In the 1880s, Mill C. Gray traveled from Nansemond County, Virginia, to Cape Charles in Northampton County. Gray established himself as a carpenter and built many of the early houses in Cape Charles, several of which still stand. A friendship between Gray and Conrad Grimmer, also a carpenter and mortician, helped Gray launch his mortuary business. Gray married Jenny Joynes, the daughter of John and Margaret Joynes. They had one son, Merritt Gray.
Gray's Funeral Home, founded in 1895, was the first funeral home owned and operated by an African American on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Mills Gray built the structure at 643 Randolph Avenue. In the back yard the building used for embalming and preparing the dead for burial still stands. Thomas L. Godwin, also of Cape Charles, supplied Gray with cement burial vaults.
Mills Gray died in 1934. Gray's Funeral Home was subsequently operated by his wife, Jenny, with the aid of her niece, Alston Joynes Godwin, the wife of Thomas L. Godwin. Jenny Joynes Gray died in 1946, leaving the business to niece Alston Godwin. The funeral home was moved after the death of Jenny Gray to Madison Avenue where the business continues in the hands of the Godwin family. Alston Godwin retired, leaving her son, Thomas G. Godwin, and his wife, Juanita Brickhouse Godwin, in charge of this old Eastern Shore institution.
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Geographical and Contact Information
625 Madison Avenue
Cape Charles, Virginia