Hauntingly Beautiful: Picturesque Beaufort

Hauntingly beautiful is perhaps the best way to describe the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Charming homes and churches grace this old town on Port Royal Island. Picturesque Beaufort (pronounced byoo-fort) charms visitors with historic Southern mansions, tree-lined boulevards, and an ocean-side location.

Beaufort sightseeing tours offer an ideal introduction to the area’s rich history. Take a walking tour or horse-drawn carriage tour for a great overview of this fascinating town. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beaufort sightseeing tours offer an ideal introduction to the area’s rich history. Take a walking tour or horse-drawn carriage tour for a great overview of this fascinating town. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not to be confused with its North Carolina namesake, Beaufort has everything you would hope for in a small Southern town: antebellum mansions, Spanish-moss-covered trees, and a picturesque seaside location on Port Royal Island.

Traces of the area’s first inhabitants, the archaic Indians, date back 4,000 years. On this time scale, Europeans are relative newcomers, making their first appearance with Spanish galleons around 1521.

Over the next two centuries, Spanish, French, English, and Scots sporadically feuded over the coastal plain, while Yemassee Indians fought to protect their claims. Of course, pirates joined the fray too.

Crossing Woods Memorial Bridge to Beaufort. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crossing Woods Memorial Bridge to Beaufort. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beaufort entered its golden era about 1800 when sea island cotton debuted and many of Beaufort’s loveliest mansions were built by the wealthy owners of cotton, indigo, and rice plantations.

The South Carolina Lowcountry has no shortage of coastal charm, but some areas can get a little oversaturated. Not Beaufort, a town of barely 13,000 residents but with all the historical allure of Charleston at a slower, easy-going pace.

The curving, tidal Beaufort River wraps around the 303-year-old downtown and offers up terrific scenery in most directions. And then there’s the leafy historic district itself, filled with 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century architecture, from tiny cottages and fish shacks to indigo-planters’ mansions with wide piazzas.

Beaufort along the Harbor River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beaufort along the Harbor River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beauty isn’t limited to its streets: Head out to the barrier islands where rural simplicity, fragrant marshes, and live oaks draped in Spanish moss make for instant relaxation.

This isn’t Savannah or Charleston, but it’s close in flavor and geography—within 90 minutes of each. The smaller size and slower pace draw everyone from artists, retirees, and young families to live-aboard-sailboat types, fishermen, and moviemakers.

Beaufort is the second oldest city in South Carolina and was founded in 1711 by the British. It has a rich history that dates back centuries, including ties to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

Many of Beaufort’s historic homes also offer tours. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many of Beaufort’s historic homes also offer tours. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, Beaufort generates approximately one million visitors annually, and is regarded as one of the most diverse of any community of its size due to its historic character and prominent architecture.

The local Gullah culture traces its roots back to West Africa’s so-called “Rice Coast” and can still be seen in the town’s culture, food, and local language. Be sure to pick up a locally made sweetgrass basket before you leave.

More and more transplants have decided to spend the rest of their lives here, drawn to Beaufort’s small-town charms, and the area is burgeoning. A truly Southern town, its picturesque backdrops have lured filmmakers here to shoot The Big Chill, The Prince of Tides, and The Great Santini, the last two being Hollywood adaptations of best-selling books by author Pat Conroy. Conroy has waxed poetic about the Lowcountry and calls the Beaufort area home.

Hauntingly beautiful Beaufort. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hauntingly beautiful Beaufort. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A must see, Old Sheldon Church was originally known as Prince William’s Parish Church and was built in the Greek Revival style between 1745 and 1753. It was burned down by the British in 1779 during the Revolutionary War. In 1826, it was rebuilt only to be burned again by General Sherman in February 1865.

Today, these gorgeous ruins from a bygone era are found amongst majestic oaks and scattered ancient graves. Inside the ruins of the church is the burial site of Colonel William Bull, who, along with General Oglethorpe, was key in establishing the physical layout of Savannah.

A must see, Old Sheldon Church was built in the Greek Revival style between 1745 and 1753. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A must see, Old Sheldon Church was built in the Greek Revival style between 1745 and 1753. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beaufort also offers access to a plethora of water sports, so set aside some time to enjoy South Carolina’s warm waters in addition to your perusal of the town’s history. The annual Beaufort Water Festival, which takes place over 10 days in July, is the premier event.

Worth Pondering…

Our wish to you is this: drive a little slower, take the backroads sometimes, and stay a little longer. Enjoy, learn, relax, and then…plan your next journey.

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