James Hagan of Oldham, England, came to California as a sailor aboard ship and settled in Centerville, where he became a tinsmith. James married Sarah Letitia Goforth from Toronto, Canada, who came with her family to California and settled in San Lorenzo.
In the early 1880s, a serious epidemic broke out and James made hand-soldered zinc boxes, or caskets, that could be sealed for those who had died of this disease. He was advised and decided to become an undertaker and moved to San Francisco.
In 1898, James Hagan moved to 445 Valencia Street. In 1899, James was at 13th Street near Valencia Street. He had his own stables and the family lived at the place of business. He was at this address at the time of the 1906 fire and earthquake. He rebuilt at the same site but his address was changed to 49 Duboce Avenue (13th Street was renamed Duboce Avenue after the earthquake).
James contracted with the City of San Francisco to bury the indigent. Sometimes a relative or friend would pay a small sum to have a cloth-covered casket and service. Sarah Letitia Hagan (James’ wife) would cover the casket with a black cloth and tack white material inside. She was quite the seamstress and was very proud of her work. James had a carpentry shop in the basement on Duboce Avenue where he would make wooden caskets.
In 1902, James hired William Duggan, who had just been mustered out of the cavalry (Spanish-American War) at the Presidio in San Francisco. He served as a hack-driver, casket maker, gravedigger and all-around handyman. He was willing to do any work and was hired by James mainly because of his experience with horses. James owned a stable where he kept his horses and wagons for trips to the cemetery.