Historic Sites

Beaufort, SC

The area surrounding South Carolina's second-oldest city holds plenty of historic landmarks. In the Parris Island Museum at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot are artifacts from the primitive settlements of nomadic Native Americans who hunted and fished along the marshy rivers. As the people became less itinerant, they developed permanent communities around cultivated farming plots. These villages were fortified against the incursions of other indigenous tribes, but ultimately they could not withstand the European advance.

Parris Island was the site of an early French Huguenot settlement called Charles Fort, built in 1562 by Captain Jean Ribaut. The tiny colony was abandoned to its own resources the following year, when Ribaut was unable to recruit additional settlers or to resupply the outpost. Dispirited survivors built a boat and returned to Europe. Subsequent Spanish fortifications were built over the foundations of Charles Fort, and the last of these was burned before the area was lost to the English in 1587.

An Indian town referred to as "St. Ellen's" by English explorer William Hilton stood on Parris Island in the mid 1600s. Cultivated crops of corn, peaches, figs and grapes surrounded family dwellings anchored by a large council house. Evidence of Spanish missionary influence in the town included a wooden crucifix and a sentry house built with planks, nails and spikes. English refugees were taken in after their ships were wrecked, and some remained as settlers to live in the area. The St. Ellen's community was destroyed by Westo Indians in 1667 and was never rebuilt.

St. Helena Episcopal Parish was established in 1712 in the area that now includes Beaufort. A brick and stucco church was begun in 1724 on Newcastle Street. Colonel "Tuscarora" Jack Barnwell, founder of the city, is buried here. The downtown parish church served as a hospital during the Civil War, when flat tombstones from the churchyard cemetery were used as operating tables. A smaller Chapel of Ease was constructed on Lands End Road on St. Helena Island to serve the outlying parish community, but this church was burnt in a forest fire in 1886, leaving only ruins of the building and its graveyard.

Old Sheldon Church, several miles northwest of Beaufort, was built between 1744 and 1755. It was Prince William's Parish Church during this period, but it was torched by the British during the American Revolution. Rebuilt in 1825, it was destroyed again by Sherman's Federal troops in 1865. Today the ruins provide an appealing landscape for photographers and a poignant scene for Easter morning services and occasional weddings among the massive Georgian columns.

The Beaufort Arsenal was built in 1798 on Craven Street to aid in the defense of the South Carolina coastline. The tabby structure housed the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery, a fighting unit that had distinguished itself during the Revolutionary War. The Arsenal served as headquarters and a weapons storage facility for the city's volunteer militia. It was reinforced and expanded with brick in 1852, as secessionists began preparing for war.

Today's National Guard in Beaufort traces its history from the local militia, making the unit the fifth-oldest in the United States. A new armory was built in 1966 for the Guard, and the Arsenal has changed ownership several times in the years since; most recently, the building serves as the home of the Beaufort Museum.

The John Mark Verdier House at 801 Bay Street was erected in 1805 for a prominent merchant planter. The home is Federalist-style architecture, and hosted the Marquis de Lafayette as a houseguest in 1825. It was later commandeered by the Union Army for use as a headquarters during the Civil War. The Verdier House has been restored by the Historic Beaufort Foundation.

The Baptist Church of Beaufort, built in 1844 on Charles Street, is a notable example of Greek Revival architecture. During the Civil War, this house of worship served as a hospital.

Penn Center, on St. Helena Island, is the first school for African-Americans opened in the South in 1862 by northern missionaries. Freed slaves were educated here, and subsequent generations of graduates have gone on to distinguish themselves around the country. The campus is a designated National Historic Landmark, and its museum includes artifacts from the history and culture of the Sea Islands Gullah tradition that united people displaced from diverse African tribes.

Beaufort National Cemetery occupies 49 acres in downtown Beaufort. It was opened after the Civil War as a final resting place honoring American soldiers. In addition to Civil War soldiers from each side, these grounds embrace the graves of members of the "Buffalo Soldiers" and Medal of Honor winners from the Vietnam conflict. The oak-shaded veterans' burial site is open daily to visitors.

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