A Visit to the Congo

photosDon’t shoot me for the post title; I simply could not resist.  But the title was created out of respect — respect for any family that goes into such a business, taking care of families at their lowest.  I was looking at a post by Mike Dixon, noting the passing of Elkton native Albert W. Richardson, Sr.  Following the link to his obituary, I grew curious of the name of the funeral home, since I am not from the Wilmington area.  I found reading their website about their history interesting.

In March of 1975, a longtime dream of Ernest “Sammy” Congo became a reality. Sammy and his wife, Cheris, held an open house for a “first-generation” funeral home located at 201 N. Gray Avenue in Wilmington, Delaware. The facility had been built in the late 1950s by a well-known African American architect from Wilmington, Mr. Calvin Hamilton. Sammy and Cheris made Delaware history in that year by accomplishing what no other first-generation funeral home had ever done; they received 75 calls during their first year in business.

In 1986, the Congos opened their second funeral home located at 2317 N. Market Street. After purchasing this facility, which was originally built in 1932, they had it completely gutted and rehabilitated to become one of the most beautiful funeral homes in the area.

The exercise of using Google Earth showed their Market Street facility to be most beautiful.

The Philadelphia Architects and Buildings database provides a history of the architect Calvin Pazavia Hamilton (1923-2001).

Born in Wilmington, DE, to Harrison R. and Mattie Jenkins Hamilton, Calvin P. Hamilton graduated with honors from the historic Howard High School in Wilmington in 1941. In 1942 he was drafted into the U.S. Army and remained with the war effort through 1946. After his discharge, Hamilton enrolled at Howard University, majoring in architecture, graduating in 1951 and returning to Wilmington after graduation. After his return Hamilton continued to study architecture, but at the University of Pennsylvania.

From 1952 to 1968 Hamilton worked for W. Ellis Preston. In 1962 he took the Delaware registration exam for architects and became the first African American registered architect in Delaware. Later he would add registrations in Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Hamilton also gained office experience in the firm of J. Philip Fox in Newark, DE; but in 1968 he opened his own office in Wilmington, where he worked especially with multifamily projects such as Brandywine Village I in Millsboro, DE, and Westown Village in Wilmington.

Hamilton also served as an advisor for the Wilmington Building Code and on the New Castle County Board of Assessment Reviews, the State Bureau of Housing and the Wilmington Board of Appeals and Standards.

I do not know anything more about Hamilton, or of the history of the Congo family, but I found the website information interesting.  I would love to know about the Congo family and the origin of the name.

— Linda Duyer

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