Bluffton

May River BenchBluffton History

The historic 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.

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.

The Bluffton Shell Art Trail is a fun public art trail that both entertains and educates.  The cultural exhibit has 21 giant oyster shells placed throughout Bluffton. The shells have been uniquely painted by local artists. While hunting for shells, you will learn interesting oyster facts along the way. Visit the Oyster Factory Park. The waterfront park has a nature trail which is unique for the Old Town area.

The Garvin-Garvey Freeman’s Cottage is located inside the park. This historically significant house has recently undergone extensive renovations. It is believed that former slave Cyrus Garvin built the house on the property of his former owner.

Views of the May River are spectacular from the front porch. Tours are available through the Heyward House.

Then you can discover the many wonderful retail shops and restaurants around town. Calhoun Street is the hub of  shopping in downtown Bluffton. Stores extend in all directions from here. Calhoun Street is also the scene for the Bluffton Farmers Market on Thursday afternoons from 1 pm to dusk. The street is closed and vendors fill the space with produce, flowers, baked goods, fresh pasta and much more. This is definitely an event you don’t want to miss.

Filled with gorgeous antebellum homes, historic churches and all kinds of artisan shops and wonderful restaurants, Bluffton was named #1 for Amazing Non-­Beach Getaways by Huffington Post. The town’s Spanish moss draped oak trees and the scenic views of the May River give Bluffton some the sweetest Southern charm in all of the Lowcountry.