Dimitrios Leanos: Family Ancestry
By Allen W. Alexopulos
Greece in the late 1800’s was very different from the country that we know today. The northern part of the country was still under the rule of the Ottoman Turks. Most of the rural population was impoverished; the country had few raw materials, rural infrastructure was non-existent and by 1893 the government was insolvent. Many people had long before fled to mountainous areas in the central part of the country to escape the brutal rule of Ottomans and their attempt to convert the country over to an Islamic state.
Map of Central & Western Greece in 1903
The Greek government, headed by King George I was in a constant state of turmoil dealing with many internecine conflicts as well as with the occupying Ottomans and Bulgarians. Even the Greek language was in dispute with the majority of the population speaking and understanding Demotic or Demotiki Greek while government and intellectuals used Katharevusa Greek. This language problem persisted until 1976 when Demotiki became the official language of Greece. These conditions set the stage for an exodus from Greece of young people looking for better work opportunities and living conditions.
We don’t know when the Leanos family first arrived in the mountainous Aetolia-Akarnanithos region of Western Greece, but empirical evidence suggests that they predated the early part of the 19th century. It was in this timeframe that Georgios Leanos settled in a small village called Ampelia, about 9 miles NNE from Lake Trichonida. His son Christos fathered a son named Speros who as an adult grew and pruned grape vines. Speros eventually moved to the town of Agrinion located about 17 miles WSW of Ampelia. Speros’s wife Efrosini Balaska gave birth to a son named Dimitrios on November 23rd of 1887. The Leanos family grew to include Vasilios “Bill”, Lambros, Pinelia, Constantou, and Eleni.
As an ambitious 20 year old looking for a better life, Dimitrios boarded the SS Sicilian Prince in Patras, Greece on November 8th, 1907 and departed for a land of limitless opportunity called America. Dimitrios turned 21 during the voyage. The ship arrived nineteen days later in New York harbor on November 27th. Ellis Island records indicate that Dimitrios was 5’ 5¼” tall, had blue eyes, was carrying $10, and was going to stay with his cousin Apostoli Kostacopulos at 104 7th Avenue in New York City.
Left to Right: Dimitrios “Jim” Leanos, his wife Ioanna Leanos, and his brother Vasilios “Bill” Leanos. c1915
His first job was selling flowers on the street for $50 for six months of work. Dimitrios worked his way across the United States as a laborer, probably for various railroads and probably in the logging industry after he arrived in Seattle, Washington. He continued working in Washington State until c1915, when as a 28 year old, he returned to New York to find a wife and start a family.
Ioanna Katsarelis was born on March 16th, 1893 in Koniska, Greece. Ironically, Koniska is less than a mile and a half east of Ampelia, the ancestral home of Dimitrios. The towns are literally located on opposite sides of a mountain.
Ioanna left Greece in March 1915 (exact date unknown as of this writing) and arrived in New York City. She stayed with her brother Vasilios “Bill” Katsarelis. Family folklore suggests that she was destined through an arranged marriage to wed a gentleman who she had not previously met. When they did meet she was not impressed, stating that “…the guy wasn’t good looking…” and promptly called off the arranged marriage.
Ioanna and Dimitrios with (left-to-right) Speros, Constantine, Virginia, and Fotios. c1922
Upon his return to New York, Dimitrios was introduced to Ioanna by her brother Vasilios at a dinner get together. During a mid-1970’s recorded interview of Dimitrios he suggested that they were married about two weeks later, on July 18th, 1915. The next five years saw the births of sons Speros (28 Oct 1916) and Fotios (12 Dec 1918) and daughter Virginia (8 Oct 1920). Dimitrios and his now brother-in-law Vasilios got jobs unloading freight in Jersey City, NJ. They quit three days later. Dimetrios next got a job in Yonkers, NY working in the Alexander Smith Carpet Company. By 1916 the family had moved to Yonkers where Dimitrios worked in the Yonkers Hat Cleaning and Shoe Shining Parlor with Gust Alexopulos1. In 1917 Alexios Alexopulos, whose future son James will marry Dimitrios’s future daughter Elizabeth joined the business. They were all living at 28 Warburton Avenue. Also living at that address was brother Vasilios “William”2 Leanos and first cousin Efthimios Leanos who both worked as “bootblacks”, a period name for shoe shiners. In 1921 Dimetrios, Ioanna, their children and Vasilios moved out of the Warburton apartment to 118 New Main Street in Yonkers and started a business nearby. No records have been found that describe the nature of the business.
Oral family history indicates that in 1922 the Leanos family moved to Thompsonville, Connecticut for a very brief time. Ioanna had an uncle who worked as a blacksmith there and asked them to join him to make and sell charcoal from a horse-drawn wagon. Not long thereafter, Ioanna’s brother Vasilios Katsarelis, who had already moved to Annapolis and was working in a local confectionery shop (or possibly a bowling alley) on Main Street for Nicholas Mandris, suggested that they move to Annapolis.
Dimitrios moved his family to Annapolis in 1922. They settled into a home at 294 West Street. Shortly thereafter Dimitrios opened a confectionery and ice cream business at 297 West Street and named it Jim’s Corner. It was located at the intersection of Spa Road and Camp Parole Road (now West Street). The business included two “visible” gasoline pumps which allowed motorists to see the exact amount of fuel that was gravity-fed into their vehicles; at the time gas “pumps” were notoriously inaccurate and were not trusted by the still small number of car owners. Dimitrios sold American Oil Company gasoline for about $.18/gallon, regular leaded on the Spa road pump, and AMOCO-gas on the Camp Parole Road pump. AMOCO-gas was environmentally ahead of its time: It was high-octane, unleaded gas.
Dimitrios “Jim” Leanos standing in front of the original Jim’s Corner. c1923
The photograph of Dimitrios standing in front of Jim’s Corner has become an iconic part of Annapolis history. Copies of the photo are on display in a number of businesses in Annapolis.
Commemorative Plaque at West Gate Circle
An African American named William H. Brown owned a grocery store on Spa Road just down the street from Jim’s Corner. Over the years Dimitrios and William became good friends. Jim’s Corner was one of the few businesses in Annapolis that not only served African Americans, but encouraged them to enter through the front door. Their strong friendship was recognized by the City of Annapolis on September 10th, 1990 with the christening of Brown-Leanos Park. The park is located very near the site of the original Jim’s Corner.
As Jim’s Corner flourished the Leanos family expanded with Ioanna giving birth to Constantine (21 Feb 1922), Pauline (22 Feb 1924), Elizabeth (4 Sep 1927) and Helen (16 Mar 1931). When not attending school, the children worked in the business until they grew old enough to find other work or left Annapolis. The kids attended Sunday school at the United Methodist Church on the corner of Amos Garrett Boulevard and West Street. Holidays were typically celebrated at St. Annes Episcopal Church in downtown Annapolis, and occasionally the family traveled by car to the Greek Church of the Annunciation in Baltimore.
On Thursday January 2nd, 1936 a fire destroyed Jim’s Corner. Undaunted, Dimitrios rebuilt the business in the front yard of his home on West Street minus the gas pumps. The second Jim’s Corner operated continuously for many decades thereafter, open six days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner for most of that time.
All three of the Leanos sons honorably served in the US military during World War II.
Speros Leanos enlisted in the US Army on April 24th, 1943. He served in the US Army’s 75th Reconnaissance Troop spending 16 months in combat duty in Holland, Luxembourg, Belgium, France and Germany. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge where he was one of only eight survivors when his company was overrun near Vielsalm, Belgium.
Constantine Leanos entered the US Navy on October 22nd, 1942. During the war he served as a Fire Control specialist aboard the USS Trenton CL-11 a light cruiser commissioned in 1923. Between 1942 and 1944 Trenton patrolled the west coast of South America from the Straits of Magellan up to Panama. She then transited up to the Aleutians where she was on anti-shipping patrol and shore bombardment duties through the end of the war. Constantine was honorably discharged on December 3rd, 1945.
Fotios Leanos enlisted in the US Army on July 17, 1942. In August 1943 he was stationed at Camp Forrest, Tennessee where he was diagnosed with preexisting pes planus (fallen arches) associated with sciatica and as a result was discharged for disability in the Line of Duty from the service in September 1943. Still wanting to serve his county, Fotios joined the Merchant Marines in 1943 as a cook. His final voyage was aboard the Liberty ship SS Jonathan Elmer which was built at the Bethlehem Shipyard in Baltimore. After departing from Leghorn (Livorno), Italy on September 21st, 1945 the ship arrived in New York, NY on October 7th, 1945 where Fotios was discharged from the Merchant Marines.
During the war Elizabeth and Helen served as spotters from the top of the Maryland Inn looking out for incoming enemy aircraft.
The property at 294 West Street was large enough for Dimitrios and Ioanna to create a small farm which enabled them to grow many of the seasonal vegetables that were consumed by the family. They also maintained a large grape arbor, which supplied leaves for Greek domades which Ioanna preserved so that they could be enjoyed during the winter months. Many of the fresh vegetables were also served to customers in the restaurant. Dimitrios eventually purchased the house next door at 292 West Street for rental purposes.
On December 31st, 1957 Dimitrios transferred the ownership of the Jim’s Corner business over to his son Fotios (“Fote”) and his daughter Elizabeth’s husband James (“Bill”) Alexopulos for one dollar and leased the building to them for $125/month. Elizabeth and James gained full ownership of the business on October 17th, 1964 which operated continuously3 for a total of 66 years until it closed permanently on April 24th, 1999.
The Leanos family in September, 1946 including Speros’s wife Patricia and Fotios’s wife Agnes.
In 1969 in an acknowledgment of the importance of his family roots in Greece, Dimitrios donated money to restore the bell tower in the Church of the Savior in Ampelia. Pauline traveled to Ampelia to attend the dedication ceremony in remembrance of her grandparents Speros and Efrosini Leanos.
James Alexopulos served in the Marine Corps during WWII. He flew on B-25 Mitchell bombers as a flight mechanic/waist gunner. While never a pilot, he always had a love of flying and quickly adopted a group of commercial airline pilots who routinely ate breakfast in Jim’s Corner at 9:12am, hence the root of the “912th Aero Squadron” signage on the front of the restaurant.
294 West Street (left) with the Leanos home above and Jim’s Corner below. 292 West Street (right) rental home.
One of the renters at 292 West Street was a young aspiring guitarist with a gifted voice named Eva Cassidy. In 1996 at 33 years of age she passed away as a result of malignant melanoma. Since her untimely passing her estate has sold over 15 million albums and she has become internationally known and recognized for her blues and jazz music and splendid voice.
Like many businesses in Annapolis, Jim’s Corner had pinball and “one armed bandit” gambling machines that created a nice cash flow until they were banned in 1968. Despite the loss of gambling revenue and the advent of “arched” corporate fast-food drive-thru and similar restaurants, Jim’s Corner persisted.
December 18th, 1995: Space Shuttle astronauts in Jim’s Corner w/great-grandson Christopher Alexopulos
Notable people who dined in Jim’s Corner
included news anchor Walter Cronkite and Charles Bolden, the first African-American NASA administrator and veteran of four Space Shuttle missions. Many Space Shuttle astronauts followed Mr. Bolden’s lead and ate in Jim’s Corner.
Ioanna passed away on March 20th, 1967 followed by Dimitrios on December 6th, 1974.
The properties at 292 and 294 West Street were eventually sold to the Jerome Parks group and demolished to clear way for the Westin Hotel complex.
The Leanos children contributed in many ways to the growth and evolution of the SS. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Annapolis. Pauline, Elizabeth and Helen each served as president of the Agia Anna Philoptochos Society while Virginia served as a vice-president. Constantine served as president of the Parish Council. Speros was a board member of both the Baltimore Annunciation and the SS. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox churches and a member and officer of AHEPA. Elizabeth founded the church’s Scholarship Fund. The children volunteered for countless church events including dances, bake sales, and the financially vital annual Greek Festivals. They sang in the choir and taught Sunday School.
After WWII Fotios Leanos worked at the Annapolis Post Office, as a butcher in a local grocery store and at Jim’s Corner. After he left Jim’s Corner he worked for and retired from Refuse Removers. In 1965 he ran for alderman from the 6th ward of Annapolis. His wife of 40 years Agnes Hartge Leanos passed away in 1986. Fotios passed away at age 80 on October 11th, 1998.
Pauline Leanos earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Johns Hopkins University and went on to work for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Company. Her career there spanned 30 years and saw her working up through the rank and file to become one of the company’s first female executives and one of the highest paid. Pauline married John “Jack” Griffiths on November 25th, 1972 and spent many years traveling internationally together during their retirement years. In addition to her volunteer activities at the SS. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Annapolis including the head of the Sunday School, she worked as a volunteer for 20 years at the Anne Arundel Medical Center. She was also an active member of the Four Rivers Garden Club of Annapolis. Pauline passed away at age 80 on January 31st, 2005. Jack Griffiths passed away on May 31st, 2010.
Speros Leanos graduated from Annapolis High School in June, 1934. He worked at the Annapolis A&P grocery store for $7.00/week and helped the family recover from the Great Depression and the fire that destroyed the original Jim’s Corner. Speros improved his salary by taking jobs as a delvery man for the Coca Cola Company of Annapolis and then for a local beer distributer leading up to his entry into the U.S. Army in WWII. He married Patricia Panos in 1941 and lived in a second floor apartment on Conduit Street until he left for the war. After WWII he moved to Baltimore were Patricia had resided with her parents during the time he was serving in the military. Speros and Patricia purchased a home on Rossiter Avenue in the Winston-Govans neighborhood of Baltimore City, and two years later moved into a new home in the Ramblewood neighborhood on the Alameda.
Speros was hired by the Kemp-Boone wine and spirits distributor company in 1946. He spent the next 32 years as a sales representative covering central Maryland counties for them and then the Winner Distributing Company. During that period he also became a commercial real estate investor, acquiring properties on West Street and King George Street including a parcel that became part of the Paca House complex. Speros and Patricia eventually moved back to Annapolis to a residence on South Cherry Grove Avenue. Patricia passed away on June 20th, 1994. In 1997 Speros moved to the Edenwald Retirement Community in Towson were he resided for the next 12 years. Speros passed away at age 92 on March 4th, 2009.
Constantine Leanos returned to work in Jim’s Corner after WWII. In 1947 he met Helen Kosmides at her birthday party in Baltimore. On September 16th, 1948 they were married at the Annunciation Cathedral in Baltimore. They moved into one of the rental units at 292 West Street then into a home that they built on Forest Drive. By 1956 he was working as a car salesman as noted in the Annapolis City Directory of that year. Constantine moved his family to Baltimore in 1958. He operated a school bus converted into a mobile kitchen that he kept in Brooklyn Park. He drove “The Bus” daily to General Refractories and Bethlehelm Steel where he served the workers many quick meals. In 1961 he moved his family back to Annapolis and opened up a Tastee Freeze and restaurant called the Revell Inn on Route 50 near the current site of the Ski Haus.
Helen passed away on October 9th, 1972. About a year later Constantine met Helene Gershuny on her last day of work at the nursing home where Constantine’s father Dimitrios was residing. He married Helene on August 17th, 1976 and after selling the Revell Inn opened another business on Route 50 that was a combination gas station and plant shop called the Revel 2 Plant Emporium and First Discount Gas Station. It was located next to the Howard Johnson’s restaurant and motel, now the Village Inn. For a short time in the early 1980’s Constantine also operated Gus’s Inner Harbor Deli in Baltimore. By 1988 he had closed the Baltimore deli and the Revel 2 Discount Gas businesses and decided to open up a new deli called Annapolis Gormet on the corner of Melvin Avenue and Annapolis Street in West Annapolis. He operated the business until his retirement in 2014 at age 91. Constantine passed away on December 19th, 2017 at age 95. Helene Leanos continues to reside in Annapolis and is active in the Annapolis Holistic Health Community.
Elizabeth Leanos graduated from Towson State Teacher’s College on June 14th, 1949 with a Bachelor of Science in Education degree. In early 1947 James William Alexopulos visited his brother-in-law Kenneth Kleinmann at the Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, DC where he was recovering from serious injuries he received during the war. Since they were close, James decided to travel to Annapolis to visit the family of Dimitrios Leanos who had worked with his father in Yonkers, NY. He arranged to meet Elizabeth at the Hitching Post Ice Cream Parlor on Prince George Street and, after a two year courtship were married on June 26th, 1949 at St. Annes Episcopal Church in Annapolis. They moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where James had been living prior to the war, and started their family. About 6 years later the Alexopulos family moved to Annapolis and initially lived with Dimitrios and Ioanna at 294 West Street. They subsequently moved to homes on Burnside Street in Eastport, Tyler Court in Greenacres and finally to Poplar Avenue in Homewood.
Upon her return to Annapolis Elizabeth began teaching in the Anne Arundel Public School system starting a career that spanned over 30 years. While she taught many K-12 grades her main focus was on primary grade reading at Eastport, Tyler Heights, Germantown and Rolling Knolls Elementary schools. After her retirement from the school system Elizabeth served over 4000 volunteer hours at the Anne Arundel Medical Center, worked in Jim’s Corner, continued volunteering at many church events and was an avid Mall Walker. In 2007 she fullfilled her lifelong dream of establishing the Agia Anna Philoptochos Scholarship Fund for college-bound high school seniors from the church. James passed away on June 23rd, 2007 and Elizabeth passed away on August 8, 2018 at age 90.
Helen Leanos graduated from Annapolis High School and continued on to graduate from the Fleet Business School. She aspired to become an airline hostess but had to wait until she was 21 to meet the airline minimum age. While working in Jim’s Corner the Director of Athletics at the US Naval Academy came in for a meal and struck up a conversation with Helen. He encouraged her to apply for a job in his department. She followed his advice and got a job as a secretary in the public relations group. During her tenure at the Academy she met many of the sports commentators and personnel involved with the Athletics Department. In 1952 she met a 1st Classman (senior) named Ned Snyder who was on the Navy football team. Ned was stationed at the Academy after graduation and in 1953 married Helen.
Over the course of the next two decades Helen followed Ned as his career evolved through many duty stations. The list began in Pensacola and continued to Corpus Cristi (Florida), Kingsville (Texas), Norfolk (Virginia), Annapolis, back to Norfolk, Quonsett Point (Rhode Island c1963), another tour in Norfolk, back to Quonsett Point, and finally to Houston, Texas. In 1975 she moved back to Annapolis and moved in with her sister Elizabeth for about 6 months until an apartment became available on Silverwood Circle in Fairwinds. Helen worked with Monica Stevens who purchased the Doris Hefler dress shop on Riva Road then began a 27 year career with the Anne Arundel Board of Education eventually becoming head of communications. She was responsible for the installation and maintenance of all communication devices in county schools. In retirement Helen did volunteer work Anne Arundel Medical Center, accumulating several thousand hours in the gift shop and the front desk. She continues to live in Annapolis and regularly attend church.
Shortly after the war ended Virginia Leanos began working as a nurse’s aide while continuing to work in Jim’s Corner. One day while she was on duty a young customer came in to the restaurant to eat. His name was Clayton “Homer” Elliott and was in the Navy working at the North Severn Naval Station. He and Virginia were instantly attracted to one another and started dating. Not long thereafter they got married in St. Annes Church. They moved to Norfolk, Virginia around 1947 where Clayton worked on a variety of Navy repair boats and Virginia became very active in the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral. She began teaching Sunday school there and was soon asked to take a position as the church’s secretary. Virginia worked for over 30 years in the church office and like her sisters did a great deal of volunteer work for her church. Virginia passed away on May 8th, 2021 not long after celebrating her 100th birthday.
Remarks by the Author
This article has been focused on the first and second generations of Leanos family members. Much of the early ancestral information was extracted from genealogical diagrams compiled by Ioanis A. Leanos4 and Pauline Griffiths in 1969. Ioanis also wrote a small pamphlet that described life in communities that were ancestral homes of Dimitrios and Ioanna and an extensive genealogical record of the Leanos clan. Other research tools included Ancestry.comtm, Newspapers.comtm, the Anne Arundel Public Library on-line system, and family archives.
The seven siblings have produced third, fourth and fifth generations of family members, which hopefully will be the subject of future publications.
Ioanna and Dimitrios were amongst the earliest Greek immigrants to settle in Annapolis and form the core of the Greek community. Together with other early Greek immigrants they blended their rich Greek culture into the melting pot of America resulting in the creation of many businesses and providing many services to their fellow Annapolitans. Their hard work, perseverance and faith over the course of the last century helped build the beautiful SS. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Annapolis and the community which worships in it.
- Gustave Alexopulos is listed as a joint proprietor with Dimitrios of the Yonkers Hat Cleaning and Shoe Shine Parlor in 1916. As of the time of this writing, the relationship between Gustave and Alexander Alexopulos is unclear. The Alexopulos family’s ancestral home was also in Koniska, Greece.
- It was not unusual for immigrants from non-English speaking countries to adopt simplified names. In various documents Dimitrios was referred to as James and Jim. His brother Vasilios was also known as William and Bill. Ioanna was known as Ioana and Anna even though her given Greek name was Giannoula. The spelling of Greek surnames is often variable, as illustrated by Katsarelis and Katsereles, and Lianos, Leanos and Leonas.
- Elizabeth and James rented out Jim’s Corner for less than a year in an attempt to retire from the business. The renter failed to make the business profitable and terminated the lease. Elizabeth and James exited from retirement, refreshed the interior and reopened the business.
- The genealogical location of Col. Ioanis A. Leanos within the Leanos tree is not clear. He wrote several letters to Dimitrios and Pauline in the early 1970’s, one of which is written on his personal letterhead. The letters were hand-written in Greek script and will need to be translated to understand the context of the discussions that they had during the time that they were compiling the family tree.
References utilized for the creation of this document include US Federal Census records, Ellis Island Immigration records, and US City Directories. US City Directories for a given year include information collected and compiled primarily from the previous year, adding a potential one year ambiguity to events referenced to them. Federal Census and Naturalization records were found to often contain conflicting and erroneous entries, which is not surprising considering the lack of English fluency by many immigrants. A clear example of this was found in the Naturalization Declaration of Apostoli Kostacopulos, a probable first cousin of Dimitrios dated May 3rd, 1920. The document states that Apostoli immigrated to America on the 26th of April, 1920 aboard the RMS Carpathia, a vessel made famous in 1912 when she rescued survivors from the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Unfortunately, Carpathia was sunk by the German submarine U-55 off the coast of Ireland on July 17th, 1918, almost two years before the document’s stated arrival date.
Helen Leanos Snyder Interview:
On Sunday, January 17th 2021, Helen Leanos Snyder sat for a Zoom interview with Diana Liakos and Allen Alexopulos that covered her early recollections of life in Annapolis. At the time of this publication, Helen was the last surviving child of Dimitrios and Ioanna Leanos. The complete unedited interview runs just under 48 minutes and can be viewed online at https://youtu.be/zAqgK-mGnSY.
Brief edited clips referencing specific topics can also be viewed online using the following link list:
- Earliest memories of Annapolis. https://youtu.be/EiyrQPDDUVk
- Life after the January 2nd 1936 Jim’s Corner Fire. https://youtu.be/xW4b1wZH1VY
- Working at Jim’s Corner. https://youtu.be/KGPFgGhIvj4
- Backup at Jim’s Corner. https://youtu.be/Kq0n_0RgAzI
- Greek Language and schools. https://youtu.be/Aqf1GnJBI_g
- Non-Greek friends. https://youtu.be/HcklMrPwSf4
- Shopping and food in Annapolis. https://youtu.be/r7G8oniJVy0
- Did your family have a car? https://youtu.be/vFaSgJYUZEs
- Where did your parents come from and meet? https://youtu.be/C16TQRepBsY
- How they ended up in Annapolis and siblings? https://youtu.be/n6gaoFc20kc
- Church and the Greek Church. https://youtu.be/RrL9mmy3SuQ
- Family involvement in Church activities. https://youtu.be/qC87YWbGn8g
- Life as a military bride. https://youtu.be/RfLgn6n7sPM
- Education and jobs. https://youtu.be/GkesjB3nlaQ
- Volunteer work. https://youtu.be/0qyhXrF7TS8