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Cabinetmaker George Lewis Hartenstein (1854 – 1934), born in Philadelphia to German emigrants Johann Georg and Barbara (Stahle) Hartenstein, began his career with the former Wanamaker’s Department Store in Center City Philadelphia.
In the 1870’s, George moved to Railroad, York County, Pennsylvania where he met and married Lydia Helb and worked for his father-in-law, Frederick Helb, establishing the Helb Furniture Factory in the small town. Missing his calling to build fine furniture by hand, George returned to Philadelphia with his wife, and young daughter Rebecca, to continue his career at Wanamaker’s. When Rebecca died unexpectedly at age three, George and Lydia chose to return to southern York County, settling in New Freedom.
In 1885, George purchased David Hershey’s furniture and undertaking business from his widow, which was then located at what is now the southwest corner of Constitution Avenue and Main Street in New Freedom. Shortly thereafter, George purchased a building at the northwest corner of Front and Franklin Streets and called it the “Old Reliable Furniture and Carpet House.” It was there where he built quality furniture and coffins by hand, and established his funeral trade by adding a funeral parlor to the storefront.
In 1907, George sold the company to his son, Paul N. Hartenstein (1885 – 1937), who welcomed into the business another partner, his brother-in-law Curvin H. Nonemaker. After Curvin’s death in 1932, and subsequent to Paul’s death in 1937, a new partnership named “Hartenstein & Company” was formed between Paul’s widow, Bessie V. (Young) Hartenstein (1887 – 1965), and their son, J. Jacob “Jake” Hartenstein (1915 – 1974).
Wanting to concentrate solely on funeral service, Bessie sold her interest in the furniture store in the early 1950’s to her son-in-law, Edward V. McCullough, who continued to partner in retail furniture sales with Jake. In addition to co-managing the furniture store, Jake built and opened in February 1952, a new funeral home at the corner of Second and Franklin Streets in New Freedom and called it “Hartenstein Mortuary.”
The fourth generation joined the family business in 1964 when James J. “Jim” Hartenstein (born 1941), eldest son of Jake and Julia Ellen (Grimm) Hartenstein, became a licensed funeral director, and later, a co-owner. Bessie continued to assume the roles of family matriarch and businesswoman until her death, and when Jake died suddenly nine years later, the furniture division and real estate known as “Hartenstein & Company” was sold.
Under Jim’s leadership, the funeral home evolved into “J.J. Hartenstein Mortuary” and was later incorporated in 1981. An opportunity to expand the business came in 1986 when the Kenneth W. Orsburn Funeral Home in nearby Stewartstown was acquired. Jim’s son, James J. Hartenstein III (1966-2010) then joined the family business as a licensed funeral director and his daughter, Jennifer Hartenstein McGraw (born 1969) came on board in 1993 to assist with managing the administrative side of the business. Today, with over 50 years of experience in funeral service, Jim continues to lead J.J. Hartenstein Mortuary with his daughter Jennifer who represents the fifth generation of the Hartenstein family to companion southern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland families.