Beaufort, SC: The Newport of the South

Most people have heard of Charleston and Savannah but many don’t know about Beaufort. Yet once upon a time, they were referred to as the Three Colonial Sisters, each stunning in her own way. Beaufort is located in between her sisters, an hour’s drive north of Savannah and hour and a half south of Charleston.

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Beaufort has a cosmopolitan history: “10 flags have flown over this area, including those of Spain, France, England, Scotland, Switzerland, and the Confederate and Union forces; not to mention the many Native Americans that have lived here for at least 5,000 years.” (from the Rhett House Inn brochure)

“…from the mid-1700’s to the mid-1800’s, Beaufort enjoyed a prosperity and way of life comparable to that of wealthy elites in Charleston, Savannah, and…Beaufort was known as ‘The Newport of the South.'” This largesse was courtesy of the slave labor and lucrative indigo, tobacco, cotton and rice crops grown on Beaufort’s plantations.

The Castle_Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce

(photo courtesy of the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce)

I stayed in Beaufort for five wonderful days in 2015 and loved every second. These houses pictured are within walking distance of the lovely Rhett House Inn.

SEE THE SIGHTS

  • Walk, bike or drive around Beaufort to see its many MANY perfectly gorgeous houses and gardens. My Beaufort-savvy friend suggests viewing the houses and port of Beaufort from the water via a kayaking tour lead by a local guide. Sounds like fun!

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BFT Historic Home1_Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce

(photo courtesy of Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce)

  • Attend Sunday service at the Tabernacle Baptist Church (907-911 Craven St.)–The TBC was built in 1811 as a “praise house”and later morphed into a black meeting hall, referred to as a “tabernacle.” The present building was built in the 1840’s. The services are inclusive, welcoming, and filled with inspirational foot-tapping hymns. “Built in 1840, Tabernacle Baptist Church is the resting place of one of Beaufort’s most beloved icons, Robert Smalls, who was born into slavery in 1839…he went on to a distinguished career of public service including serving in the South Carolina House of Representatives, the United States Senate, and four terms in the United States House of Representatives,” per the Beaufort Chamber of Commerce.
  • Bike to Port Royal–Established in 1562, PR is a low-key little town on the water with a lot of history and no pretense whatsoever (read: no fancy houses).
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Port Royal

  • Old Sheldon Church (17 miles north of Beaufort)–built between 1745-53, burned in 1799 by the British during the Revolutionary War, re-built in 1826, burned in 1865 by General Sherman…this baby’s seen some history! Old Sheldon Church’s beautiful setting is in the country, by itself, and surrounded by lovely old trees.
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Old Sheldon Church (photo courtesy of Lyndi Leary)

  • Explore evocative, Spanish Moss-draped St. Helena Island, just over the bridge from Beaufort–
    • Parish Church: one of the oldest churches in the U.S., established in 1712
    • Penn Center: lovely setting and interesting. Of its 16 buildings registered with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, three are especially worth of a visit, as they reflect different points in Beaufort’s history:
      • The Brick Baptist Church, built in 1855–“In 1862, the U.S. Navy declared victory at Port Royal Sound, South Carolina and freed 32,530 slaves from plantations in the Beaufort District. White inhabitants fled the Lowcountry. Northern abolitionists recognized the need to educate the freed slaves, and the Philadelphia-based Port Royal Relief Committee sent funds and a progressive young woman named Laura Towne to teach former plantation slaves “habits of self-support” and to “elevate their moral and social condition.” Towne was joined by Ellen Murray, a Northern Quaker. They settled on St. Helena Island, one of South Carolina’s largest sea islands. Their first class was held at Oaks Plantation with nine scholars. It soon expanded to The Brick Baptist Church, which survives today,” per the Penn Center’s website.
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Gantt Cottage (photo courtesy of Lyndi Leary)

  • The Gantt Cottage: “In the mid 20th century, Penn Center again shifted focus…Penn Center became a center and meeting place for interracial social activists—the only place in the south where segregated meetings were held without excessive legal and violent harassment. It was a safe haven and retreat for Martin Luther King, Jr. until his death in 1968…,” per PC’s website. Dr. King wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech at the Gantt Cottage, pictured above.
  • The York W. Bailey Museum, located inside the Penn Center visitors center, features “artifacts and photographs that depict the history of Penn Center, as well as the Gullah Geechee history and the strong African cultural influences they’ve maintained,” according to PC’s website. The YWBM also showcases beautiful art exhibits.
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painting by Diane Britton Dunham at the current art exhibit at the York W. Bailey Museum

STAY

  • Rhett House Inn–big, beautiful rooms with deep porches that span the front of the inn, built in 1820 in the Greek Revival style. Think wicker porch furniture, hanging ferns, pots of red geraniums…all spic ‘n’ span and in good taste. (10 rooms, some in the main house and some in an adjacent building; we stayed in the two on the front of the house on the second floor and loved both)
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Rhett House Inn

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upstairs porch at Rhett House Inn

SHOP

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Scout Southern Market

  • Scout Southern Market (709 Bay Street)–The owner has great taste!! This shop sells all things Southern and stylish for entertaining (decorative lanterns,  embroidered linen cocktail napkins, charming serving dishes painted by local artists, bar ware), sophisticated or whimsical South-centric coffee books, etc.
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vignette featuring Scout Southern Market’s beautiful wares

  • Red Piano Too Art Gallery  (870 Sea Island Pkwy., St. Helena Island, SC)–wonderful, graphic, colorful Gullah art; per its website, “Art Gallery with a focus on Lowcountry/Gullah original Art to include paintings, sculptures, glass, baskets, quilts, books, calendars, notecards, jewelry and much more.”
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(photo courtesy of Red Piano Too Gallery)

  • Penn Center Visitors Center gift shop (St. Helena Island)–When I was there last year, I fell in love with a couple of LARGE, beautiful, evocative paintings, for sale in the Penn Center’s Visitors Center. This a visitors center with KICK! They also sell folk art, books, and charming knickknacks.

EAT, DRINK & BE MERRY

  • Sweetgrass Restaurant and Bar (100 Marina Drive, St. Helena Island, 11 miles from downtown Beaufort)–This restaurant is the new, personal fav of my good friend, whose been summering in Beaufort for over 25 years. At the dinner-only SR&B, it’s all about local: local fish from the surrounding waters and local produce from the surrounding farms. While it is located in a private marina, they will let you in to go to the restaurant. Go for dinner at sunset!
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photo courtesy of Sweetgrass Restaurant

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inside Lowcountry Produce and Market Cafe

Traveling Companions

  • Reading Companion: Pat Conroy’s “The Great Santini” or “The Prince of Tides”
  • Driving Companion (book on tape): Pat Conroy’s “My Writing Life”
  • Movie Companion (hopefully your hotel room comes w/a DVD player): “The Big Chill” because the house around which this movie revolves is in Beaufort
Downtown Beaufort_Lyndi Leary

entering downtown Beaufort (photo courtesy of Lyndi Leary)

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–posted August 2016

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