Spaniards first sailed into Port Royal’s harbor more than 400 years ago and by 1700, four national flags had flown over the area: Spanish, French, Scots, and English. In 1710 the Lords Proprietors decided to establish “a fort upon the river called Port Royal” for ships of Great Britain to take in masts, pitch, tar, turpentine and other naval stores. Accordingly, Beaufort Town was laid out in December 1710 and named in honor of one of the proprietors, Henry, Duke of Beaufort.

In 1715, as the settlers pushed the Indians farther inland, the Yemassee War erupted. Rampaging Yemassee Indians ravaged the settlement of Beaufort, ransacking and burning homes and slaughtering the cattle in the fields. Survivors took refuge on a ship anchored in the harbor and it would not be until 1719 that the King of England was again fully in charge of the province. The years of royal government would be stable and prosperous ones, with the export of rice and indigo to England bringing great profit. As their prosperity increased, the area planters built beautiful homes in Beaufort, entertained lavishly, and educated their sons abroad and in the colleges of New England. Shipbuilding flourished and Beaufort became known as the “wealthiest town of its size in America” during this time.

The town was occupied by the British during the American Revolution and was quickly occupied by Union forces during the War Between the States in 1861. Many of the homes were used for officer’s quarters and hospitals, and because of this, were saved from destruction. Beaufort prospered during the reconstruction era when rice and cotton were planted and exported. 

Much of the current streetscape in Beaufort today was influenced by cataclysmic events that bookended the arrival of the 20th century. A great hurricane scored a direct hit on town in 1893 and in 1907 a devastating fire swept through downtown streets. Fishing and truck farming carried the local economy until two military bases were constructed during the build-up to World War II. To this day the military remains the economic backbone of the collection of islands.

The original settlement of Beaufort can be found in the downtown historic area, 304 acres that have been designated a National Historic Landmark. Our walking tour of the town on the eve of its 300th birthday will begin at water’s edge and never stray more than a few blocks from defining sea... 

Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park
Bay Street between Carteret and Newcastle streets

The site plan for Waterfront Park was completed by Robert E. Marvin of Walterboro in the 1970s. Marvin worked on the grounds of the Governor’s Mansion and the Capitol Complex in Columbia and designed the capital city’s renowned Finlay Park.  He earned worldwide acclaim for the landscape plan for Sea Pines Plantation at the tip of Hilton Head Island. The State of South Carolina recognized Marvin’s contributions by presenting him with the State’s two highest honors:  the Order of the Palmetto and inclusion in the South Carolina Hall of Fame. In the park, named for mayor at its time of construction, Henry Chambers, in the form of a Confederate cannon, is a memorial to Stephen Elliott, Captain of the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery, which was based in the Beaufort Arsenal. Elliott served with the Palmetto Guards during the attack on Fort Sumter on April, 1861 and later became a Brigadier General. The 34-year old Elliott was gravely wounded leading South Carolina troops at the Union mine explosion point during the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia, July 30, 1864 and died of his wounds in 1866 in Aiken while running for the Congress of the United States.


William Elliott House, The Anchorage  
1103 Bay Street

The original three-story tabby house probably dates to around 1800, although local tradition has long held that William Elliott built this house prior to the Revolution. The Elliott family owned Parris Island prior to Secession, an event strongly opposed by William Elliott III, a well-known author, politician and sportsman. He was strongly pro-Southern and in favor of slavery and was one of the most respected voices of restraint in the state. He remained a staunch Unionist until the war broke out, when he went along with his state. During the occupation of Beaufort the house was used as a hospital and designated as the Mission House. It was greatly altered in the early 1900s by a retired Naval officer, Admiral Beardsley who spent $80,000 remodeling it, adding stucco to the exterior and much ornately carved woodwork to the interior. 


Thomas Moore Rhett House
1009 Craven Street, northeast corner of Newcastle Street

Thomas Smith was the oldest of seventeen children. In the early 1800s as an uncle with the last name of Rhett neared death without anyone to carry on the Rhett name he promised to bequeath his fortune to nephews who would carry on the Rhett name. Six obliged, taking the family name of their great-great grandfather, Whilliam Rhett, an early Charleston military hero and pirate fighter. With his inheritance Thomas Rhett was able to create a notable Adamesque house with two-story wrap-around piazzas and transom-lighted doorways. The Rhett House today has been adapted for use as a bed and breakfast inn.


William Fickling House
1109 Craven Street

William Fickling, a teacher, built the original house here, probably sometime in the 1790s. After his death in 1807 his wife sold the property and over the years it evolved into a two-story clapboard house with Adam-style interior that serves as the Rectory of St. Helena Episcopal Church.

Milton Maxcy House, Secession House
1113 Craven Street

Milton Maxcy came to town from Massachusetts in 1804 to found a school for young men with his brother Virgil. He acquired this property with a tabby two-story house reportedly dating to 1743 and around 1813 removed the tabby second floor and added two stories of wood siding. In the 1850s Edmund Rhett, lawyer, planter, and outspoken champion of state rights as a representative, and senator, brought the house and extensively remodeled it in the Greek Revival style, featuring an elaborate two-story portico. This house was long known as “Secession House” as the scene of many informal discussions and formal meetings during the 1850s by Rhett and his allies advocating secession and Southern independence. 


John A. Cuthbert House
1203 Bay Street

Two clashing stories have traveled the decades to explain the existence of this ornate house. One suggests that it was built near Wyers Pond, but after much sickness and several deaths, the family blamed the fetid waters and had the house sawed in half and moved to its present site. Another legend states that the house was built as a Presbyterian Manse and was acquired and moved by the Cuthbert family. Apparently there is evidence in support of both claims but neither can be definitively verified for the house whose front portion dates to 1810; it underwent significant remodeling in the late 1830s or early 1840s. In 1865 Union General Rufus Saxton purchased the home at the Direct Tax Auction 1865 for a reported $1,000. He entertained General William T. Sherman in the house. The property was sold to Saxton’s friend and agent Duncan C. Wilson in 1882. Wilson was responsible for the construction of hundreds of prefabricated houses and military buildings on Hilton Head Island during the Civil War. Wilson is thought to have added Victorian style elements to the house.    

Robert Means House
1207 Bay Street

Robert Means, a prominent Beaufort merchant and planter, either built this house around 1800 or purchased it from a gentleman named John Bull. The house remained in the Means family until it was sold at a Direct Tax sale in the 1860s. George Gage, an Ohio native and later chief engineer of the Port Royal Railroad, purchased the house in 1872 and the house remained in Gage’s family until 1919, when it was sold to Major Edward Denby of Michigan. Denby was Secretary of the Navy under President Warren G. Harding and was among the cabinet members accused in the Teapot Dome scandal of 1923. It was Denby who added the prominent two-story verandah.

Thomas Fuller House, “Tabby Manse”
1211 Bay Street

The Fuller House, completed in 1786, is one of Beaufort’s outstanding examples of a large residence built of tabby, the local building material composed of oyster shells and lime mortar. Thomas Fuller was a prosperous local planter who created eight perfectly proportioned rooms, including three completely paneled in heart-pine and cypress, as a wedding present for his bride, Elizabeth Middleton. The house was another put up for the Direct Tax sale of 1864 and was purchased by Reverend Mansfield French, a Methodist minister sponsored by the American Missionary Association of New York City. Almira Morill Onthank converted the house into a guest house in the 1870s and it remained as such for more than a century. Francis Griswold wrote his renowned Civil War novel, A Sea Island Lady, while staying in the house.

Charles Edward Leverett House
1301 Bay Street

Legend has it that this plantation house was built on St. Helena Island in the early 1800s and floated here by boat around 1850. Although the tale can not be documented, it is known that Charles Edward Leverett, the last rector of Old Sheldon Church, purchased the property in 1854 for $1,800. Luckier than most of his neighbors, Leverett, after an impassioned plea, regained ownership of his home after it had been confiscated during the war. It remained in his family until 1920.

1305 Bay Street

General Stephen Bull, leery of the strong winds blowing off the bay, constructed a one-story cottage around 1910. The current house was built in the early 1930s on the foundations of the original cottage. The house is surrounded with a cast-iron fence reportedly made from Swedish ore. 

William Ritchie House
1307 Bay Street

William Ritchie was a Union Army infantryman from Connecticut who decided to remain after the Civil War and built this Victorian home in 1883. 

John Joyner Smith House
400 Wilmington Street (faces Bay Street)

When John Joyner Smith, a Beaufort plantation owner, built his Federal-style house in 1813 the entrance was on Bay Street. A Greek Revival era remodeling relocated the entrance to its present location along Wilmington Street and resulted in modifications to the interior plan. During the Civil War the house was occupied by Brigadier General Isaac Ingalls Stevens, commander of Union forces along the coast of South Carolina. Stevens was the first governor of Washington territory and a United States Congressman. While charging with his troops at the Battle of Chantilly in 1862 Stevens was struck in the head by a bullet and killed instantly. Hazard Stevens, Isaac’s son, was also injured in the Battle of Chantilly. He also became a general in the U.S. Army and an author, and along with P. B. Van Trump was the first to climb Mount Rainier. 

Edward Barnwell House
1405 Bay Street

Built in 1785 by Edward Barnwell, Union officers quartered here during the Civil War; it also served as a signal station and U.S. Telegraph Office. The house was sold after the war to pay taxes. Two Barnwell brothers inherited it, but they were so jealous of each other they built a partition through the middle and lived separately from each other. 

E.A. Scheper House
1411 Bay Street

When E.A. Scheper built this house in the 1890s it had elaborate gingerbread exterior trim in typical Victorian fashion. In 1938 the house was bought and almost completely rebuilt, transforming the exterior style from Victorian to neo-Colonial. 

Beaufort Federal Courthouse
1501 Bay Street

Robert McGrath of Augusta was the architect of the original brick courthouse on this location in 1883. During the Depression in the 1930s it received an Art Deco make-over. The gleaming white building of today dates to 1994.


Emil E. Lengnick House
1411 North Street

Emil E. Lengnick would recognize this Queen Anne home today a century after he built it around 1907. The turret with its steeply pitched roof shows the Gothic influence on the eclectic Victorian period architecture.


St. Helena’s Episcopal Church
501 Church Street

The parish of St. Helena was established in 1712 and construction on the church began in 1724. That first structure was rebuilt in 1769 with an extension to the west completed in 1817. In 1842 the entire church, save for the extension, was demolished to ground level and new side walls extended the church north and south. During the Civil War the church was used as a hospital and the tombstones of the graveyard were pressed into emergency service as operating tables. The present altar was donated by the sailors of the U.S.S. New Hampshire, which was stationed here after the Civil War. The upper stages of the tower were added in 1942 and were designed by Albert Simons of Charleston. One of the first persons to be buried in the churchyard was Colonel John Barnwell, better known as “Tuscarora Jack,” who died in 1724. His grave, along with others, lies beneath the church. Two British officers, killed in a skirmish near Port Royal during the Revolution, were buried by Captain John Barnwell on the right side of the brick walk on the west side. Also buried here are two Confederate Generals, Lt. General Richard H. Anderson and Brigadier General Stephen Elliott. Anderson was a West Pointer who resigned to serve the Confederacy and who was reduced to toiling as a day laborer after the war.


Baptist Church of Beaufort
600 Charles Street

The present church, an excellent example of Greek Revival architecture, was built in 1844 at the cost of $10,000. The steeple dates to 1961. The interior sports some of the finest plaster decorative work in Beaufort. The congregation dates to 1804 and grew rapidly under the dynamic direction of Richard Fuller, a Harvard-educated lawyer who converted to the Baptist faith after a joint religious revival held by the Presbyterian, Episcopal and Baptist churches in 1831. By 1857 the membership consisted of 182 whites and 3,317 slaves. During the Civil War the church was used as Union Army Hospital Number 14.


Tabernacle Baptist Church
907 Craven Street

The cyclone of 1893 damaged enough of the original 1840 building to have it rebuilt and rededicated. In the graveyard is a memorial to Robert Smalls, born into slavery in Beaufort in 1839.  Smalls, self-taught and wise to the tricky currents and channels of the Charleston harbor as a pilot aboard the steamer Planter, engineered his freedom during the Civil War with a daring escape past Confederate ships in the purloined ship. With a crew of 12 fellow slaves, he delivered the Planter tothe commanding officer of the Union fleet. Later, President Abraham Lincoln received Smalls in Washington and rewarded him and his crew for their valor. He was given official command of the Planter and made a captain in the U.S. Navy; in this position he served throughout the war. With his $1500 reward money Smalls bought the estate of his former master at 511 Prince Street and opened a local store. He entered public service and served terms in the South Carolina House of Representatives and Senate, as well as five terms in the U. S. House of Representatives. Smalls also served as a major general in the state militia and later served as Port Collector for Beaufort. 

W. J. Jenkins House
901 Craven Street

Construction of this house is attributed to W. J. Jenkins about 1845. Although the present two-story portico is thought to have replaced an earlier verandah, this house is still a good example of the well-designed, finely proportioned Beaufort house.

Beaufort Arsenal
713 Craven Street

The Beaufort Volunteer Artillery was organized in April, 1775 and is the fifth oldest military unit in the United States. Construction of the Beaufort Arsenal was begun in 1795 and was completed by 1799. Severely deteriorated by 1852, the arsenal was rebuilt. The building was enlarged and renovated in a 1934 WPA project. The city-owned Beaufort Museum, with over 6,000 artifacts, now occupies the entire site. 

500 block of Craven Street

This block features houses - some nearly mirror images - built in the 1880s and 1890s. All have decorations made by wood-working machinery newly invented in the late 19th century. Several have turrets and towers; some have colored glass; most have decorative spindles; a number have bay windows; several have nice piazzas. 

Joseph Johnson House, The Castle
411 Craven Street

Long considered one of the great houses of the South Carolina coast, Dr. Joseph Fickling Johnson’s house sits amid giant live oaks on a full city block. With its lush gardens of azaleas and camellias, it is one of the most photographed houses in America. “The Castle” was completed in 1861, although some elements of the house, including decorative ironwork and porch railings, were snared in the Union naval blockade at the start of the Civil War. The exterior color is muted and changeable, in shades of gray, tan, and pink, subtly shifting with the light. Six massive columns support the double portico, with balusters between that enclose the upper and lower porches. Dr. Johnson, unlike many of Beaufort’s pre-war residents, was able to reacquire the house after it was confiscated during the Civil War upon payment of $2,000 in taxes. The house remained in Johnson’s family until 1981.  


Henry Farmer House
412 East Street

Dating to 1810, this house was the home of Baptist leader Richard Fuller. His wife owned Cat Island.


310 Federal Street

The original house on this property was destroyed by fire in the 1890s and the present house was constructed on top of the tabby foundation that dates to the late 1700s.

James Rhett House  
303 Federal Street

James Rhett designed this house in the 1880s for his new bride with a mind for spacious verandahs and jib doors to maximize cross ventilation for warm summer evenings. 

James Robert Verdier House, Marshlands
501 Pinckney Street, at the end of Federal Street

Marshlands was built in 1814 for Dr. James Robert Verdier, who achieved prominence when he discovered a treatment for yellow fever. During the Civil War, this house was used as headquarters for the United States Sanitary Commission. Set high from the ground upon a tabby arcade, the two-story house gives evidence of West Indian influence in the single story veranda that runs the length of the front and to the sides. The sheet metal roof is painted red and the shutters are dark green. Below, the tabby arches of the cellar are pale pink. Double stairs lead to the porch landing; the front entrance has both a fanlight and sidelights.  


Paul Hamilton House, The Oaks
100 Laurens Street, facing Short Street

Paul Hamilton was the grandson of President James Madison's Secretary of the Navy. He completed this Italianate house with wide porches in 1855. The family deserted the house during the Civil War and Union troops established Hospital #1 here. With the help of friends, Hamilton was able to regain possession of the oak-kissed property after the war, 


Edgar Fripp House, Tidalholm
1 Laurens Street

According to Fripp family legend, when James Fripp returned after the Civil War he arrived just as the large 1853 Italianate frame house was being sold for taxes by the U. S. Tax Commission. Unable to bid on the house, he stood with tears coursing down his cheeks. A Frenchman, who had been living in the area and who was sympathetic to the South, purchased the house. He is said to have walked over to the former owner, presented him with the deed, kissed him upon both cheeks, and left, returning to France before Mr. Fripp had a chance to repay him. The house was extensively altered after the Storm of 1893 blew off the roof and served as a guest house from the 1930s until 1974. After being restored as a private residence it became famous to film fans as the house of Kevin Kline and Glenn Close who host a group of college friends reuniting for a funeral in The Big Chill. The early morning jogging scene in the movie, complete with banter on inside trading, was filmed along Bay Street. It wasn’t the first time Tidalholm appeared on the silver screen. In the 1979 Robert Duvall starrer The Great Santini, it was Duvall’s home. The scene where Michael O’Keefe finds a drunken Duvall under an oak tree was filmed down the block on the Green, across from Stop #30.


The Berners Barnwell Sams House No. 2
201 Laurens Street

Four stout Doric pillars dominate the facade of this 1852 house of brown-toned plantation brick. Dr. Berners Barnwell Sams lost his fine Classic Revival house during the Civil War, when it was used as a hospital. It was bought by William Wilson at a U.S. Tax Commission sale and later served as St. Helena’s rectory, housing the Reverend A.P. Hay, the “poet of the Confederacy.” Since 1895-96 this house has been owned by descendants of George Crofut. 


Elizabeth Hext House, Riverview
207 Hancock Street

Dating to 1720 and set high on a tabby foundation, this is one of Beaufort’s oldest houses. The original house consisted of upper and lower piazzas with a narrow central hall flanked by two rooms on the main floor. Elizabeth Hext, the only child of Francis Hext, Jr. and Elizabeth Stanyarne was born in 1746. At the age of fifteen she married William Sam of Wadmalaw Island, grandson of “Tuscarora Jack” Barnwell. In 1783 he bought Datha Island, near Beaufort, and here they lived and raised a large family. When Elizabeth Hext Sam died in 1813, she was buried beside her husband on Datha Island. They Hext House remained in the Sam family until 1864 when it was sold for $640 by the U.S. Tax Commission.


Edward Means House
604 Pinckney Street

The porch of this 1850s brick mansion faces south rather than towards the green - like most Beaufort antebellum houses - to catch the prevailing breezes and winter sun. The house of Colonel Edward Means did service as Union Hospital #2 during the Civil War.


Little Taj
401 King Street

“Little Taj” takes its name from the reflection in the tidal basin, which at one time was much larger. The house, a typical small Beaufort-style home with porches at the front on both floors and wings to bring the breezes into rear rooms, dates to 1856 although there is some evidence that it may have been standing in the early 1820s.

The F.W. Sanders House
411 King Street

This house was constructed in 1910 to replace a cottage destroyed in a 1907 fire. It was built of heart-pine and features mahogany woodwork.

First African Baptist Church
01 New Street at King Street

The First African Baptist Church was originally a prayer house in 1863. The present church was built in 1865 by freed slaves and given to other freed slaves. 


Thomas Hepworth House
214 New Street

When Thomas Hepworth, Chief Justice of the South Carolina Colony, acquired an original grant for the property in 1717 it carried a stipulation that a house be built within five years. That document has caused this two-story cottage to be considered the oldest house in Beaufort, althoughit may not actually have been built for several more decades. Hepworth sold the property in 1741.


Lewis Reeve Sams House
601 Bay Street

Lewis Reeve Sams was a prominent planter who once owned half of Dataw Island. He constructed this handsome house, notable for its exterior woodwork and Ionic columns over Doric columns on the verandahs, in 1852. The Sams family was able to reacquire the house after the Civil War and it eventually became the property of George Waterhouse, a Maine transplant who operated a bustling store on Bay Street. According to local tradition, the house survived the great fire of 1907 by the efforts of the Waterhouse cotton gin workers, who formed a bucket brigade and used wet blankets to beat out the flames.

William Joseph Thomas House
607 Bay Street

This is the third house of contrasting materials to stand on this site. An old tabby structure was replaced with a clapboard dwelling that perished in the 1907 fire. William Joseph Thomas then built the current house of concrete stone blocks that were made near the property from special materials brought by boat from Charleston.

John Mark Verdier House
801 Bay Street

This prominent Federal style mansion was built circa 1801 by by John Mark Verdier, a local merchant and planter, on land which before the American Revolution belonged to another merchant, Francis Stuart. Verdier’s fortunes reflected the changing economics of Beaufort’s merchant class, rising to great stature and wealth before the Revolution as a merchant trading in indigo. As indigo markets disappeared with the war, Verdier’s fortunes declined and his financial troubles were made worse by heavy speculation in forfeited lands. After a short stay in a Charleston debtors’ prison, Verdier returned to Beaufort and caught the next wave of prosperity: sea island cotton. Verdier was able to eclipse his earlier success, reestablishing his mercantile interests and acquiring extensive plantation holdings and owning 216 slaves by 1810. Unfortunately his fortunes would be short-lived, and by the 1820s Verdier had moved to Charleston. The inventory of his estate taken after his death show few possessions and give indication of his reduced circumstances and his gradual transfer of assets to his children in the later years of his life. The property is thought to have passed to his son John Mark Verdier II an Ed his wife Caroline McKee. While no evidence of their acquisition has been located, Caroline purchased the site from the Commissioners for Direct Tax in 1866, John Mark II having died in 1857.

Francis Saltus House
802-806 Bay Street

Built in the late 1700s of tabby and English bricks, the building has served as a customs house, hotel and, during the Federal occupation of Beaufort during the Civil War, a commissary store. Saltus, a well-known mariner developed a waterside compound on Bay Street consisting of his house, a store and a wharf.

Beaufort Bank
928 Bay Street

This was the site of the old town post office. Since its days as a bank, this Neoclassical building has served several uses including a movie theater and a restaurant.

George Elliott House
1001 Bay Street

The second story verandah was added some 50 years after the house was constructed in 1844 so the four massive columns rose to the roof unimpeded in its original incarnation when Dr. W. A. Jenkins of Lands End Plantation on St. Helena Island, who owned over 1500 slaves and was one of the richest men in Beaufort, bought the house before the Civil War.