South Carolina’s Beaufort of­fers plenty

His­tory abounds in the crown jewel of Low Coun­try

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - TRAVEL - By Patti Nick­ell

BEAUFORT, S.C. — The “Great Skedad­dle” proved the sal­va­tion of Beaufort, the jewel in the crown of South Carolina’s Low Coun­try. Fol­low­ing the 1861 fir­ing on Fort Sumter in Charleston, which pre­cip­i­tated the Civil War, the en­tire state was un­der siege. Beaufort, just 70 miles south of Charleston, was at par­tic­u­lar risk.

The city’s res­i­dents — be­liev­ing the war would be over in a month or so — buried their sil­ver and skedad­dled, plan­ning to re­turn and take up their lives when it was all over. Four years later they re­turned to find their liveli­hood gone and their beau­ti­ful man­sions lost to un­paid taxes.

The good news was that the man­sions, thanks to the largesse of the Union army (and the fact that the pop­u­lace had not put up a fight) re­mained in­tact and to­day’s vis­i­tors can marvel at a town whose cen­ter is al­most en­tirely an­te­bel­lum.

Street af­ter street of these man­sions — adorned with white columns and sur­rounded by stately oaks drip­ping with Span­ish moss — elicit oohs and aahs. The best time to truly ex­pe­ri­ence them is dur­ing the Fall Fes­ti­val of Houses & Gar­dens (in 2020 sched­uled for Oct. 23 through 25.)

Tours pro­vide ac­cess to three cen­turies of ar­chi­tec­tural splen­dor in an area des­ig­nated as a Na­tional His­toric Land­mark District.

The fes­ti­val show­cases Beaufort’s charms, but any time is a good time to visit this beau­ti­ful city, lo­cated on Port Royal, one of South Carolina’s coastal is­lands. Some 60% of Beaufort County is wa­ter, and the town sits on the Beaufort River, a tidal arm of the

At­lantic.

Get a sense of how the wa­ter de­fines the land on one of Cap­tain Dick’s river tours aboard the Prince of Tides, while learn­ing about the area’s wildlife and ecol­ogy.

Spartina, a tall marsh grass that grows pro­lif­i­cally, lines the river­banks; Oys­ter­catch­ers, birds with rosy red bills, pa­trol beds of sun-bleached oys­ter shells, await­ing their next meal, and the mud flats — vis­i­ble at low tide — are home to an army of fid­dler crabs.

While on board, you’ll also hear sto­ries about the pi­rates and rice and indigo planters who called this ex­otic lo­cale home.

Sail­ing on a boat named the Prince of Tides can’t help but put one in mind of the Low Coun­try’s lit­er­ary pa­tron saint, Pat Con­roy. The au­thor of “The Prince of Tides,” “The Great San­tini” and “The Lords of Dis­ci­pline” served the area as a teacher, men­tor, ad­vo­cate of Low Coun­try life and friend to any­one with a story to tell.

Get a peek into his life — both pub­lic and pri­vate — at the Pat Con­roy Lit­er­ary Cen­ter, and then visit his grave at the tiny ceme­tery on nearby St. He­lena Is­land.

Just a short walk from the cen­ter is the charm­ing Beaufort Inn. Some of Beaufort’s most beau­ti­ful houses have been turned into small inns and be­dand-break­fast ac­com­mo­da­tions, and this is one of the best. With its lush gar­dens, sweep­ing ve­ran­das and rock­ing-chair-lined porches, it is the very essence of South­ern hos­pi­tal­ity. The ho­tel’s 48 rooms are in both the main house and in cot­tages fac­ing the gar­dens and court­yard.

If you want a true South­ern ex­pe­ri­ence, book din­ner on the up­stairs veranda of the Anchorage 1770 Inn. With a glass of Cham­pagne in hand, toast the sun­set as the sun slowly sinks into the bay, cre­at­ing a land­scape por­trait in shades of gold, or­ange and vermilion.

The food comes from the Low Coun­try’s boun­ti­ful larder and the gen­uine hos­pi­tal­ity comes from the inn’s own­ers Frank and Amy, trans­planted At­lantans

who take it as a per­sonal af­front if their guests don’t en­joy them­selves.

For a unique per­spec­tive on Beaufort, lis­ten to what Peach Mor­ri­son, direc­tor of the Low­coun­try & Re­sort Is­lands, has to say. She likens it to one of three South­ern sis­ters — Charleston, South Carolina; Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia; and Beaufort. Charleston, says Mor­ri­son, be­ing the oldest, is very well-es­tab­lished and sure of her charms. Sa­van­nah, the youngest, is beau­ti­ful, a bit wild and loves to party. Then where does that leave Beaufort?

“Beaufort is the mid­dle sis­ter,” says Mor­ri­son. “She’ll get in the truck, back the boat in the wa­ter and go get shrimp for din­ner — but she won’t do it with­out putting her pearls on first.”

As if Beaufort alone doesn’t have enough to of­fer, the sur­round­ing Low Coun­try — with its mélange of South­ern, Na­tive Amer­i­can, Euro­pean, Caribbean and African cul­tures — is a ver­i­ta­ble smor­gas­bord of sights, sounds and tastes.

In Ye­massee, the ru­ins shrouded in Span­ish moss vis­i­ble from the road are those of Old Shel­don Church, built be­tween 1745 and 1753 and thought to be the first con­scious at­tempt in Amer­ica to model a build­ing af­ter a Greek tem­ple. The church was burned in 1865 by Union Gen. John Lo­gan and never re­built. To­day, its ru­ins stand as a haunt­ing tes­ta­ment to the rav­ages of war.

Save a day for ex­plor­ing Wal­ter­boro, re­ferred to as the “Front Porch of the

Low Coun­try.” If you ar­rive early enough, stop for break­fast at the Old Bank Christ­mas & Bak­ery. If that sounds in­con­gru­ous, that’s be­cause it is. The Bak­ery, with the fluffi­est bis­cuits I’ve had lately, is tucked away in a cor­ner of one of the largest Christ­mas gift shops in the South.

Tour the Be­don-Lu­cas House, one of Wal­ter­boro’s five re­main­ing “high houses.” The flood­ing of nearby fields for the cul­ti­va­tion of rice made it nec­es­sary to raise the houses off the ground. The in­te­rior is well-pre­served with the orig­i­nal heart of pine floors.

If you’re crav­ing some qual­ity beach time, there’s no bet­ter spot than Edisto. This sandy par­adise is the yin to Myr­tle Beach’s and Hil­ton Head’s yang — a fam­ily-ori­ented com­mu­nity where spa­cious beach houses take the place of high-rise ho­tels, and where the homey SeaCow Eatery is the pop­u­lar gath­er­ing spot for lo­cals.

The beach is so pris­tine that not only is it a fa­vorite of vis­i­tors, but of log­ger­head sea tur­tles as well, who come here to nest.

DIS­COVER SOUTH CAROLINA

The Beaufort Inn is one of the city’s most pic­turesque small inns. It’s the very essence of South­ern hos­pi­tal­ity.

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