David Lauderdale

Martha Crapse helped make Bluffton what it is today

When Martha Crapse was named grand marshal of the Bluffton Christmas Parade in 1985, she climbed into the attic and came down with a cherry-red hat.

It matched her red corsage as she waved from a snow-white 1970 Cadillac convertible with Don Guscio in white gloves at the wheel.

"I haven't been so excited since I was queen of the Union Camp Paper Festival in 1939," she said.

It was hats that brought Crapse to Bluffton, where she was a business and civic leader until her death Friday at age 89.

She'd been modeling hats for the Carolina Hat Shop on Broughton Street in Savannah when she moved to Bluffton and opened a hat shop in 1946.

It wasn't long before women quit wearing hats, and when Crapse put someone who wanted a home in touch with a neighbor who wanted to sell, she became one of the area's pioneer real estate agents. Martha Crapse Realty on the outskirts of old town is now in the hands of her granddaughter.

Crapse, whose husband was a welder and shop foreman, sold real estate on Hilton Head Island before there was a bridge. But soon it was Bluffton where she poured her heart and soul. She sold a lot of homes and invested in a lot of rental property.

Her daughter, Carolyn Smith, said, "When I turned 14, she put me in business. She bought me my first piece of property and made me pay her back. I did the same thing for my daughter when she was 14."

Crapse loved to give tours of Bluffton, particularly for new members of the Bluffton United Methodist Church, where she sang in the choir. A group of friends called "Martha's Mob" used to visit sites of historical interest statewide and in Georgia.

She was personally a collector of historic proportions. She kept piles of documents and clippings pertaining to Bluffton, especially her church and the All Joy neighborhood, where she lived on Oyster Street.

Crapse tried to protect and improve All Joy. She organized a zany Christmas tour of its decorated front doors. She and her brother bought a house facing the All Joy boat landing. When it burned, they rebuilt the two-story house as a one-story house and called it "Tall Chimney." Crapse would escape to Tall Chimney for the summer, all of an eighth of a mile from Oyster Street. She loved to entertain on the porch in the breezes off the May River. She was famous for her fried cornbread in little discs so thin and crispy some called them "Lacy Bread."

Right after Christmas, Crapse bought a nice jacket on sale. She cheerily told shop owner Nancy Golson that an occasion would come along where she would need it. She was buried in the jacket Monday, remembered fondly as a rare piece of the fabric that made Bluffton Bluffton.