RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN)- Joyce Fennell smelled what she believed to be smoke in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
“I walked right up to the corner and there it was- another memory swiped away,” said Fennell.
She knows how much the Lightner funeral home means to longtime residents of Raleigh. She’s been in the neighborhood where it stands for decades.
“It was the place that most people around here was using for burials. My mom, my father were funeralized there,” she said.
Raleigh firefighters responded to the vacant funeral home around 1 a.m. It was under control just before 3 a.m. The flames left behind visible damage to the roof. The building now bares a sign saying it is unsafe to enter.
Lightner funeral home was founded by Calvin E. Lightner in 1911. State records show he was Raleigh’s first black mortician, an important role as he offered dignified services not always available for black customers.
Lightner was also a renowned architect. Some of his buildings like the Davie Street Presbyterian Church in Raleigh and the Mechanics and Farmers Bank in Durham are still standing today.
His son went on to become the city’s first black mayor.
“[The funeral home] has been out of commission, I guess, for the last 10 or 15 years but it was good to just know the memories,” she said. “See what it used to be.”
Investigators will look at their evidence to determine the cause. It’s unclear if the building will be salvageable with repairs.
Fennell once hoped the building could have been designated as a landmark. Now, she fears it’s another piece of Raleigh’s lost history.
“As you get older, you want to hold on to something and see if this is another thing that’s gone,” she said.