Garvin Garvey Freedman’s Cottage
The Garvin House is located in the heart of Old Town Bluffton. The 1870 cottage is a great example of late 19th century Carolina Lowcountry architecture. The house was constructed during the Reconstruction Era of hand-hewn timbers and other materials found in the area.
According to their website, “The Garvin House is believed to be one of the earliest known freedmen owned houses still extant on the May River. The residence remained in the Garvin family for three generations until 1961. The structure remained in private hands until 2001, when the Beaufort County Land Trust acquired the house and property. In 2004, Beaufort County and the Town of Bluffton entered into a partnership to share the responsibility of maintaining the Oyster Factory Park, which includes the Garvin House. The house has the potential to become a centerpiece of interpretation for the park due to its extreme rarity as a home constructed and owned by African-Americans in Bluffton during the Reconstruction Era.”
The house was built by Cyrus Garvin on the bluff of the May River. Garvin purchased the 54-acre property in 1878 for $239.70. The land formerly belonged to Joseph Baynard. Garvin was a freedman who was likely once a slave on this property. This home is the only example of the freedmen’s cottages that sprang up around the May River as slaves staked their claims to land they’d been born into while in bondage. Joseph Baynard sold Garvey the land and employed Garvey to run the Baynard farm. Garvey also passed on his good fortune to the community. He helped purchase land to build St. Matthew’s Church.
Recent documentation indicates the Garvin family hosted social events at their house during the early 20th century. This information shows the importance of the Garvin family in Bluffton society.
Cyrus Garvin died in 1891. The property passed to his son Isaac. He lived here with his wife Jenny and their son Paul. After Isaac’s death, Jenny continued to live in the house until her death in the 1950’s.
The house then passed through several hands including the Bluffton Oyster Company. In 2001 Beaufort County Land Trust acquired the badly dilapidated house and the surrounding land to create Oyster Factory Park. Beaufort County and the Town of Bluffton then began stabilizing the Garvin House. Restoration was completed in 2017.
The Garvin House stands today as a fine example of an architectural style that is often overlooked. It gives a clear insight into building methods that were used during this important time in American history. It is a testament to the freedmen and what they could accomplish.
The Garvin House is now open to the public for tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 am – 4 pm. It is located at the intersection of Bridge and Wharf Streets in Old Town Bluffton. For more information call (843) 757-6293 or visit https://www.townofbluffton.sc.gov/garvin-garvey/home.
For information on this and other attractions in the Bluffton area visit https://southcarolinalowcountry.com/bluffton-area/.
Restoration photos found on the Garvin-Garvey website. All other photos by Carmen Pinckney.