T.J. Shelton is blind, but his mind’s eye sees 20/20. In his Athens Avenue home on a rainy fall evening, the elderly black man rose from his recliner and groped his way through the Addieville of his memory: a bustling 1950s brothel.
Today Addieville, located in the Boulevard Historic District, is a village of 13 closely set, brightly colored houses. Purple, red, and yellow among them, most are less than 1000 square feet and each is valued at over $100,000. Owned and occupied by affluent young professionals, these houses were originally part of a turn-of-the-century mill community, first appearing on the Sanborn fire insurance map in 1918, and their residents working-class blacks.
Shelton was the caretaker of Addieville in the 1970s. He has lived three blocks away for more than 50 years in the same home where his late wife was born in 1919. Though he is a little foggy about his own age and exactly when Addieville was a brothel, city directories and property deeds confirm the names in his colorful stories.
Though he can no longer see the tiny houses, Shelton remembers exactly how they cluster. “Coming out the back of the big house, the little house is right here to my right.” Shelton pantomimes in his living room, referring to the brick house at 360 Barber Street and a bright orange 290-square-foot cottage just steps from its back door.
“The apartment behind the big house was a rooming house, know what I mean? That was where they do business. The little house was a transit house. Most of all of them were sport houses. Put it like that. Where you do business. Sex,” Shelton said. Legends like this sharpened the compound’s appeal for many of the current residents.
Janet Geddis, owner of the purple house, remembers titillated friends’ reactions when she first considered buying in Addieville. “You’re going to live in one of the old prostitute’s houses?” asked one amazed friend. Someone else told Geddis that some houses had two front doors so johns could enter on one side and exit the other unseen. In fact, these double shotguns are duplexes and each side has its own door.
Andrea Dyson, owner of a green house, was stopped in her tracks by her first glimpse of Addieville. “I immediately put on the brakes. What’s that? There was something magical about it.” Dyson heard several explanations for the name: Addie was the madam, Addie was the madam’s daughter, or she was the daughter of wealthy parents who owned the brick house and built the little orange cottage for her.
Athens accountant Tom Scott bought the property in 1996, when it was rundown and occupied by vagrants, from a woman named Addie. She had owned the property for only four years and has no documented connection with its fabled past. Scott restored the homes and converted the property into condominiums, christening it Addieville.
While some of the tales about this cluster of houses are probably truer than others, Shelton bears witness to the story at the center of them.
During the time of segregation, Addieville was part of the “colored” New Town neighborhood and considered entirely separate from the adjacent, all-white Boulevard neighborhood. A white big shot named Clifford Parks, notorious liquor wholesaler and pimp, allegedly ran a brothel out of Addieville with his lover, Bertha, a neighborhood black woman, as the madam.
Oral tradition says the madam lived in the brick house, but city directories suggest she lived across the street. Nightly through the 1950s, the little houses were raucous with working girls and their clients, among them judges and cops, their partying fueled by liquor that Shelton says Parks sold on the side.
Real estate agent Michael Littleton, who handled resale of the gentrified cottages in 2003, also heard colorful tales about their past. During Prohibition, he was told, the little orange house “was used to warehouse illegal liquor. Folks would pull their cars up, load up, and be gone.”
Shelton’s story goes that Parks eventually died in jail, and after Bertha died, the property ended up in the hands of her daughter and Parks’ illegitimate namesake, Clifford Brooks, a lifelong friend of Shelton’s wife, Caldonia. Because she now lived in Washington, D.C., Brooks left Caldonia and T.J. Shelton in charge of the cluster of little houses in the 1970s. The Sheltons rented to legitimate tenants, collected rents and maintained the property, and hoped to one day inherit the place. They had no idea it had already been willed to its future namesake, Addie Brinkley.
Festooned with folklore, Addieville is also firmly anchored in Georgia history. Six of its homes comprise the National Register of Historic Places’ Brightwell Shotgun Row. Two rows of three double shotgun houses set back-to-back, it is the only shotgun row of its kind in Clarke County, while the Rocksprings single row of shotgun houses is also on the National Register. Addieville’s 13 homes were built close together and so they remain.
Today, Geddis and Dyson say life in modern Addieville still has the flavor of a turn-of-the-century mill community. Never before has either lived in a place where neighbors so readily become close friends. Geddis has organized several neighborhood parties in the past.
Still, remnants of Addieville’s roguish past surface after dark. Jonathon Golshir, owner of a pink double shotgun, was one of several residents who mentioned a prostitute named Tammy who still works their street.