For the Love of Georgetown: Nat Kaminski & Frankie Hills

By Leslie Moore

For the Love of Georgetown: Nat Kaminski & Frankie Hills

Walking into The Kaminski House Museum feels like stepping back in time – the antebellum home has been preserved exactly as it was when Julia Kaminski donated it to her beloved City of Georgetown in 1972, giving residents and visitors a priceless gift, and one that thousands continue to enjoy every year. The Kaminski House Museum is much more than a museum; it is a gathering place for the town to enjoy concerts and special events, as well as an exquisite riverfront site for the many weddings held on the lawn each year.

The rich history of Georgetown has been entwined with the Kaminski family since well before the Civil War. A member of the Kaminski family, Nathan “Nat” Kaminski, shared some of the fascinating history of this family the day we visited. Nat, a retired attorney, and his wife Marcia, also retired from a career in nursing, moved back to Georgetown after many years in Columbia, South Carolina, and have become involved with the Friends of the Kaminski House, the non-profit arm of the museum. Marcia serves on the Board of Directors and Nat donates his time and legal expertise as the non-profit’s attorney.

For the Love of Georgetown: Nat Kaminski & Frankie Hills

“My great-grandfather, Hyman Kaminski, emigrated from Prussia in 1855,” began Nat. “One of thirteen children, he was sent to the United States at only 15 because he was thought to have the best chance of succeeding.” A Jewish family in Charleston took in young Hyman, and after working for merchants in Georgetown and Conway, Civil War broke out. “After the Civil War, my great-grandfather returned to Georgetown with one silver dollar in his pocket, one of only 80 men from the Georgetown Unit to survive.”

Hyman Kaminski stayed in Georgetown and became a very wealthy merchant and property owner, with a dry goods store on the site of the Rice Museum that shipped goods throughout the state. He and his wife, Charlotte, had four children and one is Nat’s grandfather, also Nathan. “Charlotte died when Hyman was in his 50s, and he remarried another local woman named Rose. They had one child, Harold, my great half-uncle. Harold and his wife, Julia bought the Kaminski House in 1938 and brought it back from disrepair,” Nat related. This wealthy Georgetown businessman served in WWII and as Mayor of the town. “My great-uncle died in the ‘50s from tuberculosis, but I remember spending time there as a child – Julia would have big dinner parties, and I had to sit quietly on a stool!”

Nat’s family continued to thrive in Georgetown. His father, another Nathan, was actually born and raised in New York City, but when the Depression affected the family’s finances, Nat’s father came home to Georgetown and eventually restored a 1770s home in the historic district, the same house that Nat and Marcia live in today and the home where Nat spent his childhood. “I was raised in Georgetown and love living here.”

The Kaminski House’s rich history attracts a strong and dedicated group of citizens who work tirelessly to preserve this house museum for generations to come. President of Friends of the Kaminski House, Frankie Hills, is a native of Georgetown, and has a passion for the history and beauty of the area that led her to become involved with the non-profit.

For the Love of Georgetown: Nat Kaminski & Frankie Hills

“My husband, Jim, and I grew up here and were high school sweethearts at Winyah High School,” Frankie told me with a smile. After I graduated from college, we were married, and I moved to Clemson and taught school while Jim finished.” Frankie’s father worked for the town’s largest employer, International Paper. “Most of the people I knew growing up worked there.” Her mother worked for the county as the Delinquent Tax Collector and the family lived in the Maryville section of Georgetown. “In the ‘60s, people were leaving the Historic District, it wasn’t even called that then, and building ranch-type houses in the outlying areas. Front Street was mostly closed – I believe that’s why the Steel Mill was put where it is – and it offered so many jobs.” Frankie remembers her childhood years fondly, saying, “It was a wonderful place to grow up – we could walk everywhere, no one locked their doors and everyone knew everyone. It really was idyllic.”

Frankie and her husband lived away from Georgetown while they were raising their family and pursuing their careers, but the small town was always home. “After our two sons graduated from college, both went to Clemson, of course, Jim told me he was ready to go home.” The couple bought a home in the Historic District, built in 1765, and moved back to the place they both love. “I’ve always enjoyed history – we redid our home and tried to leave as much as possible of the original construction.” The couple love their home and community. “I have seven grandchildren living in the Charleston area, and when they visit, I like being able to let them play in the yard without worrying.”

One of Frankie’s neighbors, Marcia Kaminski, asked her to serve on the Friends of the Kaminski House Board, and she agreed. That was four years ago, and now Frankie is the President, leading a hard-working, devoted group of volunteers in the preservation of this important piece of Georgetown’s history. “I’ve always had a passion for the downtown area of Georgetown and felt I could really help this wonderful House Museum.”

While the house is owned by the City of Georgetown, there are no public funds for maintenance and restoration. “The house had not been maintained,” began Frankie, “and we started working with the City in finding ways to fund these projects.” With the help of grants, fundraisers and a skilled restorations contractor, a brick façade was removed that had been added many years after the house was built, and a plan was devised for future restorations. The next restoration project is the back garden, a small and lovely niche that will be used for smaller weddings and events.

Today, the Kaminski House is the site of weddings, events and a popular stop for visitors in Georgetown. Assistant Director, Kim Leatherwood, said that the number of Kaminski House weddings planned for 2015 has tripled from last year.

“This House Museum is exactly like Julia left it, nothing added, nothing taken away. It was such a gift to the City,” Frankie told me. “The hours we spend working to protect it are truly a labor of love.”

The Kaminski House Museum is located at 1003 Front Street in Georgetown, and is open Monday through Saturday, 10 am – 5 pm. House tours are given at 11 am, 1 pm and 3 pm or by reservation. For more information, call 843-546-7706 or visit www.kaminskimuseum.org.

About this writer

  • Leslie Moore Leslie Moore is the editor for Strand Media Group. A 25 year resident of Pawleys Island, she is blessed with a life filled with the love of family and friends and satisfying work to do every day.

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