Emmett & Teddy McCracken
Author: Paul deVere | Photographer: Photography By Anne
Watching Bluffton Evolve for over 50 Years
The story begins with George Sewell Guilford, Emmet McCracken’s great grandfather. Family history suggests Guilford, from Portland, Maine, served in the Federal forces on Hilton Head Island during the Civil War. “Later he was a ships carpenter, going between Maine and Liverpool and married a girl from Liverpool. We reasoned that he was familiar with this part of the country by having served on Hilton Head. I think it says something about Bluffton in 1903. Forty years after the war they can elect a Maine Yankee as the mayor,” McCracken said with a laugh.
Guilford was Bluffton’s first mayor. Nine decades later, Emmet McCracken would be elected to the same office.
What it says about Bluffton, then and now, is that it has probably always been a bit unconventional. It also says the community has always been able to adapt with change, yet retain its pleasantly eccentric nature.
“I think, in downtown Bluffton, there were always many personalities; they’re pretty much steady in their ways. In many ways it hasn’t changed. But it’s changed in terms of new faces. I think the pace of life, the closeness and friendliness has remained the same,” McCracken said.
McCracken and his wife, Teddy, are seated in their enclosed porch in their Bluffton home, reminiscing. Emmet told of what Bluffton was like when he was growing up. Teddy, who grew up in a small rural community in the eastern part of North Carolina, recalled some of the family stories she had heard.
Emmet McCracken is Bluffton born and raised. To be more precise, as he puts it, “I was born in Savannah, but five days later I came back to Bluffton. My mother was born here.” His father, H.E. McCracken, after whom the middle school in Bluffton is named, moved to the little river town in 1928 from Hopkins, South Carolina, to teach vocational agriculture.
“My mother was a senior in high school at the time,” McCracken said. “My father was warned by a Mr. Jesse Peoples that if he ever married a Bluffton girl he would never leave. That’s what happened. He never left, McCracken said, the smile remaining.
H.E. McCracken became a school superintendent. “Beaufort used to have two different school districts. District 2 was Bluffton, Daufuskie and Hilton Head. That was generated, in part, by geography and transportation. That was before the Broad River Bridge (that links southern and northern Beaufort County).
Emmet recalled how it was, growing up in Bluffton. “The pace was very slow. My father, if he hadn’t been a teacher, would have been a farmer. He rented some land in Pritchardville, raised cattle, a few hogs, hay, grain, those types of things. When I was old enough to drive, that occupied my afternoons when I got out of school. Even then, a lot centered around the river in terms of recreation. You could go to Alljoy on the weekend, go swimming. The state fair was a big deal. Hilton Head was an unknown experience.”
“Tell about the FFA (Future Farmers of America) summer camp down by Alljoy, Teddy asked her husband. Both McCrackens laughed.
“They were boys from upstate, around Clemson, Pickens and Greenville. It was the first time many of them had ever seen salt water. They came down with their ‘farmer tans.’ You could pick them out 100 yards away. They’d be standing at Alljoy (Bluffton’s beach) and you could look over and see Spanish Wells. They would come down and ask, ‘What’s that way over yonder?’ and the boys from Bluffton would say, ‘That’s Portugal!’ I’ll never forget that,” Emmet said.
After high school, McCracken went to West Point, graduated in 1959, and began what would become a 30-year military career. “We calculated 20 moves in 30 years,” he recalled. Tours included Korea, Europe and Vietnam.
It was during his last year at the Academy that Teddy met Emmet. “I went to New York in 1958. I had a friend I’d gone to college with. She was dating a fellow who I had also known in college, but I didn’t know his roommate, Emmet. He told my friend, ‘I want Teddy to meet him.’ I wasn’t interested in a blind date, but I said okay. He was from South Carolina, so I thought at least we can talk the same language. We’d at least have something in common. It was very pleasant. We went to a German restaurant. He asked me if I’d like a light ‘beah’ or a dark ‘beah’ and I did not know what he was talking about. (That Lowcountry accent.) We talk a little differently in North Carolina,” Teddy laughed.
McCracken retired from the Army in 1989 with the rank of Colonel, and he and Teddy returned to the Lowcountry. At first, they helped Emmet’s mother out at what had become, and still is, a Bluffton icon: Stock Farm Antiques. Naomi McCracken and a few Bluffton friends started collecting and selling antiques out of a store in Bluffton in 1953. “It was called The Pine Shop. She was a real artist, really had an eye,” Teddy recalled.
Emmet said his mother had one rule about the items she sold at Stock Farm. “Never put anything into inventory that you wouldn’t want to wind up in your own home,” McCracken said, pausing. “Because if it doesn’t sell, that’s what happens to it.”
McCracken’s father and mother built a new home on the banks of the May River in 1960, and his mother moved her shop to the house’s second floor, renaming it Stock Farm Antiques. “Somewhere in the early deeds to this property, they ran across the name Stock Farm,” McCracken said. The store remained on the second floor until 1995. It is now located on May River Road in Bluffton.
Within a year of his retirement from the Army, McCracken began following in his great grandfather’s footsteps. “I was listening to people. They didn’t want to run (for office) and they were trying to convince me to run. There was a lot going on, and the antique business didn’t consume the time for all three of us. I guess I had a lot of time on my hands and the county was beginning to grow. I thought I had something to offer in terms of experience. I ran the first time in November of 1990 and got defeated. That was a good start—good for the soul. Then I ran again in ’92, started with the (county) council in January 1993, and was there for six years, the last two as chairman.
“Then, about that time, Bluffton was just beginning its talk of annexation and beginning its comprehensive plan. We’d already gone through the comprehensive plan in Beaufort County. I became interested in doing something closer to home. So I ran for mayor of Bluffton.” He has served on town council, was chairman of the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce, and chaired the comprehensive Southern Beaufort County Plan, a cooperative effort by the county, Bluffton and Hilton Head Island to guide the growth “South of the Broad.”
McCracken has now entered what might be called his third career. He has become a developer. He and his son Hank, who is in the insurance business in Bluffton, are creating a residential and mixed use development on 18 acres of the family homestead called, of course, Stock Farm. It is designed like a traditional neighborhood, Bluffton-style.
While the development makes McCracken another agent of change for Bluffton, he has great faith in his hometown. “I like to think that in the original square mile (Old Town Bluffton), although there are physical changes, the feel is pretty much the same. You see new faces and more traffic. But I sense, talking to people coming into the shop, one of the advantages of growth is their willingness to become a part of the community.”
Even if they are from Maine, he might add.