’s first undertaker. 

In addition to serving as a residence, the Yellow House also was used for other functions. A small school building was built on Monroe Street in 1869. One of the teachers was William D. Sweetser (who later became one of the original Town Councilmen when the town incorporated in 1879). The building burned down not long after it was opened and classes were subsequently held at the Yellow House.

Lottie Dyer Schneider, born in 1879, recalled in her book, “Memories of Herndon, Virginia,” that school had been taught “in a big yellow building which overlooked the railroad track and was property owned by Tom Reed in my childhood.” The house also kept the Fortnightly Club Library for a time. 

Herndon’s Cemetery Association was formed in 1881, and the Chestnut Grove cemetery was officially platted in 1882. Soon after came the town’s first funeral home business, which Mr. Reed established in 1885. 

The Yellow House was Mr. Reed’s residence. He and his wife, Lillie, were married in 1883 and had three children -- Marjorie, Ralph and Thomas Edgar II -- who were all born between 1891 and 1894. A 1900 census indicated that the Reeds had a fourth child who had not survived. 

Reed did not operate his funeral home business from within his home, but rather in some buildings on the block where Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern is now located, surrounded by Spring, Elden and Locust Streets. He used the small building that Jimmy’s now uses for catering. He also used a barn that was formerly located where the Robert’s Carpet store now sits. It was in those buildings that Mr. Reed built caskets, stored caskets, garaged his funeral carriage and horses, and possibly conducted some embalming. Unlike today, funerals were held in churches and private residences, not in funeral homes. In addition to being an undertaker, Mr. Reed was also a liveryman, as sometimes he would only have one funeral per month.

Mr. Reed died in 1918. In the 1920’s his sons had the Yellow House moved a short distance, to the rear of the lot, to 719 Elden Street. Ralph Reed built his mother a brick house at the former 721 Elden Street location. In the new location the Yellow House faced the W&OD trail, and for years it was a landmark to pedestrians and bikers who entered the Town of Herndon along the trail. 

Mrs. Reed died in the 1937 and the brick house was turned into a funeral home. The funeral home business in the brick house continued to be operated through the years by T. Edgar Reed II until J. Berkley Green bought the business in 1954 and purchased the property in 1959. Mr. Green passed away in 1998. Eventually the Adams’s took over the business and the Green estate sold the property to the Adams’s in 2000. Adams and his wife, Kathryn, now operate the business as the Adams-Green Funeral Home. 

For years the Yellow House was rented out to various tenants by the Reed’s, Green’s and Adams’s. In 2003 the Adams’s asked the town for a permit to remove the house in order to make room for needed parking for the funeral home. The Adams’s agreed to work with the town to see if the house could be saved. The Herndon Historical Society played an active role in advocating for saving the house.
 
Mayor Mike O’Reilly appointed a committee to determine what could be done to save the historic house. A new location for the house was identified at the corner of Pearl and Oak Streets. The adjacent property owner agreed to subdivide her lot to accommodate the structure. The builders who were in the process of redeveloping the adjacent Darlington Oaks subdivision set up the necessary utilities for the new Yellow House property. 

The house was moved to the new location in 2006, and was sold at auction in 2008. Some proceeds from the auction paid for the move of the house. In order to preserve the historic attributes and significance of the house, a condition of the sale was that the house be preserved and maintained in accordance with the Town’s Heritage Preservation Guidelines. 

The new owner has renovated the house and it is once again a single-family residence. 

About this column: “Remembering Herndon’s History” is a regular Herndon Patch 
feature offering stories and anecdotes about Herndon’s past. The articles are written by members of the Herndon Historical Society. Barbara Glakas is a member. A complete list of “Remembering Herndon’s History” columns is available on the Historical Society website at herndonhistoricalsociety.org.

The Herndon Historical Society operates a small museum that focuses on local history. It is housed in the Herndon Depot in downtown Herndon on Lynn Street and is open every Sunday from noon until 3:00. Visit the Society’s website at for more information.

Note: The Historical Society is seeking volunteers to help keep the museum open each Sunday. If you have an interest in local history and would like to help, contact Charlie Waddell at 703-435-2520 or charliewaddell@cox.net.
Carol Wesley Wright March 03, 2014 at 09:02 AM
Barbara you are a master writer and researcher. Herndon is blessed to have you!
Marylou Bergeron March 03, 2014 at 12:40 PM
Thank you for this well written and well researched article.

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