Annapolis Greek Heritage

Preserving the Legacy of Greek-Americans in the Annapolis Area

Samaras: Theodore and Katherine

Theodore and Katherine (Economou) Samaras

written by their grandchildren Joanne Brew, Maria Liakos, and Ted Siomporas, based on oral history provided to them by their parents and by Aunt Anna Samaras

By the Turn of the 19th→ 20th Century, Annapolis witnessed a surge of Greek immigration. Many of these Greek immigrants were Vlachi mountain people – from the Aspropotamos valley in Greece’s Pindus mountain range, living a pastoral lifestyle. The Vlachi were descendants of the Aromanian sect from Transylvania, who migrated down the Balkans into Greece many centuries ago, and who still spoke the Aromanian dialect (a.k.a. “Vlachiko”). Within the first two decades of the 20th Century, Vlachi immigrants dominated the food service business in what is now called the Annapolis Historic District.

The largest of the Vlachi Greek immigrant families, arriving in the first and second decades of the 20th Century, were the Samaras brothers: Spiro (Σωίρως), Theodore (Θεόδωρος), George (Γεώργιος), and Peter (Πέτρος). The Samaras brothers, like many other Vlachi who emigrated to Annapolis, came from the picturesque, isolated mountain village of Ayia Paraskevi (Greek: Αγία Παρασκευή, Aromanian: Giúrgea or “Tsiorgia”).

Many of their descendants still live in the Annapolis area as members of the Annapolis Greek-American community, and have performed significant roles in Annapolis’ commerce.

Theodore was one of six children of parents Nicholas (Νικόλαος) (1849-1912) and Agoritsa (Αγορίτσα)(1833-1888) Samaras, from the village of Ayia Paraskevi and the town of Trikala. Because the Pindus mountain winters were brutal, the pastoral Vlachi mountain people came down to the Plains of Thessaly each winter. Theodore was born in Trikala on January 2, 1887.

Theodore Samaras immigrated to the US (ship and port unknown) in 1906, joining brothers Spiros and Petros in Annapolis, where Theodore was employed in the Maryland Restaurant (family owned and operated at 168 Main Street) as a cook/waiter. Subsequently, Theodore’s other immigrating family members arrived, joining the very crowded living quarters in apartment(s) above 167 Main Street, at the foot of Conduit Street (which subsequently became the Ivy Shop and later Leader’s dress shop). The Maryland Restaurant was located just across Main Street. The single men of the Samaras family toiled at the Maryland restaurant through the first two decades of the 20th Century.

Annapolis City Directory

The June 18, 1920 arrival of the S.S. Themisticles to Ellis Island, NJ, after a 21 day ocean crossing from Piraeus, brought about a significant change to Theodore Samaras. On board was his “mail order bride”, sight unseen: Katherine (Αικατερίνη) Economou. It is unknown who arranged the marriage – Katherine and Theodore had never met, having lived on different continents.

S.S. Themisticles

Katherine was born on January 17, 1897 in Trikala. She had limited education, splitting her school year between Trikala and the pastoral village, yet she was bi-lingual (Greek + Aromanian/Vlachiko) mountain girl. Prior to coming to the US, she had never gone past the short mountain corridor between Trikala and the mountain village of Ayia Paraskevi a.k.a. Tsourtgia. She could trace her roots back to her 17th Century mountain village ancestors: Mother Panayiota (Παναγιοτα), Grandmother Maria (Μαριa), Grandfather Konoslansinon (Κονοσλάνσινον ), Great Grandmother Katherine (Αικατερίνη), and Great Grandfather Thanasi (Θανάση).

Also arriving on the Themisticles were Theodore’s brother George Samaras, his second wife Daphne and children Agoritsa, Constantino, and baby Nicholas.

A month later, Theodore and Katherine were married in Annapolis on July 11, 1920 and immediately thereafter drove to Atlantic City, New Jersey for their honeymoon.

Wedding invitation in Greek alphabet

Theo & Katherine honeymoon photo Atlantic City)

Katherine’s first month in America was marred by two chilling incidents, a shocking intro to the US for an innocent young mountain Vlachi girl, which she recounted to her grandson Theodore Siomporas, five decades later:

about the drive to her Atlantic City Honeymoon in July 1920: “The road was blocked by the cars destroyed in an accident. Many people were killed. Lots of blood”

regarding the July 2, 1920 Peter Conits drowning: “he waded out too far, to the dropoff in the Severn River. He just disappeared.”

Peter Conitz drowning article

Returning to Annapolis, Theodore and Katherine re-joined the extended Samaras family at 167 Main Street, where they shared the tight Samaras families’ living quarters. Three babies were born in the apartment(s). Mothers Katherine and Daphne jointly cared for the integrated family. From Katherine Samaras: Nicholas T. and Evangeline; and from Daphne Samaras: Chris Samaras (all three born at 167 Main Street ) and Nicholas George Samaras (infant immigrant via the S.S. Themisticles). Coupled with the two small children from brother George’s first marriage (Constantino and Agora) who immigrated via the S.S. Themisticles, the combined Samaras household was composed of six adults (counting brother Spiros and nephew Chris) and six children, all crowded into the tight quarters above the 167 Main Street business (later known as the Ivy Shop and the Leader dress shop).

Many times, Great Aunt Daphne Samaras conveyed the story to Ted and Linda Siomporas of how, in the crowded apartment over at 167 Main Street, she helped with maternal care, simultaneously feeding her baby Chris Samaras and Katherine’s baby Evangeline Siomporas.

During the “Roaring 20’s”, while the Samaras family was expanding, the Samaras men advanced their business holdings in downtown Annapolis by getting participating in the management and operations of the following additional businesses:

  • 167 Main Street 1917 – 1925 (rented by Spiros Samaras 1917-1920, purchased and run by Theodore as cigar and magazine shop 1920 – 1925)
  • The Annapolis Restaurant, 224 Main Street (partnership with Steve Foundas) see 1924 menu:

The Annapolis Restaurant menu

  • 65 Maryland Avenue
    • purchased in 1923 by Spiro, Theodore, and George Samaras
    • sold 1928 to Gregory and Artemisia Characklis – later called the G&J Restaurant
  • Blue Restaurant – 20 West Street
  • Major stockholders of the Palace Theatre from 1924 to 1935 – a stage production venue in Manchester, New Hampshire, built in 1914, and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places

Late in the 1920’s, brother Spiro fulfilled the dream of most Greek immigrants’: returning to Greece with the Samaras “fortune” earned in America. Per Evangeline Siomporas, the other brothers considered joining him; however, this plan backfired due to national and world events. Greece, caught up in Balkan turmoil, conflict with Turkey, and ethnic cleansing, froze the removal of currency outside of the country. As a result, the Samaras brothers’ wealth acquired via Annapolis business operations was no longer available.

With their Annapolis businesses liquidated, Theodore, and George Samaras left for greener pastures. Their first move was to Staunton, Virginia, for three months, followed by moving to Eustis Florida for four years to operate a restaurant (name unknown). At Eustis, Katherine Samaras gave birth to Anna (a.k.a. Annette) on January 11, 1926. After four years of restaurant operations in Eustis, and soon after the Wall Street Crash, the Samaras brothers gave up on Eustis in 1930.

Theodore, Katherine, and family moved to Jersey City in 1930 for one year. In Jersey City, 9 year old Nicholas T. Samaras developed diphtheria, which necessitated pulling him out of school for a year. Toddler Anna developed both mumps and German measles.

In 1931, as the Great Depression worsened, the Theodore Samaras family moved again – this time to the Druid Park area of Baltimore City, for 6 months.

Returning to Annapolis, the Theodore Samaras family wound up in slum housing (at that time, before downtown Annapolis’ Renaissance to become the “Annapolis Historic District”). Moving to row houses on Cornhill Street (per Evangeline Siomporas), and Dean Street (Hart house @ $26/month – per Anna Samaras), Theodore Samaras opened the Spotless Restaurant at 11 West Street, with financing assistance from Annapolis Postmaster Mr. Carlson. Despite its high profile location (the first building at the foot of West Street, adjacent to Church Circle) the Spotless Restaurant could not sustain profitably during the depth of the Great Depression, resulting in foreclosure and property seizure by Farmers Bank, which took the opportunity to expand its footprint past Church Circle onto West Street.

Personal tragedy struck the Samaras family in May 1936. Toddler George Samaras, born on August 5, 1934, contracted pneumonia. Misdiagnosed by an Annapolis physician, George was transferred to the University of Maryland Hospital in downtown Baltimore, where it was determined that George had contracted pneumonia by inhaling a peanut. George died on May 18, 1936.

Theodore Samaras + two sons

The late 1930s saw the Theodore Samaras family’s fortunes improve.

After these tragedies, the family was uprooted once more, this time to quarters in the Annapolis 4th Ward slum, above their last restaurant venture: the Park Lunch diner. Despite the shock and grief of losing toddler George, the family rejoiced at the birth of its youngest child, Georgia on May 16, 1937. Now with teenagers who would help operate the Diner, the Samaras family was able to succeed despite the lingering Great Depression. Located across Calvert Street from the County Jail and a few hundred feet from the West Street business corridor, the Park Lunch fed many correctional employees and County Courthouse workers on Church Circle.

Even though Theodore could not drive (requiring an employee to chauffeur the family around town and on day trips to the mountains and beaches), the family also had its own large auto (Nick on right and Anna on left, car parked by Park Lunch Cafe):

Calvert Street 1938

Summertime day trips to nearby Chesapeake Bay beaches were frequent, especially to the Greek-owned beach at nearby Oak Grove in Edgewater.

Oak Grove Beach 1939

By the early 1940s, family wealth had grown sufficiently to be able to move out of slum quarters and into a large new house in the Germantown suburbs, at 9 McKendree Avenue, which had been the western edge of the city of Annapolis. The new McKendree Avenue house was spacious, when compared to the cramped quarters of 167 Main Street and the apartment above the Park Lunch. It was part of a small Greek-American cluster, with the Bill Leanos and Agapitas families houses on a nearby street but adjacent via fences in their back yards.

Despite the set-backs of the family wealth trapped in Greece, the restaurant’s bank seizure, the roaming up and down the East Coast, and the loss of his young son, the Theodore Samaras family had finally achieved the American dream with a big suburban house, big car, and its two oldest children graduating from Annapolis High School. The Samaras house on McKendree Avenue became a socializing center for Annapolis Greek Americans, particularly sister-in-law Daphne Samaras and the children and grandchildren of his late brother George Samaras.

Family photo on front steps

Suddenly and tragically, Theodore Samaras was cut down on November 24, 1942 by a fatal heart attack at 55 years old, leaving behind a grieving widow and four young children. Theodore is buried at the Cedar Bluff Cemetery, just a few hundred feet from the location of the Park Lunch.

The young widow Katherine (Economou) Samaras, still raising youngsters Anna and Georgia, had limited skills in English and was without her son Nick, who was at sea in the US Navy at war. Nonetheless Katherine was supported emotionally and in business affairs by her adolescent late teen daughter Evangeline, her siblings Demetrios (Jim) Economou and Maria (Economou) Demas, who had also immigrated to Annapolis, and her lifelong friend and sister-in-law Daphne Samaras, her fellow Vlachi villager, shipmate on the S.S. Themisticles and roommate at 167 Main Street.

The Samaras matriarchs

Katherine sold off assets, including the Park Lunch diner and unimproved lots, but was able to maintain the large house at 9 McKendree Ave. Here she kept up her close ties with neighboring Agapitas and Leanos families, and participated in the Church fundraising and philanthropic activities of the Annapolis Philoptochos organization.

Bake sale newspaper clipping

After her daughter Evangeline married Tom Siomporas and moved further out-of-town to the edge of Parole, Katherine took in boarders in the upstairs bedrooms, whose rental income helped keep her financially afloat until Nick returned from military service.

Katherine remained involved in family businesses, including the original S&S Restaurant (which burned down in 1945). “S&S” stood for Siomporas & Samaras, a partnership between her son-in-law Tom Siomporas and son Nick.

Holding baby in front of old S&S

The original S&S was destroyed by a kitchen fire, to be replaced by the largest restaurant facility in the City of Annapolis, including a second story ten room hotel. After the new S&S reopened, Katherine and her growing children Anna and Georgia pitched in to make the business a success during the late 1940s – late 1950s.

S&S video clips of Katherine, Anna, Georgia, Nick, Sara (Youtube)

After son Nick Samaras opened the Annapolis Dairy Queen (a.k.a. Nick & Sara’s) in the late 1950s, Katherine was frequently in the back storage room and office, pitching in with food prep and watching her grandchildren.

Nick with arm around Katherine

After daughter Georgia married Midshipman Sotir (Jim) Liakos, Katherine and single daughter Anna sold the McKendree Avenue house to move further out of town in February1966, on the edge of Homewood and approaching Parole, at 1607 Virginia Avenue. They joined another Greek-American enclave, which ultimately included Dr. Steve Abramedis across the street, John Pantelides next door, Marge Pantelides on the parallel Margaret Avenue behind, and the families of George and Anna Manis and George and Georgia Nichols a few houses away along Southwood Avenue.

Katherine dancing at grandson Ted’s wedding (Youtube)

Late in her life, Katherine took an active role as a Yiayia, particularly with her youngest grandkids: Georgia’s four girls. She frequently accompanied the young ones on trips taken by Georgia or Anna, and the girls, along the East Coast and to Florida.

Our Yiayia was extremely popular with all of her grandchildren (eight girls and one boy). She frequently made them laugh with her witticisms, such as these:

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Katherine died at age 95 in 1992, and is buried in the St. Demetrios Cemetery in Parole.