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Tour de force: Nell Cribb shares Georgetown’s stories

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

A couple from the Upstate dropped by Nell Cribb’s house on Front Street in Georgetown this week looking for the burial site of an ancestor imprisoned during the Revolutionary War.

As a tour guide, Cribb knows a lot of Georgetown history but sent the couple to the library for a list of names recorded from tombstones by the Historical Society. She had been the typist for the book “Tombstone Inscriptions of Georgetown County.”

For the visitors from Upstate, Cribb’s house seemed a logical place to start searching for an ancestor. She welcomed them inside what has become known as the “Coca-Cola House” for her extensive collection of memorabilia and made them feel right at home. She has spent all of her 85 years in Georgetown and knows it warts and all. For her dedication to the community, Cribb was presented the state’s highest award for community service, the Order of the Silver Crescent, during a surprise gathering Saturday at the Georgetown County Museum.

Cribb’s pastor at First Baptist Church, Ted Sherrill, lured her to the museum on the pretense of speaking to a tour group. With scores of friends gathered inside, someone realized they had not left a parking space for the honored guest and she might be circling the block. Once she was parked and over the initial shock, Cribb thanked the Lord for giving her the strength to share Georgetown’s story. Mayor Jack Scoville said there’s no need to name a Miss Georgetown because it has Miss Nell.

As school secretary, Cribb watched three decades of graduates pass through Winyah High before retiring in 1988. Her next job, Cribb decided, would be outdoors. She approached Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce president Bill Oberst about starting a walking tour through Georgetown’s historic district. She had been a student of history since childhood. “When friends were going to movies, Daddy was taking us around to see something,” she said. “I realize the value of it today.”

Cribb said Oberst gave her some pointers, and she began researching the city’s history. She wrote out her points on note cards and walked the route to get her timing down. Her biggest surprise has been the public’s interest in history. “I thought it might be a dud when I started,” she said, “but it’s been steady business from the beginning.”

Oberst said Cribb has been successful because she loves people. He remembered overhearing her during a ghost tour — he was hiding in a tree to scare the participants. “That’s her gift,” Oberst said. “She engages people, and people like her. She’s a wonderful friend, and I’ve never known a better booster for Georgetown County. I hope the younger generation coming up now will take as much interest in Georgetown history. It’s like a little microcosm of the South. I’m so happy she won this award.”

Historic accuracy has been Cribb’s goal since the beginning. “You hear all kinds of things,” she said. “I’m careful to say this has been handed down.” If Cribb didn’t know the answer to a question, she would ask around. She wondered where the bricks for Bethel AME Church on Broad Street were made. An older gentleman told her that Atlantic Coast Lumber allowed the women of the church to take as many bricks as they could carry in their aprons after working hours. She tells the story standing in front of the church with the caveat: “You don’t find this written in a book.” The story has some ring of truth because Atlantic Coast Lumber allowed men to take leftover slabs of wood to build houses. The northeastern side of town near the Waccamaw River was known as “Slabtown.”

There are other nuggets that only a long-time resident would know. Cribb led a group of Esso Oil retirees on a tour of Georgetown, and one wanted to see the Kerosene House. She knew the building at Front and Meeting streets had been a store that sold kerosene. It also happened to be next door to her own house.

She has lived there since 1970, about the time she started collecting Coca-Cola memorabilia. She said she didn’t set out to become a collector, but every room is museum quality and divided into subjects: timepieces, Christmas, the Coca-Cola polar bears and antiques like soda parlor glasses with markings for the syrup and the carbonated water. Among her prized possessions is a centennial medallion presented her by Coca-Cola CEO Roberto Goizueta and a token for World War I soldiers to get a free drink. Nowadays, people leave Coca-Cola things on her porch, knowing they will have a good home. “It’s taken on a life of its own,” she said. As for her personal consumption of the soft drink, Cribb has had to cut back from four a day to one.


Nell Cribb’s accomplishments:

• Chaired the Georgetown Auditorium Preservation Society’s historical committee’s effort to have Winyah School named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

• Gathered information on the history of Sampit United Methodist Church for a state Department of Archives historical marker. She was presented an engraved silver tray for compiling the history of the church for its 150th anniversary. At present, Cribb is working with the congregation at Oak Grove United Methodist Church to obtain a marker commemorating its 100th anniversary.

• Co-authored with six others “A Walk Down Front Street,” the history of the downtown buildings in Georgetown. She researched the 700 block of Front Street during the period from 1900 to 2000. A project of the Georgetown County Historical Society, the 10-year endeavor received an Award of Merit from the Confederation of South Carolina Local Historical Societies. The 303-page book was published in 2011.

• Received in 1997 the Indigo Award, the highest award given by the city of Georgetown for outstanding contributions and service to her fellow citizens. In 1990, she received the Martha Dominick Award presented by the state Business and Professional Women for having the outstanding club in the state. In 1992, she was one of 13 women named by Gov. Carroll Campbell to the South Carolina Commission on Women. In 1991, she received the Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce President’s Award for outstanding support of community activities, and in 2011, she was presented the Tourism Award for showcasing Georgetown County. Also in 1991, she received the Outstanding Citizens Award presented by the Woodmen of the World. She also received the Sons of Confederate Veteran’s Woman of Appreciation Award for her interest in Confederate history. At a reunion of the Winyah High School Class of 1947, Cribb was presented the Humanitarian Award by her classmates for service to mankind.

• Cribb has two daughters, Cammie Steele of West Columbia and Vickie Tompkins of Georgetown; five grandsons, three great-granddaughters and a great-grandson due in September.

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