Discovering the Charm of Bluffton, South Carolina

Nestled along the May River, Bluffton, South Carolina, is a quaint and charming town where one can easily lose track of time roaming the Spanish moss-lined streets. The town effortlessly weaves together history, nature, and culture, making it a perfect getaway. From stunning architecture to local boutique shops, it’s no wonder people keep coming back time and time again.

Stepping Back in Time at the Heyward House

One of Bluffton’s earliest establishments is the Heyward House. Built in 1841, this house now serves as the official welcome center of Bluffton. Here, you’ll be greeted by incredibly friendly and knowledgeable staff who can answer all your questions about the area. To delve deeper into the history of the house and the region, you can schedule one of their insightful tours. I was in awe of how well the house was preserved and fascinated by the artifacts that tell the story of the town’s past.


Peace and Serenity at The Church of the Cross

Next, I wandered over to The Church of the Cross. Although I didn’t venture inside, just being on the grounds of this cruciform Gothic building, constructed in 1854, was enough to instill a sense of peace. The serene atmosphere and stunning architecture made it a memorable stop.


A Lesson in History at the Garvin Garvey House

The Garvin Garvey House at the Oyster Factory Park was another highlight. Built around 1870 by freed slave Cyrus Garvin, it stands as a remarkable example of Carolina Lowcountry architecture. Walking around this historic house, I was struck by its enduring beauty and the powerful story it represents.

Hidden Beauty at Pritchard Pocket Park

One of Bluffton’s hidden gems, Pritchard Pocket Park, offered spectacular views of the May River. It’s a small, tranquil spot that perfectly captures the natural beauty of the area. I could have spent hours there, simply soaking in the scenery.


A Taste of Local Spirit at Burnt Church Distillery

The laid-back atmosphere of Burnt Church Distillery was a refreshing change of pace. Known for their homemade spirits like moonshine, whiskey, and gin, the distillery also served up some delicious food. It was a wonderful place to relax and enjoy some local flavors.


Exploring the Shops

My adventure continued along Calhoun Street, where I discovered a plethora of art galleries and boutique shops. Each store had its own unique charm, offering everything from housewares and clothes to fun gifts. The Bluffton General Store was a standout, with its eclectic mix of items that made for perfect souvenirs.


Bluffton, South Carolina, truly is a treasure trove of experiences. Whether you’re a history buff, a nature lover, or just someone looking for a peaceful getaway, this charming town has something to offer. My visit was filled with delightful discoveries, and I can’t wait to return and explore even more.




Making Memories & Family Bonds: Multigenerational Travel on Edisto Beach, SC

Traveling with multiple generations of your family members can create unforgettable memories and cultivate deeper bonds with one another. A perfect destination to embark on a multigenerational adventure is Edisto Beach, South Carolina. With its picturesque scenery, welcoming community, and array of activities for all ages, Edisto offers an ideal setting for a memorable vacation with your family, no matter size or individual interests.


Embrace Nature’s Beauty

Edisto is renowned for its stunning natural beauty. From pristine beaches to lush marshlands, the island provides a scenic backdrop for multigenerational travelers to lose themselves in the wonders of nature.

The younger generations can partake in building sandcastles, exploring tide pools, and playing beach games, while the older folks soak up the sun and enjoy leisurely walks along the shoreline. The family can also go kayaking or canoeing through the winding creeks and discover hidden treasures amidst the serenity of the marshes.


If the kiddos like critters, be sure to stop by the Edisto Serpentarium where they can get up close and personal to native, and not so native, creatures. .


Delve into History and Culture

Edisto Island has a rich history that can captivate and educate travelers of all ages. Visit the Edisto Island Historic Preservation Museum to gain insights into the island’s past and learn about its African American heritage.

Take a guided tour of the preserved plantation houses, such as the famous Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area. These excursions offer a chance to engage in meaningful conversations with members of the family, as they reminisce about their own experiences and share family stories.


Enjoy Outdoor Activities

Engaging in various outdoor activities is another highlight of multigenerational travel to Edisto. The island offers ample opportunities for fishing, crabbing, and shrimping – all of which can be enjoyed as a family.


Rent bicycles and explore the island’s scenic bike trails, stopping along the way to enjoy a picnic. Golf enthusiasts can hit the links at the Plantation Course in Wyndham Ocean Ridge, while those seeking adventures on the water, rent a kayak or SUP and paddle your way through the island’s creeks.

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Enjoy Local Cuisine and Shopping

Food has a magical way of bringing people together, and Edisto’s culinary scene is sure to please every member of your multigenerational family. Relish freshly caught seafood and locally sourced ingredients at one of the island’s charming restaurants. Plan to visit Whaley’s, Ella & Ollie’s, The Sea Cow and others. Click here for restaurants.

Photos: Seldon Ink & Sea Cow Eatery

Or if you are a chef, or “wannabe” chef, hit King’s Market or Pink and Georges to gather your own fresh ingredients for a home cooked meal at your rental house. Cooking together always makes for wonderful memories.

Once you have had enough sunshine for the day, check out some of the local shops and art galleries on the beach and island. With These Hands is a great place to start. There’s also Revel, The Edistonian, Sabal & Oak and more. Click here for shops.


Take Time to Relax and Connect

One of the biggest advantages of multigenerational travel is the opportunity to reconnect and spend quality time with your loved ones. To truly embrace this, consider renting a spacious vacation home or beachfront cottage in Edisto. Here are some options.

These accommodations offer a home-away-from-home experience, providing an intimate setting for shared meals, games, and conversations that can strengthen family bonds. Unplug from technology and break out the puzzles and board games. Or simply revel in the beauty of your surroundings with a sunset beach walk or a cozy evening under the starlit sky!


Edisto Beach, SC, is more than just a beautiful vacation destination; it is a place that allows families to come together and create lifelong memories. Whether you’re exploring the island’s natural wonders, immersing yourself in its rich history, partaking in outdoor activities, savoring the local cuisine, or simply enjoying quality time together, Edisto provides the perfect backdrop for multigenerational travel. Embrace the opportunity to bond with your loved ones and embark on a journey that will be cherished for years to come.

Exploring the South Carolina Lowcountry Along I-95

The South Carolina Lowcountry is a treasure trove of history, culture, and natural beauty waiting to be discovered. Traveling along I-95 – which runs through the heart of the region – offers the perfect opportunity to explore the area’s rich heritage and charm. From scenic drives to historic landmarks, here are some of the must-see destinations along I-95 in the Lowcountry.

Begin in Hardeeville

Hardeeville is a small town located at the southernmost point of South Carolina in beautiful Jasper County. For us, it marks the beginning point for the Lowcountry’s I-95 journey. Take a detour off the highway at Exit 5 or Exit 8 to explore this charming community. Hardeeville is a convenient stop for inexpensive accommodations and tasty local eateries.

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Hardeeville is also known for its outdoor recreational opportunities at the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1927. The refuge is a great place to stop during a road trip for a fun change of scenery. Take a break from traveling and let the family enjoy looking for native plant life, ducks, water birds, deer and maybe even alligators! This free, four-mile driving tour of old rice fields and marshlands was built to protect numerous species of wildlife.

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Another spot to take the opportunity to get out of the car is Sergeant Jasper Park where you can find a disc golf course, nature trails around lakes and forests, and a playground. You can also rent a canoe and paddle around.

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Wander Through Ridgeland

Not too far from Hardeeville, and also part of Jasper County, lies Ridgeland at Exits 21 and 22 off of Interstate 95. While Ridgeland is close in proximity to Savannah, Hilton Head Island and Beaufort, the area still maintains its simple, Southern charm. Make sure to stop by the Morris Center for Lowcountry Heritage to learn about the history and culture of the area.


The Blue Heron Nature Trail at Exit 21, behind the Quality Inn, makes for a great stop along your interstate trek. This free walking trail surrounds a pond with a fountain. Here, you can stretch your legs while you view water birds and turtles and feed large fish and ducks.

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Affordable accommodations and recreation make Ridgeland a perfect base from which to explore the Lowcountry region. Known as a sportsman’s paradise, Ridgeland has a number of nearby hunting clubs and plantation grounds where wildlife roams. The Savannah River, freshwater lakes and saltwater rivers make it ideal for hunting, fishing, and boating.

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Festivals are a big part of the community, and they offer great opportunities to soak up the local vibes. At the Gopher Hill Festival – held each year on the first Saturday in October – you’ll find authentic Lowcountry cooking, hand-made crafts and other family-friendly events and activities!


Experience Point South & Yemassee

Don’t forget to make stops in Yemassee, located at Exit 38, and Point South at Exit 33.

Yemassee is co-located in Hampton and Beaufort Counties, a land of deep forests, swamps and ponds which is famous to many sportsmen from around the country. Other attractions include searching for Native American artifacts, viewing beautiful antebellum plantations, and touring historic churches and cemeteries. Yemassee also hosts an annual Shrimp Festival the fourth weekend in September, celebrating what that wonderful coastal delicacy.

Point South, located at the gateway to Beaufort and Charleston, is home to The Lowcountry Visitors Center & Museum. This center is housed in the old “Frampton House” – one of the only plantation homes in the area open to the public, built in 1868. In addition, there are two campgrounds located in Point South. Affordable accommodations and convenience make Point South an excellent stop for travelers!


Explore Walterboro

Walterboro is a small town located just a few more miles north in the South Carolina Lowcountry. It is easily accessible off Interstate 95 at Exits 53 and 57. When you make a pitstop in Walterboro, make sure to take a stroll through the historic district, loaded with antebellum mansions and beautiful homes.

The South Carolina Artisans Center is also a Walterboro gem, providing a retail outlet for the state’s finest folk art and crafts. While there, you can learn about local arts and culture, like the custom of sweetgrass basket weaving from local artists and vendors. Also, make stops at the Walterboro Wildlife Center that serves as a Visitors Center and the Colleton Museum and Farmers Market. There’s a terrific café in the museum that is a real treat.

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Then, at the most northern end of I-95 in our Lowcountry Region, pull off at exit 68 to visit the Colleton State Park overlooking the Edisto River. This is an ideal spot to stretch your legs during and have a picnic lunch on the riverbank. Take a walk on the half-mile Cypress Swamp Nature Trail and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding flora and fauna. The best part – admission is free, but donations are always welcomed!

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All in all, there is no question that the South Carolina Lowcountry presents a remarkable journey along I-95 where you can explore the region’s history, culture, and natural beauty. With a host of charming towns and attractions along the way, this road trip promises to create unforgettable memories. Add the South Carolina Lowcountry to your travel bucket list and experience the magic of this enchanting region for yourself!

A Menagerie of Art: South Carolina Artisans Center

Are you looking for an extraordinary piece of artwork for you or someone special? Look no further than South Carolina Artisans Center.

South Carolina Artisans Center
(Photography: Keelie Robinson)

Located in the heart of Walterboro the South Carolina Artisan Center has something special for you. No matter your budget or how large or small the piece, you will surely find that one of a kind gem here.

Art at SC Artisans Center
(Photography: Keelie Robinson)

The South Carolina Artisans Center did not start out in the eight room Victorian house they use now. Beside their current location you can see their original small house. It was from this humble abode they formed in 1994. It served as their initial base of operations for thirteen years while they began to sell artwork. Their inventory soon grew larger than this small facility could hold. After contemplation and considering a relocation close to Interstate 95, they decided to keep their center downtown and add on to the old Victorian next door. The South Carolina Artisans Center now uses it to serve as the epicenter of commerce you see today.

Original South Carolina Artisans Center     Current South Carolina Artisans Center

(Left Picture – Original House, Right Picture – Current House; Photography: Keelie Robinson)

Upon arriving at the South Carolina Artisans Center you enter the driveway and parking can be found behind the house. At this old Victorian, as in true southern hospitality, good friends enter through the backdoor.

south carolina artisans center
(Photography: Keelie Robinson)

When crossing that threshold you’ll be amazed at the sights. There is more artwork than one could possibly take in. You’ll see artwork made out of wood, metal, pottery, textiles, glass, and far more.

artwork made of wood, pottery, metal
(Photography: Keelie Robinson)

Here’s a fun fact!! The South Carolina Artisans Center became the Official Folk Art and Craft Center of South Carolina in 1998 as designated by our state legislators.

official folk and art center of south carolina
(Photography: Keelie Robinson)

All of the 200 plus artists featured here are residents of South Carolina. Also, you will find an artist featured from 35 out of our 46 South Carolina counties.

South Carolina based artists
(Photography: Keelie Robinson)

In order to be a featured artist, one must go through a two step review process. The first is submitting five images of the proposed piece of work to the panel. If approved an artist must personally come in with their piece for a second review. Pieces are only accepted in March and September, so make sure to see their website for more details.

become a featured artist at south carolina artisans center
(Photography: Keelie Robinson)

If an artist is selected they will get to showcase their artwork and place it up for sale through consignment.

showcase your art at south carolina artisans center
(Photography: Keelie Robinson)

When entering, as per usual in our SC Lowcountry, expect to be greeted with a warm smile and a friendly welcome. Some days you can even find local artists stocking their masterpieces. Make sure to take your time and walk through every room. You don’t want to miss that one piece calling your name!

stained glass art of sail boat
(Photography: Keelie Robinson)

While looking around I found a hand painted piece of art I just had to have! I grabbed my new found treasure and drifted over to the sales clerk. While she was ringing me up she gave me a brief biography of the artist. I was in awe of her knowledge, the details, and the narrative she painted of my purchase. (🤭 pun intended y’all!) It made my purchase fun and super personal.

learn about south carolina artists
(Photography: Keelie Robinson)

Big things are coming! In a few short years the South Carolina Artisans Center will be celebrating 30 years. They are planning a shindig to celebrate the occasion. Also, they’re looking to expand their horizon with regular events. As of now they have the Artist Handmade Series. It happens every third Saturday of the month and allows folks to come chat with the artist.

artist handmade series at south carolina artisans center
(Photography: Keelie Robinson)

I can’t wait to see what the future holds and to watch how they grow more NATURALLY AMAZING!



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South Carolina Lowcountry: What is it all about?

What is the meaning of Lowcountry? Merriam Webster defines it as “a low-lying country or region especiallythe part of a southern state extending from the seacoast inland to the fall line.” South Carolinians define it as a geographical location and cultural mindset.  But for me… It is more than that!

It’s Beaufort, Colleton, Hampton, and Jasper, the four counties that make up the SC Lowcountry Tourism area. These four counties offer a myriad of unbelievable experiences for all.

On any given day in lowcountry you can:


Take a walk under the old oak trees covered in Spanish moss.

oak trees covered in spanish moss
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)


Feel the sand between your toes as you enjoy our gorgeous beaches.

child playing on beach with bubbles
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)


Pedal your way around our lush naturescapes.

bike through sc lowcountry
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)


Soak up some history at one of our many museums, former plantations, or historical churches and structures.

historical churches of sc lowcountry
(Photography: Keelie Robinson)


Become one with nature as you spy an alligator, deer, or Great Blue Heron paddling down a lazy Lowcountry river.

kayaker on lowcountry river
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)


Stroll along our beaches as you scavenge for shark teeth.

shark teeth found in sc lowcountry
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)


Immerse yourself in the hunt for the next big fish.

fisherman in sc lowcountry
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)


Step off the beaten path to find our numerous hidden gems.

sunset in sc lowcountry
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)


Window shop our local boutiques and stores.

shopping in boutiques of sc lowcountry
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)


Spy an array of birds in our Wildlife Refuges and Wildlife Management Areas

bird watchers in sc lowcountry
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)

Meander along our waterfront parks.

water front park in sc lowcountry
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)


Savor a bounty of renowned local cuisine fresh from the sea and our nearby farms.

fresh local food in sc lowcountry
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)


Unwind and relax as you revel in a lowcountry sunset.

couple relaxing sc lowcountry
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)


Welcome our lowcountry culture into your heart and mind as you are transported back in time.

culture of sc lowcountry
(Photography: Lowcountry Tourism Commission)

Come along and we’ll explore this region, south of Charleston and north of Savannah, to find what makes the SC Lowcountry NATURALLY AMAZING!



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Lowcountry Tabby Construction

Beaufort and its surrounding sea islands are home to the largest number of tabby structures in America. Early settlers in this coastal region built structures from materials that were readily available. Oyster shells were abundant along the shorelines. Wood was available in the forests. They were both put to good use.

Tabby is a type of early concrete that is made from mixing lime, sand, and oyster shells. The oyster shells were burned and mixed with sand and lime, then poured into forms to create walls and foundations that can still be seen in Beaufort today. Bricks were also formed from tabby and used for all manners of construction.

Beaufort’s sea wall was made from tabby. The exact date of the sea wall is undetermined. It was built to protect the low-lying area from high tides.

Fort Frederick was built by the British in 1730 to protect Beaufort’s Port Royal Sound. It was constructed of tabby. This is the oldest example of tabby in the country.  The fort is preserved as the Fort Frederick Heritage Preserve and can be visited.

Tabby Manse, located on Bay Street is made from tabby walls that are two-feet thick. The Beaufort Arsenal is also made of tabby, but it is protected under layers of stucco. Originally built in 1795, the arsenal was rebuilt in 1852 and renovated in 1934. It is now the Beaufort Visitor Center and Museum.

St Helena’s Episcopal Church cemetery is surrounded by tabby walls. Many of the family plots are surrounded by smaller tabby enclosures. The church was constructed in 1842.

Many of the buildings along Bay Street were constructed using tabby. The foundation of the John Mark Verdier House is one example. Built in 1804, tabby construction can be seen on the first floor. The house is open as a museum. There’s an example of exposed tabby between two buildings in an alley on Bay Street that gives a close-up view of the materials that are combined to create the structure around 1760.

Beaufort County’s Old Sheldon Church Ruins show an example of tabby used as stucco to cover bricks. Built in 1751, the church was burned during the Revolutionary War, rebuilt, then dismantled after the Civil War.

Located on St. Helena Island, the Chapel of Ease is an excellent example of exposed tabby construction. Built in the mid 1700s, the tabby and brick is all that remains of a church that served the families of the island plantations. After the Civil War the church was used to educate freedmen. The church was destroyed by fire in 1886.

Edisto Island’s Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area is the home to the tabby ruins of Bleak Hall Plantation. Three Gothic Revival buildings are all that exist of the once sprawling plantation. A white, wooden ice house was constructed on a tabby foundation. A gardener’s shed and tabby barn also remain. Botany Bay WMA is open to the public.

Daufuskie Island’s Haig Point tabby ruins are among some of the best examples of tabby constructed slave quarters remaining in Beaufort County. Built around 1826, three of the best-preserved tabby walled, single slave dwellings are protected in the Haig Point development.

The Stoney-Baynard Plantation Ruins can be found in Sea Pines Plantation. Ruins of the tabby plantation house and the foundations of two slave cabins can be visited, along with the kitchen chimney. The house was built around 1840 and destroyed by fire in 1867.

All that remains of Fish Hall Plantation is three standing chimneys from slave cabins. This tabby is a little different. It contains clam shells in addition to oyster shells. Fish haul Plantation was built in 1762. The property was captured by Union forces during the Civil War and a portion was given to former c=slaves to develop the town of Mitchelville, the nation’s first freedmen’s village.

Sea Wall – Bay Street between Carteret and New Streets
Ft. Frederick – 601 Old Fort Road, Beaufort
Tabby Manse – Bay Street, Beaufort
Beaufort Arsenal – 713 Craven Street, Beaufort
St. Helena’s Episcopal Church 505 Church Street, Beaufort
John Mark Verdier House – 801 Bay Street, Beaufort
Alley Tabby – 715 Bay Street, Beaufort
Old Sheldon Church Ruins – Old Sheldon Road, Yemassee
St. Helena Chapel of Ease – 17 Lands End Road, St. Helena Island
Bleak Hall Plantation Tabby Ruins – 1066 Botany Bay Rd, Botany Bay WMA, Edisto Island
Haig Point – Daufuskie Island
Stoney-Baynard Plantation Ruins – 87 Plantation Drive, Sea Pines Plantation, Hilton Head Island
Fish Haul Plantation Ruins – 70 Baygall Road, Hilton Head Island

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Beaufort’s Reconstruction Era National Historical Park

Park rangers share their knowledge at the park’s visitor center. Photo by the Post & Courier.

Did you know Beaufort was home to the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park? It is only fitting that it is found in Beaufort, because that is where freedom from slavery began in the south! The Emancipation Proclamation was first read in the South on January 1, 1863, at Camp Saxton, just a stone’s throw away from Beaufort in Port Royal. During the Civil War the US military occupied Beaufort as a command center for east coast operations. Many of the historic homes and churches were used as offices, hospitals, and quarters. Many churches were converted into schools for the newly freed. Some of these homes were bought by former slaves at tax auctions.

Park rangers lead tours at the Penn Center’s Darrah Hall. Photo by Jenny Kendrick.

The Reconstruction Era lasted from 1861 to 1877. During this important time four million newly freed African Americans sought to integrate themselves into a free society. They contributed to the educational, economic, and political life of Beaufort. This process began as the Port Royal Experiment. After the Battle of Port Royal more than 10,000 slaves were left behind when the white population fled the area. Schools were established to teach reading, writing, and other life skills. Many joined the US Army and trained at Camp Saxton, the very place where they heard the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Reconstruction Era National Historical Park is comprised of three main locations, along with three park partners that aid in telling the story of the Port Royal Experiment, which helped formerly enslaved people become self-sufficient. In addition to being a group of historic sites in and around Beaufort, it tells the story of what happened after the Civil War as newly freed African Americans and the nation struggled toward reconciliation. The park consists of historic sites that were instrumental in the Reconstruction Era of Beaufort. Penn Center’s Darrah Hall and Brick Baptist Church on St. Helena Island, Camp Saxton and the Pinckney-Porters Chapel in Port Royal join the Old Beaufort Firehouse to tell the story of Reconstruction.

The Reconstruction Era National Historical Park Visitor Center can be found in the Old Beaufort Firehouse, 706 Craven Street. The visitor center contains displays and artwork that depict the struggle of the formerly enslaved people and their ascension to citizenship. The center also houses information about the other sites and their importance in the history.

Darrah Hall and the Brick Baptist Church can be found on the grounds of St. Helena Island’s Penn Center. The Penn School was established in 1862 as the first school in the south for former slaves. Quaker and Unitarian missionaries from Pennsylvania founded the school and taught classes. Early classes were held in the Brick Baptist Church, which was built in 1855 by the very slaves that would later learn to read and write within its walls. Careful examination of the bricks reveals handprints from the enslaved artists who formed the bricks from clay.

Darrah Hall image by Charleston Currents.

Darrah Hall is the oldest building on the campus of the Penn Center. It was built by Penn School specifically for community use. It has been a gathering place for the community for over 100 years. This building, along with others on the property represents the development of the center through the 19th and 20th centuries. The hall is used for interpretive purposes by the park, as well as for community events.

Camp Saxton was founded on the site of Fort Frederick, a pre-Revolutionary War fort that was abandoned and absorbed into Smith Plantation. On New Year’s Day in 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was read aloud here to 10,000 former slaves. After the Proclamation was read, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers was formed. This all-black regiment trained at Camp Saxton from 1862 to 1863. The site is preserved as the Fort Frederick Heritage Preserve. The tabby fort was originally built by the British in the 1730s. During the Civil War a bridge was built across its walls to serve as a dock to welcome former slaves to the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Pinckney Porter Chapel is a Reconstruction-Era Freedman’s Chapel that was restored and moved to Port Royal’s Naval Heritage Park. The chapel houses temporary exhibits and Camp Saxton programs begin at the site. The chapel is, in part, named for Senator Clemente Pinckney who served as pastor to the church from 1996-1998. Senator Pinckney was gunned down while serving as a pastor for Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015. Pinckney was a beloved native of Ridgeland and served as a South Carolina state senator for Beaufort County. The chapel is open on Saturday mornings and park rangers are available to answer questions.

Reconstruction Era National Historical Park Visitor Center – 706 Craven Street, Beaufort
Brick Baptist Church – 85 Martin Luther King Drive, St Helena Island
Darrah Hall & Penn Center – 16 Penn Center Cir E, St Helena Island
Camp Saxton – 601 Old Fort Road, Port Royal
Pinckney-Porters Chapel – Naval Heritage Park, Pinckney Street, Port Royal

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Beaufort & the Port Royal Experiment

A new beginning

This image celebrated Emancipation Day as it was seen at Beaufort’s Ft. Frederick, also known as Camp Saxton.

The Port Royal Experiment started just seven months after the first shots of the Civil War were heard. Beaufort and its sea islands were occupied by the Union Army by November 7, 1861, thus freeing its slaves.  Beaufort quickly became the epicenter for Reconstruction after Confederate soldiers and plantation owners fled the area, leaving 200 sea island plantations and 10,000 slaves abandoned. Having no resources or direction, former slaves looked to the Union Army for support. Union officials oversaw the harvesting of approximately 90,000 pounds of cotton by the newly freed men and women. Workers were paid $1 for every 400 pounds harvested. This was the first time newly freed slaves earned wages for their hard work. Frederick Law Olmstead was the executive secretary of the US Sanitary Commission. He felt it was necessary for the Union to, “Train or educate them in a few simple, essential, and fundamental social duties of free men in civilized life.” Olmstead was a famous landscape architect who would go on to design Central Park, Niagara Reservation at Niagara Falls, Biltmore Estate, and many other prestigious grounds. The Port Royal Experiment was an essential plan that offered newly freed slaves an education and a chance to work and live independently of white control. The freedmen’s Bureau was established to help former slaves succeed in their new way of life.

At the suggestion of General Sherman, the US Congress confiscated a strip of coastal land from Charleston to Florida. President Abraham Lincoln issued new land distribution policies that saw 40,000 acres of this land divided between freed families. They were allowed to purchase up to 40 acres of land for $1.25 per acre. Excess army mules were redistributed to the new property owners. It is thought that this was the origin of the slogan “40 acres and a mule.” White northerners were also allowed to buy land, creating tenant farming.

Hilton Head Island’s Fish Hall Plantation became the site of Mitchelville. This image was taken in 1862 by Henry Moore.

By January of 1862 Union General Thomas W. Sherman requested teachers to instruct the freed men, women, and children. Later that year, the Port Royal Experiment began. This radical program created schools and hospitals for the freedmen. It also allowed them to purchase and run abandoned plantations. 53 missionaries from the New England Freedmen’s Aid Society volunteered during this humanitarian crisis. Skilled teachers, ministers and doctors travelled south to teach life skills and religious studies. Two pivotal initiatives that paved the way for Reconstruction were begun in the Lowcountry – Mitchelville and Penn School.

Freedmen gather at Penn School to learn to read and write along with other skills.

Laura Towne was dispatched from Pennsylvania with funds to create the Penn School, one of the largest schools created during the experiment. She and fellow educator Ellen Murray established an educational mission on St. Helena Island called Penn School. This was the first school for former slaves of the sea islands. The first classes were held at Oak Plantation, then when enrollment increased, they moved to Brick Church. A school was built adjacent to the church and a complex developed around it which served as a center for the St. Helena Island Gullah community. Along with teaching literacy, the school provided training for midwives, a health care clinic, and the state’s first day care center for black children.

Rev. Jesse Jackson; Joan Baez; Ira Sandperl; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.; and Dora McDonald on the Penn Center campus in 1964. Photo credit: Bob Fitch

The Penn Center took on a new role during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. In those days there were only a handful of safe havens for black leaders to gather. Civil Rights activists, including Martin Luther King, Jr. spent a significant amount of time on the Penn Center campus. Dr. King and other influential civil rights activists were able to meet and strategize on the beautiful campus. The spot also served as a retreat for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. The Penn Center campus was designated a National Historic Monument in 1974. The center is still a vital part of the community. History and culture are preserved in the center’s museum, outreach programs and educational experiences.

The community of Mitchelville was planned and built in 1862.

The wartime Department of the South was headquartered on Hilton Head Island. Union General Ormsby Mitchel granted Hilton Head freedmen permission to develop the town of Mitchelville in 1862. This was the creation of the first all-black, self-governing community in the country. Government and missionary efforts provided blacks of Mitchelville with education, religion and promoted self-reliance. While learning new skills, the citizens of Mitchelville were able to thrive and continue their Gullah customs and culture.  By 1865 Mitchelville had 1,500 inhabitants. They built the First African Baptist Church. Homes were built on quarter-acre lots, where the new inhabitants could grow produce in their own gardens.  General Mitchel died from yellow fever, just six weeks after arriving in Mitchelville.

Freedwomen and children began a new way of life in Mitchelville.

Mitchelville became a fully functioning town, complete with a mayor, councilmen, a treasurer, and other officers who oversaw every aspect of the town. The town boasted three churches, two schools, a store, cotton gin and grist mill. Mitchelville also passed the first compulsory education law in the state, requiring all children between 6 and 15 to be educated in school. The town stretched over 200 acres along the shore of the Atlantic. The major source of employment was the US Army Headquarters. After the war, jobs disappeared with the withdrawal of the US Army. This sent freedmen away from Mitchelville in pursuit of employment. The property that Mitchelville occupied was returned to the previous owners during the Johnson administration. They chose to sell the land to anyone that was interested in purchasing, including former Mitchelville citizens. Most of the land was bought by Freedman March Gardner. The land was later divided amongst heirs and the town no longer appeared on maps by the early 20th century. Most of the land was eventually sold to the Hilton Head Company and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. The site is preserved as the Historic Mitchelville Freedom Park. The park serves as a Reconstruction Era heritage site. The park features exhibits, signature events and guided tours.

Freedmen harvest cotton.

The death of Abraham Lincoln on April 15,1865 ended the momentum for the Port Royal Experiment. President Andrew Johnson worked to restore all lands to their previous owners. Many freedmen that bought land witnessed it returned to its former owners. Sharecropping quickly began to creep onto the scene. Not all black landowners lost their land. Many were able to retain ownership of their purchased properties because they were not reclaimed by the previous owners. By 1868, the Freedmen’s Bureau was completely dismantled. Momentum for the Port Royal Experiment began to diminish with the new administration. The Reconstruction Era ended in 1877. Although it was a brief period in American history, it marked a significant chapter in the history of civil rights in the United States.

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Fort Frederick Heritage Preserve

The date was January 1, 1863, when former enslaved Beaufortonians crossed over into Fort Frederick from Port Royal, Beaufort, and the surrounding sea islands to hear the first reading of the Emancipation Proclamation in the southern states. This event marked the most dynamic occurrence in the fort’s 289-year history.

Fort Frederick was built by the British colonial government between 1733 and 1735. It is the oldest surviving tabby fort in South Carolina and the oldest tabby structure in Beaufort County. Tabby was a building material used in the early days of the coastal south. Sand, lime, oyster shells and water were burned and mixed to form an early version of concrete. Tabby was poured into molds to form foundations, walls, columns, and blocks. Examples of tabby can still be seen all throughout the historic district of Beaufort. Even the city’s sea wall is made from tabby.

Fort Frederick was established after the Yemassee War in Port Royal to protect against possible attacks by the Spanish. It also served as an outpost to signal “Beaufort Town” of approaching ships. The fort remained active until 1758. The small 75-ft by 125 ft fort contained barracks, a powder magazine and gun platforms. It was located along the Beaufort River behind a parapet with a battery of guns protecting the river and town of Beaufort.

British Regulars were posted at the fort, but luckily never saw attack. A larger, stronger fort was established just upriver, and Fort Frederick was abandoned.  The deserted fort fell into disrepair and wouldn’t see use again until 1861. Union Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson brought activity back to the fort site after the Battle of Port Royal. After the historic reading of the Emancipation Proclamation, newly freed citizens were given the opportunity to enlist in the Union Army. He and his new regiment of black soldiers used the property as headquarters. The site was named Camp Saxon, after General Rufus Saxon, commander of the Beaufort District.

Before the start of the Civil War, Fort Frederick was absorbed into the Smith Plantation. Parts of the tabby structure were used as a dock for boats serving the plantation. During Beaufort’s “Great Skedaddle” Smith’s Plantation was abandoned, and the Union troops moved in. Colonel Higginson and his new soldiers would become the African American 1st South Carolina Regiment of Volunteers. Together they listened to the first reading of the Emancipation in the center of a crowd which was estimated well into the thousands. In 1863 the fort and its surrounding plantation land were sold for non-payment of $93.40 in back taxes. The US government purchased the property for $1,000.00. Part of this site was developed into the US Naval Hospital in 1949.

Image from the SC Department of Natural Resources.

Archaeologists with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the Institute of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of South Carolina excavated the site in 2014 to inventory the grounds. They also rebuilt the remaining tabby walls to give visitors a more complete image of what the fort once looked like. This work also protected the remaining tabby material. A portion of the structure is underwater today due to the river changing course.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Beaufort County now maintain the area as the Fort Frederick Heritage Preserve. The six-acre park is a mix of hardwood forest, maritime forest, and salt marshes on the Beaufort River. Located at 601 Old Fort Road in Port Royal, the preserve is open to the public daily, from dawn to dusk. The preserve includes a public access point, parking area and picnic pavilion, as well as the tabby fort ruins.

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Auldbrass Plantation

Auldbrass view toward the pool. Image by Anthony Peres.

Nestled amongst the live oaks and cypress swamps of the Combahee River sits a unique treasure. Hidden from passersby, this lovely jewel is only open for tours one weekend, every other year. The legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed only one plantation during his legendary career. Luckily for us, it sits just outside the town of Yemassee.

Image by CBS Sunday Morning.

“Auldbrass” was established in 1938. Over 4,000 acres from Old Brass, Mount Alexander, Richfield, Old Combahee, and Charlton plantations were combined and given to C. Leigh Stevens (from Michigan) for reorganizing the Savannah River Lumber Company. In 1939 Stevens commissioned Wright to envision and design a self-sufficient, modern plantation for farming, hunting and entertaining. Wright called on his principles of organic architecture to design a complex that would exist in harmony with its surrounding Lowcountry landscape. Wright, not being a fan of the more traditional right angle, designed walls to slope at an 80 degree, to mimic the live oaks on the property. He also looked to the property’s cypress trees for inspiration for exterior siding. Wright named this complex Auldbrass.

Image found on Pinterest.

Initial drawings and plans of the house and complex were finished by 1940. Hexagonal shapes and inward sloping walls, with low lying ceilings were the theme. By 1941 the farm buildings were nearly completed, and the main house was in the beginning stages. Work was halted in 1942 due to World War II and shortages of supplies.

An example of the copper Spanish moss-inspired downspout can be found near the pool.
Image by Ed Forgotson.

Wright’s plans included a low-lying complex of geometric pavilions, outbuildings, stables and kennels. The main house was supplemented with multiple guest cottages and service quarters. Plans also included a swimming pool, laundry, and bath houses for the staff. Decorative motifs inspired by local flora compliment the design. A great example of this can be seen in the down spouts designed to resemble Spanish moss. The downspouts were not realized until the 1980s because WWII caused a shortage of building materials. By 1946 Stevens was ready to resume construction. He moved into the completed caretaker’s cottage to oversee construction. Very little was done between 1946-1948 because Stevens began guest lecturing at Harvard Business School. Frank Lloyd Wright died in 1959, the Stevens followed in 1962. Neither saw the project completed.

Image found on the Island Packet.

Stevens’ daughter Jessica Loring took over ownership of Auldbrass in 1971. She and her husband managed the estate and produced corn and soybeans. They made extensive repairs to the buildings with their profits. They also replaced the roof, upgraded the mechanical systems and eliminated changes made to Wright’s original designs. By this time visitors became curious about the plantation. Jessica and her husband welcomed them in and gave tours. The Lorings also did something very important for the property. They nominated Auldbrass for the National Register of Historic Places. By 1979 the Lorings were ready to sell the property.

Image by Anthony Peres.

The cost of upkeep was more than they were able to accomplish. The Boise Cascade Timber Company purchased the property, except the Old Combahee tract, which they retained for themselves. Westvaco quickly bought the property, selling the buildings and a small tract of land to local hunters. Unfortunately, they could not manage the buildings and they quickly fell into disrepair. Beaufort County Open Land Trust became involved with the property. It was decided to place an easement on the property and sell at a drastically reduced price.

Bluebird Cottage image by Ed Forgotson.

Hollywood producer Joel Silver purchased the property in 1987. Silver had long been a fan of Wright’s architecture. He lives in the Storer House in Los Angeles, which was designed by Wright and built in 1923. Silver enlisted the help of Eric Lloyd Wright, grandson of the designer. Together they set out to restore the buildings on the property and complete Wright’s vision. His plan has four stages: restore all original buildings as designed, rebuild destroyed buildings, complete unbuilt projects, and add structures needed by Silver, mimicking Wright’s style. Silver and his team have spent the last 35 years realizing this dream.

Shades of rust and brown help the structures blend in naturally with their surroundings. The low-lying, rambling main house feels like a hunting lodge, complete with all the trappings of comfort. The symmetry that is so prevalent in traditional plantation homes has been cast aside for this one-story, sprawling home. In fact, all buildings on the property are one level and no single grand drive leads to the house.  

Even the windows join in on the geometric fun! Image by Ed Forgotson.

Visitors to Auldbrass will have to look hard to find a right angle in Wright’s buildings. Staff quarters, barn, guest cottages, and even the pool and hot tub all have an abundance of obtuse and acute angles. While the windows are squared, their panes are not.

Interior image by Anthony Peres.

Geometry is at play in the interior of Auldbrass as well. The wall angles and windowpane designs are much more visible inside. Even the furniture was designed by Wright, with the same design principles. Much of the furniture had to be replaced when Silver restored the plantation, but as luck would have it, the purchase came complete with Wright’s original blueprints for the plantation structures and furniture designs. The home is currently furnished as Wright envisioned it.

Beaufort Open Land Trust image of the livingroom.

There’s only one way visitors can tour this beautiful plantation. Every two years the Beaufort Open Land Trust schedules tours for one weekend. For more information visit BeaufortOpenLandTrust for more information. For more information about other sights to see in the Yemassee area visit YemasseeDrivingTour.

Location: Combahee River, 7 River Road in Yemassee East of Yemassee on River Road, Beaufort County.

A special thank you to Gayle Kovach for suggesting we share a story on this iconic Lowcountry treasure, and for enjoying the Driving Detour Through Yemassee blog.

Even the Auldbrass dock on the Combahee River shares the same design principles. Photo by Carmen Pinckney
Map from Beaufort Open Land Trust tour program.
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The Lowcountry & Resort Islands Region of South Carolina includes the four, southern-most counties in the state, Beaufort, Jasper, Hampton, and Colleton, which are bordered on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and on the west by the Savannah River and the state of Georgia.

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