History of Joseph Gawler’s Sons, Inc.

The year was 1850 when Washington, D.C. streets were cobblestone and California was being ratified as a state in the union that Joseph Gawler hung out his "Cabinet Maker" shingle on a small frame house in the 1700 block of Pennsylvania Avenue, near the White House. He learned early on that cabinet makers were frequently called upon to design and build coffins for the local population.

Before long he added "Under Taker" to his sign and began to offer extra services involving burial details, which typically had been the responsibility of relatives or friends. In time these services multiplied to the extent that Mr. Gawler discontinued cabinet making to become one of Washington, D.C.’s first full-time funeral directors.

Joseph Gawler’s Sons, Inc. remained in this same block of Pennsylvania Avenue for 112 years. During this time the firm gained a reputation for handling the funeral services of many famous people from the history books of the past century - presidents and former presidents, vice presidents, high officials of foreign governments, Supreme Court justices, members of Congress, cabinet officers, military leaders, national heroes, and social and business leaders.

Even though Joseph Gawler’s Sons has been privileged to be entrusted with the arrangements for many famous people throughout the years, the firm has a continuing tradition to provide services for families from all walks of life.

Mr. Gawler died in 1910, 60 years after he established his business, but the business was carried on in the family tradition by his sons. By this point in the life of the business it had become a part of the tradition of our nation’s capital.

As the metropolitan area continued to expand rapidly, the Gawler family decided to move their business to its present-day location at 5130 Wisconsin Avenue, NW in 1962. The new three-story structure designed by architect Arthur L. Anderson, A.I.D., was built on the former site of the headquarters of General Winfield Scott the Union Army commander at the beginning of the Civil War. The building was constructed of brick in the classic Georgian style and was designed to better serve the client base that Gawler’s had established since its inception

The new structure boasted a spacious lobby, a chapel that could seat 220 attendees, a circular staircase to the second floor where there were seven elegant state rooms of various sizes to accommodate family groups from small to large. The third floor held two arrangement conference rooms and a casket selection room.

The funeral home property also includes a spacious off-street parking lot at the back of the facility.

In 1970 the Gawler family sold the business to an affiliate of Service Corporation International, North America’s largest network of funeral, cremation and cemetery service providers. Today we are proud to be a member of the Dignity Memorial® network of more than 1800 funeral, cremation and cemetery service providers.

All of our services are designed to help our client families through one of the most personal and challenging stages of life. We understand losing a loved one is an emotional and difficult experience, and we are committed to helping our client families with compassionate, professional and personal service. 

In 1975, Joseph E. Hagan was named president and general manager of Joseph Gawler’s Sons. He had worked for Gawler’s since receiving his funeral director/embalming license in 1948. Mr. Hagan served as president for many years before semi-retiring in 1993.

During a 1993 interview about his career at Gawler’s,  Mr. Hagan was quoted as saying, with respect to Gawlers, "We want to be a credit to funeral service. We would never want to be in a position to embarrass our fellow funeral directors by something we slipped up on because we were not paying attention to details. We feel we have a responsibility to our fellow funeral directors to perform in a most professional way in terms of dealing with these types of funerals, because we are out front of millions of families who will see the pictures, and of the history that is being made. I feel that, in our own little way, we’ve been a special part of the history of this country."

The circular staircase black-and-white marble floor and the chandelier–a copy of one from the Governor’s Palace in Williamsburg, Virgina–add to the beauty in Gawlers Funeral home.
This antique mirror typifies the great care devoted to décor. The antique candelabra rests on an original Governor Pinchot chest – a beautiful collector’s item.
Colonial Room - Featuring copies of the Ford Museum Collection and authentic Willamsburg pieces.

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