Thursday, January 27, 2022

What's So Special About a Brick? HRNM Gets a "Piece" of Old Athens

By Matthew Headrick
Military Educator

Advertisement and order form for the remaining 473 bricks recovered from Effie’s after the building was demolished (HRNM)
The historic building from which this unassuming red clay brick came “served” the Athens, Georgia, community for many years. Effie's was a notorious brothel. For many years, Athens was home to two infamous places: Effie’s and the Naval Supply Corps School. While we don’t know how often Sailors from the school patronized Effie’s, clearly the proximity to such an establishment affected Navy personnel and the surrounding community. Why a museum collection would contain such an artifact speaks to the lasting influence such establishments can have on military communities. It is not just a brick from an old brothel that no longer exists; it is a piece of naval history and a symbol of military culture from a bygone era.
An official Effie’s brick, as advertised, with title and address (HRNM)
The story of how this unique and unconventional artifact came to be part of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum's collection begins with this letter dated April 17, 1987, written by Rear Admiral Daniel McKinnon, who at that time was Commander of the Naval Supply Systems Command and the Navy’s 36th Chief of Supply Corps. It is addressed to Mr. James L. LaBoon Jr, who was Chairman of the Board and President of Athens Federal Savings Bank. In the letter, RADM McKinnon expresses his gratitude for Mr. Laboon’s gift. One has a sense that this was not the first time Effie's had been brought to the Admiral’s attention. He knew about Effie's and understood its evocative nature.
A copy of the letter from Rear Admiral Daniel McKinnon to the President of Athens Federal Savings Bank, thanking him for the brick. (HRNM)
Like the city of Athens, GA, the Navy Supply Corps School (NSCS) has an interesting history. From 1954 to 2010, the NSCS was in Athens. But in 2011, after 56 years, the NSCS relocated to Newport, Rhode Island. The 58-acre Athens campus dated back to the 1860s, when it was a university high school for the University of Georgia. It was also a military institute for the Confederacy, but after the Civil War, it exchanged hands and titles numerous times before it became what many referred to as the “Cradle of the Corps.”[1] Since 2012, the site has operated as the University of Georgia Health and Sciences Campus.
Formation at Winnie Davis Hall, Navy Supply Corps School, Athens, Georgia (Navy Supply Corps School)
The March/April 1991 issue of The Supply Line recounts Admiral McKinnon’s final visit to Athens before he retired that year. Admiral McKinnon, who was described as being a “history buff,” had an obvious attachment to certain items, and he held on to a few tangibles until the end of his tour of duty.[2] The Supply Line article states that he “had been holding on to some treasures that he decided best belonged in the Supply Corps Museum.”[3] One of the items mentioned was “a reproduction of the first reimbursement check from the Saudi Arabian government to the United States to cover Operation Desert Shield/Storm” debts.[4] Another artifact the admiral donated to the Supply Corps Museum was a “200 year old 13 star American flag that once flew over Admiral Farragut’s flagship.”[5] This flag is now at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum and can be seen in the museum's annex at Naval Station Norfolk.

It is the brick that McKinnon donated that stands out most. Its accompanying description includes little detail about its origins: “A brick from the building that once stood at 175 Elm Street.”[6] Interestingly, the article makes no mention of the building’s significance or what purpose it served for the U.S. Navy and Athens community. All the article relates is that the structure, once known as Effie’s, is gone, and for more information, “ask one of the older set what Effie’s was all about.”[7]
Copy of The Supply Line, vol 7. No. 6, containing the article that discusses the brick and a photo of Admiral Daniel McKinnon presenting Farragut’s flag to the Navy Supply Corps Museum. (HRNM)
Most of the information that exists about Effie Matthews and her house of ill-repute is based on legend and hearsay rather than historical fact. Many locals referred to Effie's as Athens' red-light district. It is said that, at the peak of its operation, Effie’s consisted of three buildings. All three were known as Effie's, named after the original madam of the brothel. The establishment thrived for nearly fifty years before closing its doors in 1974. In 1977, the fire department burned the buildings during a training exercise. Bricks from Effie’s were sold to the public, complete with the label, “A Piece of Old Athens.” Not much is known about Effie Matthews. According to her tombstone, she was born in 1888 and died in 1966. Apparently, no one ever saw her, yet she often found herself in conflict with the local community.

The artifact is the evidence. This brick tells us that there was a building known as Effie’s at 175 Elm Street in Athens. We also know that for many years NSCS was an integral part of the Athens community. So, what is the connection between the U.S. Navy and the brothel, other than their shared location in the city of Athens, Georgia? A note, found in the hatband of an officer’s cover, formerly in the Supply Corps Museum collection, suggests that there was some relationship between Effie’s and the supply school. The note, written by someone named Jess, reads: “Hi Comd, When are you coming up to see us. Nice boys you have here.” The note was neatly folded and successfully hidden away in the inner hatband of the cover. There was no mention of this note in previous museum cataloging. The connection between this note and Effie’s is vague. However, this mysterious note, combined with local tales and legends, strongly suggests that Sailors and students from the supply school frequented Effie’s.
The actual note, written by “Jess.” It was found inside the hatband of an officer’s cover. (HRNM)
The Hampton Roads Naval Museum is proud to have this artifact in our collection. It provides a look into the lives and activities of Sailors while not at sea. It would be absurd to believe that Sailors from NSCS didn’t go to Effie’s. Brothels have always been a part of military culture. Effie’s brick preserves that truth and provides a means to examine an often overlooked aspect of naval history. May the memory of Effie's continue.

[1] Candreva, LT. “RADM McKinnon Visits Cradle of the Corps,” The Supply Line 7, no. 6 (1991): page 1.
[2] Candreva, LT. The Supply Line. page 1.
[3] Candreva, LT. The Supply Line. page 1.
[4] Candreva, LT. The Supply Line. page 1.
[5] Candreva, LT. The Supply Line. Page 1.
[6] Candreva, LT. The Supply Line. page 1.
[7] Candreva, LT. The Supply Line. page 1.

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