Why do people make the choices they do when it comes to deciding where to live? Lots of reasons come into play, of course.
Closeness of family and friends, climate, activities, environment and cost of living are the primary reasons. A final decision usually weighs on a combination of all of the above.
If you like mild, warm weather, the fresh smell of a sea breeze, historical roots, a commercially viable area and proximity to iconic Southern cities, then Beaufort and the surrounding South Carolina Lowcountry may be for you.
Beaufort (pronounced byoo-fort), the Queen of the Carolina Islands, is a wonderful tapestry of Southern history and modern adventure, spread out among a series of adjacent islands.
The entire historic downtown waterfront district is located on Port Royal Island, a delightful mélange of historic mansions, art galleries, fine restaurants and hip boutiques.
Parris Island, located at the tip of the peninsula adjacent to modern-day Beaufort, was the location of France’s first colony in the New World, founded in 1562 (preceding St. Augustine by three years). The town of Beaufort was chartered in 1711, making it the second-oldest city in South Carolina, after Charleston. The Treaty of Beaufort, signed in the city in 1787, fixed the boundary between South Carolina and Georgia.
The city’s Golden Era was in the 1800s, when Sea Island cotton became the main crop. Beaufort’s location, midway between the two fabulous seaports of Charleston and Savannah, and a stone’s throw from Hilton Head, proved convenient. Many of Beaufort’s lovely mansions were built by wealthy owners of cotton, indigo and rice plantations.
Today, Beaufort remains an attractive destination. National Geographic Magazine named Beaufort as one of the top waterfront adventure towns in the country. A kayak trip through the Lowcountry’s salt-marsh ecosystem, one of the world’s most productive, is a delightful (and tame) wilderness experience. In addition, golf, tennis, fishing and extensive bicycle and walking routes are plentiful.
Two nearby Marine bases, a naval hospital and a viable fishing industry contribute to the business vitality. Beaufort’s distinctive coupling of modern vitality and Southern charm is growing national attention. The town has been featured in books such as The 100 Best Art Towns in America, by John Villani, 1000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz and America’s Most Charming Towns & Villages (fifth edition) by Larry Brown. In fact, it was John Villani’s book listing those best art towns that captured the attention of J.W. and Jenny Rone and brought them to Beaufort.
The Rones moved from Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, another of the 100 Best Art Towns, to Beaufort at the end of 2005. “We traded one art town for the other,” laughed Mrs. Rone.
Both she and her husband are passionately involved in the arts. They ran the arts center in Berkeley Springs, where she also owned a contemporary American crafts gallery and he worked in various schools using theatre to teach social studies, math and science.
“We were done with the cold,” Mrs. Rone said. “We were ready to move and find other challenges, and we literally looked for another best small art town to call home. We used John Villani’s book as reference and searched for an area that was warmer and more tropical, with population diversity, lots of different activities and the ambience of a small town.”
Once in Beaufort, the couple started volunteering at the Arts Council of Beaufort County. By August of 2006, they were hired as the new management team. “They got two heads for the price of one,” said Mrs. Rone.
While the Rones were looking for that perfect warm environment, Mrs. Rone’s parents also were considering relocating from northern Virginia. They fell in love with Port Royal, built a house and actually moved there a year before their daughter and son-in-law.
“But we swear we picked Beaufort long before they decided to relocate,” Mrs. Rone laughed. “We were going back and forth from West Virginia to Beaufort, looking for houses and we finally got tired of driving and just decided to do it. Being in a subdivision was not at the top of our priority list, but it turns out we’ve fallen in love with Mossy Oaks, with our house and with the marsh. And it’s five minutes from the arts center. We love going out to the beach and listening to the waves or going out with friends on their boat to find dolphins.”
The water also attracted Troy and Tina Eastman, who moved to neighboring St. Helena Island four years ago. Mr. Eastman is retired military and Beaufort allowed him to combine his two passions in life – fishing and kayaking.
“I have fished in 26 countries; I’ve fly fished out West, and I knew the fishing was good in Charleston and in Savannah and it’s even better here because of the marshes,” Mr. Eastman grinned. “I love any kind of fishing. I also do a lot of kayaking, and I fish from my kayak. You just put the bait out, hook a fish and go for a ride! They call it a “Lowcountry sleigh ride.”
When the fish tires, he pulls it up to the kayak and unhooks it for release back to the wild. “I had a friend who caught a 450-pound shark from his kayak,” he explained. “His sleigh ride was an hour and a half. It’s the same fishing the Inuits and the Native Americans did. They hunted whales from their kayaks, so I guess we can catch 450-pound sharks.”
The Eastmans (she is originally from Sweden) have lived all over the world while in the military but both love the small town atmosphere of Beaufort. They especially applaud the noticeable lack of chain restaurants and traffic congestion, and appreciate the history, wildlife and, of course, picturesque views.
The scenery elicits poetic praise from Bill and Roseann Zimmer, newly transplanted from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “It’s like stepping into a postcard,” Mr. Zimmer smiled. “It’s so beautiful. Pennsylvania is beautiful, but this is a different kind of beauty. The landscaping, the big oaks with Spanish moss hanging down – it’s just one postcard image after another.”
Both in their fifties, the Zimmers decided not to wait until retirement “to move to a town where you didn’t have to hibernate for six months,” as Mr. Zimmer said with a smile. Their daughter was going to school in Columbia, South Carolina, and they decided they would move down now instead of waiting until they were older.
“I’m a dentist and I started a brand new practice from scratch down here,” Mr. Zimmer explained. “We are in the town center of Habersham (a water-edged residential community just a few miles from downtown Beaufort). We live in the loft above the first floor office. We didn’t have in mind the setup they have here until we saw it. Then it really clicked for both of us.”
Mrs. Zimmer, who is the business manager of the dental practice, agreed. “The images online don’t do this design justice. My husband first saw it two years ago and I said ‘no way, I don’t want to live above the practice.’ Then we ended up coming down here and saw it and we said, ‘Where do we sign?’ We didn’t do any research to determine if there were a lot of dentists in the area. It was just where we wanted to live.”
The two-bedroom, 1,400 square foot loft required extensive downsizing. “Did we downsize? Oh yes!!” she laughed heartily. “But it’s ok; we are empty nesters. It will give me more time when I’m not working to go to the beach, shop, or play tennis. And the landscaping is taken care of – one dead plant and they pop it out and plant a new flower. It’s so meticulous.”
Mr. Zimmer is an avid golfer and has joined a group of about 25 men who play different courses in the area.
“People are so friendly here, I think because everyone is from somewhere else and we are all trying to connect,” Mrs. Zimmer observed. “It’s the most unique area in the world. I feel like I am on constant vacation. The sun shines, it’s warm, flowers bloom, the birds sing – it’s so beautiful. I’m telling you, I can’t say enough wonderful things about it.”
It’s a touch ironic that just after the Zimmers moved to Beaufort, their daughter transferred from Columbia to New York City’s Fordham University.
Is New York in their future?
“Never,” exclaimed Mrs. Zimmer. “I would never leave this area! The pace of living here is so much slower. I’ve embraced the pace.”