Thomas (“Tommy”) Hopkins
Thomas, or Tommy, Hopkins, as he was known, was born on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and came to Shepherdstown in 1832. He learned his woodworking skills under Jacob Craft, the noted Shepherdstown clockmaker, and eventually took over Craft’s workshop on East German Street. Hopkins worked primarily in walnut from which he fashioned cabinets, desks, and bedsteads. According to the Shepherdstown Register, which noted his leaving the area in June of 1868, he was considered one of the best cabinet makers in the country. Few were the households in the area that did not have a piece of furniture crafted by Tommy Hopkins.
For about half a century, Hopkins was also the town’s premiere undertaker and coffin maker, building coffins out of black walnut, or pine, usually lined with white muslin.
Hopkins preferred that the corpse be brought to his mortuary so that he could measure it and construct an appropriately sized coffin. James Price, in his book, And So I Did: Stories of Shepherdstown, tells the tale of how Hopkins sent an assistant to measure the body of a man who died a few miles from Shepherdstown. The assistant cut a cornstalk and used it to measure the corpse. The stalk was placed in the back of a wagon and the assistant headed to town. While racing down German Street the driver recognized a friend’s horse tied in front of one of the saloons and decided to join his friend for a drink. A short time later they were joined by still another acquaintance who had tied his horse to the wheel of the wagon. It wasn’t until a day or two later, when the coffin proved to be too short, that the assistant realized that the horse had eaten about six inches off the cornstalk.
Hopkins drove a black hearse, enclosed in glass, drawn by two black horses with black tassels attached to their forelocks. He drove the hearse himself, dressed in black with a black stovepipe hat, a long streamer of black cloth wound about it and hanging down over his shoulders.
He died in Baltimore on May 28, 1877, at the Aged Men’s Home.
There is a Tommy Hopkins walnut desk in the back parlor of the Historic Shepherdstown Museum. The desk is in the American Empire style that became fashionable in the United States starting about 1820.