Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A day in Beaufort and area

We drove the three hours southeast on Friday night, the last two through pouring rain that didn’t seem to bode well for the weekend ahead. Having chosen a hotel central to the various destinations of the weekend, we only had an hour to drive the next morning to reach Hunting Island State Park. On our way there we stopped at a rather interesting art gallery, Red Piano Too. The building, built in 1940, was for years a co-op. One-quarter mile from the National Historic Landmark Penn Center, it was the first store in South Carolina to pay people of color with money rather than barter for goods. Renovated in 1999, the gallery has been at the location for over twenty years selling the art of over 150 artists.

We need not have worried so much about the weather, it could not have been much better. After a beautiful day spent on Hunting Island we retraced that morning’s route west to Beaufort. The second oldest city in South Carolina (the oldest being Charleston), it is famous for its antebellum architecture and military establishments: Parris Island, U.S. Naval Hospital and the Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. We started our tour in the downtown historic district “The Point”, of which 304 acres have been designated a National Historic Site. Homes like “The Castle” with a massive live oak in the front yard and accompanying legend (Mr. Johnson buried his valuables under the outhouse upon Yankee advance, and returned home just in time to dig them up and pay his back taxes), and Marshlands (used as a hospital during the Civil War) are hidden on small back streets close to the Beaufort River. We saw the Edgar Fripp House (built in 1856 by the wealthy planter for whom nearby Fripp Island is named) and the Francis Hext House, which is one of the oldest structures in Beaufort, dating back to 1720. With the southern culture, live oaks draped in Spanish moss and palatial mansions, it is no wonder the city has often been featured in movies and books: Forces of Nature, Francis Griswold’s A Sea Island Lady, The Big Chill and The Great Santini, to name a few.*

The Rhett House Inn, Beaufort SC
After seafood tapas and a glass of wine at Emily’s we strolled the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park. Built in 1980, the park stretches along the Beaufort River and has a nice mix of walkways and greenspace. We tried out the swinging benches overlooking the water while a wedding party was busy taking photographs in the garden behind us, and then watched the sunset from the playground near the bridge while the kids played on the jungle gym in the shape of a Victorian house.

Beaufort has all the charm of the South Carolina lowcountry, and with its friendly and inviting downtown I hope we have the option to return for further exploration. After a day spent on the beach and exploring this old city, with our stomachs full, we knew it was time to head back to the hotel. The next morning it was a short fifteen minute drive to the Old Sheldon Church Ruins, the historic site of a church originally known as Prince William's Parish Church. The Greek Revival style building was constructed between 1745 and 1753 and then burned by the British in 1779 during the Revolutionary War. Rebuilt in 1826, it once more suffered damage in 1865 during the Civil War. Gutted for materials to rebuild homes burned by Sherman’s army, there has been no roof for 150 years.

Inside the ruins of the church lie the remains of Colonel William Bull, who helped General Oglethorpe in establishing the physical layout of Savannah, Georgia. Other scattered gravestones bear dates past and recent, with some that date before 1700. Set amongst majestic live oaks dripping Spanish moss, the ruins were a sight to see in the early morning sun. How lovely it would be to attend the annual Easter service! As we walked the grounds a couple with a baby showed up for a newborn photography session, and the Beaufort County Open Land Trust was setting up for a barbecue picnic later that day. Nevertheless, there was a pervading sense of calm and quiet that remained with me the rest of the day at nearby Auldbrass, Frank Lloyd Wright’s only plantation. Stay tuned...

*Pat Conroy, the author of the Great Santini, spent many years in Beaufort and his works are largely influenced by the southern lowcountry life. I was excited to see he has a new book out (The Death of Santini), and a local bookstore was advertising a book signing this Sunday, November 10th. If you're in the area...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...