For nearly a century, native islander Ethel Rivers has watched as her birthplace evolved from a rural, isolated coastal community of farmers, fishermen and artisans to a budding resort town.
Rivers talks of learning the alphabet in a one-room schoolhouse with dusty, gray walls next to her home on Dillon Road where Gullah children -- two or three generations removed from slavery -- were taught grades one through five from 1937 to 1954.
She talks of her father -- Jacob Green, a carpenter -- and the care he took in tending to his big garden and the pride he had in what he produced. She talks of him riding his horse to the Jenkins Island dock to get the mail and distribute it to residents. She talks of her mother cooking for students of the Cherry Hill School, then turning over the duty to her.
Rivers is among a treasured few on the island who remember simpler times on Hilton Head -- before ferry service began bringing cars and people to the island in 1953. Before a bridge was built in 1956 connecting the island to the mainland. Before Charles E. Fraser bought out his father's interest in the Hilton Head Co. and began charting a new destiny for the island -- one that would allow tens of thousands of new residents to discover the paradise Capt. William Hilton sighted 350 years ago, brining their own prosperity to the Carolina Sea Islands.
And in all that time, "Hilton Head has remained a lovely place. That's why I'm still here," she said Saturday during a celebration of the island's history.
Thousands flocked to Coligny Beach to celebrate the sighting of the island by its namesake and the 30th anniversary of the town's incorporation.
Mayor Drew Laughlin and organizers honored Rivers, less than two weeks shy of her 95th birthday, as Hilton Head's second-longest living resident. She is four years shy of Helen Sumpter, who turns 99 on Oct. 16 and was also recognized Saturday.
Jerrold Hilton, a descendant of the English explorer, fired the Heritage cannon to kick off the community party.
"While the Town of Hilton Head Island's accomplishments over the past 30 years are numerous, its legacy and reputation as one of the most progressive planned towns in the county can be attributed to its greatest accomplishment, namely, acquiring more than 1,203 acres of land for open space for the creation of active and passive parks, beach access and for historical and cultural purposes," said Beaufort County's preeminent historian, Larry Rowland of St. Helena Island.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.