May River BenchBluffton History

The town of Bluffton is situated on a high bluff overlooking the pristine May River, source of world-famous Bluffton oysters. The historic riverfront community still welcomes visitors with as much charm and vibrancy as it did in its antebellum heyday. Its location was prized by Lowcountry planters and their families as a refuge from the harsh plantation environment of mosquitoes and heat. The high bluffs welcomed strong southerly breezes that kept possible Yellow Fever infection at bay and dispelled sultry summer doldrums.

Bluffton’s reputation as a summer resort village helped it grow into a commercial center, welcoming packet ship trade between Beaufort, Hilton Head Island and Savannah. It was the first town in Southern Beaufort County.

The rich history of the area includes Native American Yemassee Indians and the Lords Proprietors of the Carolinas. From the Revolutionary War to the Civil War, this region is full of history lessons. Literally a hotbed for political rhetoric in the 1840’s and 1850’s, cries of secession were first given serious voice and debate in Bluffton.

Church ofthe Cross Bluffton

After incorporation in 1852, the town continued to grow. Then came the war. Initially raided and scavenged in the early days of the conflict by Union forces occupying Hilton Head Island, Bluffton was finally shelled and burned in 1863. The Heyward House, Campbell Chapel AME Church and the Church of the Cross were among 17 structures to escape destruction. Those three historic buildings and seven other houses can be seen today in the Town’s Historic District.

The Heyward House, an outstanding 1840’s example of early Carolina farmhouse style, is the Town’s official Welcome Center. It is open Monday- Saturday and is a great place to start your docent or self-guided tour of the House or National Register Historic District and the thriving, vibrant arts community. Then you can discover the many wonderful retail shops and restaurants around town. Life in Bluffton is still conducted with tolerance, respect, and courtesy. Please come and discover the Bluffton “State of Mind.”

Heyward House Parlor in Bluffton