The Greek-American Couple Who Made US History

Nick and Mary Mathews

Nick and Mary Mathews, natives of Greece who emigrated to the United States and prospered, are symbols of the bond between Greece and the U.S. over the years.

They were Greek and American patriots who donated their hard-earned wealth to the Yorktown Victory Center, and later, the American Revolution Museum at the historic Virginia site.

Yorktown is most famous as the site of the siege and subsequent surrender of General Charles Cornwallis to General George Washington and the French fleet during the American Revolutionary War on Oct. 19, 1781. Although the war would last for another year, this British defeat at Yorktown effectively ended the war.

A native of the isle of Karpathos, Nick Mathews (originally Nicholas Matheos) immigrated to New York in 1920 and spent his first years after arrival working as a coal miner and chef before settling in the sleepy town of Yorktown in 1944.

“I want to be American citizen,” he told an interviewer later, “so what better place to live than here where independence was won?”

With borrowed money, he and his wife, the former Maria Pappamihalopoulou of Sparta, opened a lunch counter across from a ferry landing on the York River.

As nearby Williamsburg blossomed in the postwar years, the lunch counter evolved into Nick’s Famous Seafood Pavilion.

Nick’s Seafood Pavilion in the glory days. It was severely damaged in 2003 during Hurricane Isabel and was subsequently demolished

The restaurant became a Yorktown landmark that earned national renown. Liz Taylor, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Randy Travis were among the celebrities who traveled to Yorktown to dine at Nick’s.

A marker at the spot where the famous Nick’s Seafood Pavilion stood

In 1972, Nick and Mary donated 23 acres of prime real estate overlooking the York River for what would become the Yorktown Victory Center, and later, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown.

In addition they donated $180,000 for a victory monument on the Yorktown waterfront.

Upon her death, Mary bequeathed nearly their entire estate to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation, so that others would know “…the blessings of freedom and democracy that commenced in my native Greece and later here in [Yorktown]…”

In 1983, Mary was chosen to sponsor the USS Yorktown (CG48), becoming the first immigrant to christen a U.S. Navy ship. Nick passed away, unexpectedly, on the way to the christening ceremony. Mary died in September 1998.

Today at the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, visitors and students from across the country benefit from Nick and Mary Mathews’ patriotism and philanthropy.

American Revolution Museum at Yorktown

US Ambassador to Greece, Geoffrey Pyatt, praised their contribution during a ceremony to mark the Fourth of July Independence Day in Athens.

“Nick and Mary Mathews are great examples of both Greek resilience and of how Greece and America have stood together over the years, joined by our common experiences and values,” he said.