Founded in 1711, Beaufort has historic connections to the Revolutionary War as well being where General William T. Sherman stopped on his way home from his famous march during the Civil War. Beaufort has also long been a hot spot for moviemakers, and tour guides point out the locations of such films as “Forrest Gump” and “The Big Chill.”
This story originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Living Intown magazine.
Hunting Island State Park Lighthouse photo
Lighthouse at Hunting Island State Park in South Carolina. (Samantha Feuss/MCT)
What to See and Do
Just months after the first shots were fired at Fort Sumter, Northern forces occupied the town, one of the Lowcountry’s richest plantation areas. One remnant of that era is the Oaks, a white-columned planter’s home built in 1855 that now hosts tours and special events. It’s accessible by car or bicycle.
The mansion played another pivotal role in Beaufort’s post-war story in 1862. Two teachers from Pennsylvania arrived at the Oaks to open a school for the area’s freed slaves, and what started in a back room grew into the Penn Normal School.
The Penn Center
Today, the Penn Center is located nearby on St. Helena Island, where it sits on a 50-acre campus with a museum and conference center that hosts exhibits and lectures throughout the year. In 1974, Penn Center was named the only African-American landmark district in the country.
Saint Helena’s Episcopal Church
One reminder of the colonial days is Saint Helena’s Episcopal Church, established in 1712. Below a gleaming white steeple is a sanctuary where British forces kept horses. Veterans of that conflict rest under the oaks in the adjacent cemetery, a favorite stop of carriage, buggy and ghost tours alike.
Watch the sunset from Waterfront Park, with its views of the river and marina. The park is a popular spot for fishing and festivals, including the annual Taste of Beaufort in May, the Water Festival in July and the October Shrimp Festival.
Hunting Island State Park
After walking or hiking through downtown, the best way to cool off is to hit the beach. The Sea Island Parkway leads to Hunting Island State Park 18 miles to the southeast. Hiking, boating, fishing and nature-watching are other prime pastimes here. The island provides a home to loggerhead turtles, alligators, pelicans, eagles and egrets, to name a few; sign up for a wildlife tour at the visitors center. Tourists can take in sweeping vistas of the island by climbing to the top of the 132-foot lighthouse.
Shopping and Eating
Contemporary Beaufort blends those elements of history in the downtown district with shops, antique stores and art galleries. While souvenir sellers abound, the Scout Southern Market features the edible kind you can take home to savor later. Check out their locally produced jewelry, home decor items and other goodies.
Chef-driven kitchens and casual gastropubs tap into the city’s culinary heritage of shrimp and Lowcountry fare, so enjoy the local flavors of shrimp and grits, she-crab soup and tangy pulled pork; or a boil of fish, corn and red potatoes. The Saltus River Grill at the waterfront park showcases Lowcountry favorites and local seafood.
Where to Stay
The Victorian era brought new prosperity to Beaufort, and many of the elegant mansions that sprang up in the downtown district during those times have been converted into lodgings. The rose-colored Beaufort Inn, a frame gingerbread house in classic Victorian style, features guest rooms, cottages, a restaurant and spa. Two of the town’s most popular inns, however, pre-date the war years completely. The 1811 Cuthbert House boasts a front porch with rounded corners overlooking the river; the 1820 Rhett House Inn was refurbished to showcase original mantels and woodwork.
Explore these area highlights a short drive from the heart of town.
Also known as the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, this island south of Beaufort became a training facility in 1861. The Parris Island Museum on the marine base showcases the history of the region and the Marines with photos, artifacts and memorabilia. The base is open to visitors at no charge.
St. Helena Island
Five miles east of Beaufort, this rural island provides a home to many native residents descended from slaves. These descendants, known as Gullahs, have maintained their West African roots in culture, language and cuisine. The island’s Frogmore area includes stores, art galleries and restaurants that specialize in the local foods. Each November, the Penn Center hosts Heritage Days that celebrate the culture.
About 20 miles south of Beaufort, this barrier island with white-sand beaches, wildlife and golf courses has become a favorite for weddings, reunions and getaways.
Between Parris Island and Beaufort is this waterfront town noted for its natural beauty. The oldest part of the village features a meandering boardwalk and observation tower where birdwatchers can study the local fauna.
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