Downtown Beaufort — Beaufort, South Carolina
SC Picture Project | Beaufort County | Downtown Beaufort
If you had to name the oldest cities in South Carolina, would you guess that Beaufort is the second oldest, just behind Charleston and just ahead of Georgetown? Chartered in 1711, Beaufort has earned the epithet Queen of the Sea Islands, and it takes only one visit to its historic downtown to see why.
History abounds in this seaside hamlet. Even the live oak (Quercus virginiana) trees that line Beaufort’s main roads are several centuries old. While the downtown areas of most cities lead people away from nature, in Beaufort the deep-rooted trees guide them through it, buffering the harbor’s salt breezes and reminding people that life has been thriving here for many, many generations.
Strolling along Bay Street, boutiques can be found for even the most discerning of shoppers. Historic mansions such as the Verdier House are open to the public as a house museum. In more modern times, more sophisticated offerings have opened turning this once sleepy hamlet into a vibrant downtown scene for the arts, complete with award-winning dining options. The entrance to the beautiful Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park can be found directly off of Bay Street offering great views of the waterways the surround the Lowcountry.
Once you have checked out the views, museums, shops, and had a bite to eat, you have time to check out the real star of the show, the historic homes. Surrounding the shopping district, visitors can view some of the most exquisite antebellum homes in the South. Certain houses, such as the Cuthbert House Inn, operate as a historic bed-and-breakfast, giving visitors the chance to see history up close so they are able to feel transported to a bygone era.
Downtown Beaufort is listed in the National Register as part of the Beaufort Historic District:
Beaufort is significant for its role as a major center of South Carolina’s antebellum plantation culture, its contribution to the history of the Civil War, and for its role it played in African-American history both during and after the war. Architecturally, the district is significant both for the high-style architecture produced by its pre-war planters and for the folk architectural patterns of its post-war African-American community. The antebellum architecture, unlike that of Charleston and Savannah, is generally made up of free standing Federal, Early Classical Revival, and Greek Revival style houses on large lots that is more akin to the architecture of the Southern plantations of the period, plantations brought to town and adapted to the heat of the summer weather and dampness of lowlands, as well as to the aesthetics of their waterfront settings. The town’s present appearance owes much to the events of the period between ca.1860 and ca. 1935. The buildings and structures constructed during this period display a variety of architectural forms and styles, including Italianate, Gothic Revival, Victorian, Queen Anne, and Neo-Classical, and reflect the development of the town in the last half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. In the 1870s, more modest houses were built on vacant lots in the older parts of town. One type was a five bay I-house, similar in form to many of the antebellum mansions, but reduced in size and of balloon construction using sawn lumber. The second type was a three-bay, gable fronted house, often with Italianate or Eastlake detail. Many antebellum homes were also updated during this period with commercially milled porch details, bay windows, and larger window glass. Colonial Revival made an impact on residential building after the hurricane of 1893, and the bungalow dominated new construction before and after World War I. Commercial construction also reflected increasing prosperity. The historic district includes 475 contributing resources and 350 noncontributing resources. Listed in the National Register December 17, 1969; Designated a National Historic Landmark November 7, 1973.
More Pictures of Downtown Beaufort
Reflections on Downtown Beaufort
Robin Seabury, a SC Picture Project contributor who shared the photo below, describes the scene she found on Bay Street: “While driving down the main street of Beaufort, I saw this fabulous live oak with the Spanish moss hanging so beautifully. This is so ‘Old South’ to me and it brings back some of my fantasies of being a little girl playing under this fabulous tree.”
Mrs. John F. Magg tells us about her photo of Beaufort taken in the 1970s: “This was taken on Christmas vacation. We visited with friends and lived in Beaufort until 1966. John was in the Marine Corps and worked as photographer at Parris Island.”
Downtown Beaufort Info
Address: Bay Street, Beaufort, SC 29902
GPS Coordinates: 32.431022,-80.672610