From the rich history of the William Wigg Barnwell House to the stately architecture of the Verdier House, the story of Beaufort can be found around every corner if you only know where to look.
For 50 years, the Historic Beaufort Foundation has worked to preserve and protect that history through its efforts to save many of Beaufort’s historic properties.
It all started in the 1940s with a group of people who decided that, rather than allowing the Verdier House to be razed for a gas station, they would save the home themselves.
That early effort would soon lead the charge to save other prominent homes and buildingsaroundthe city, said Maxine Lutz, the foundation’s former executive director.
“They were early flippers,” she said.
Some of the first houses the group saved included the Anchorage, the Cuthbert House and the William Wigg Barnwell House among others.
Without the work of Historic Beaufort over the years, Beaufort would be a very different place, foundation leaders say.
“There is a long list of dozens of houses that would not be standing today if it were not for Historic Beaufort,” said Cynthia Cole Jenkins.
Jenkins was the organization’s first director after the foundation was formally organized in the late ‘60s. She will be returning to the position this fall – a role she is excited to step back into after being gone for nearly 25 years.
“I’m most excited about seeing the city again and working with the foundationto strengthen the preservation that they’ve been doing for so long and so successfully,” she said.
Today, the organization continues its work with the help of about 100 volunteers who serve on a daily basis as committee members or docents or in other capacities. The organization also boasts of over 900 members.
Recent projects include the rehabilitation of the foundation’s own offices on Scott Street in downtown Beaufort. The project included repairing the L-shaped building’s sheet rock and brick along with other much needed repairs.
The foundation also worked along with the Palmetto Trust to stabilize the historic Frogmore Lodge in the northwest quandrant of Beaufort on Duke Street. After the organization installed a new roof and made the foundation stable, it was then sold to new owners.
In recent years, the organization has also worked to identify smaller properties, such as cottages and other sites that, while not as large or grand in scale as some of the earlier homes the organization worked to save, still contribute to the history and fabricof Beaufort.
Many of those homes have ties to Reconstruction, or theperiod in American history just after the Civil War. The Nash Cottage at 508 Duke Street, built by Robert Smalls in the late 1800s, is one such home.
Once a private residence, the cottage began life as a rental home to two laundresses.The Nash family willed the home to the foundation with the stipulation that it be opened periodically to the public for educational purposes.
The foundation also manages or oversees properties that have been designated as conservation easements, or donations from homeowners who wish to protect a property either in perpetuity or for a certain period of time.
Currently, the foundation holds easements on about 29 properties, Lutz said.
These easements are important because they too help ensure the preservation of larger scaled properties which ofteninclude gardens or other landscape elements contributing to the character and the history of a place, said both Lutz and Jenkins.
“It is the landscape as well as the buildings that you are concerned with when trying to protect the integrity of historic properties,” Jenkins said.
All of this, Jenkins said, fuels the economic engine of the state’s tourism industry, which had an economic impact of $22.6 billion in 2018.
“There would be very little tourism in Beaufort without protecting views of the water, access to riverfront and historic architecture,” she said.
The Historic Beaufort Foundation will hold a fundraising event on the grounds of Marshlands in Old Point, from 4 – 7 p.m., on Saturday, Oct. 26. “Wine Down” will feature wine tasting, music and small bites. Tickets are $60 and are available at the foundation’s office, at 208 Scott Street, the Verdier House, at 801 Bay Street, and will be available at the event. Proceeds will go toward the maintenance and upkeep of the Verdier House. For more information call 843-379-3331 or visit www.historicbeaufort.org.
Top photograph: John Mark Verdier House in 1863 during the Union occupation of Beaufort (1861 – 1865). The house served as army headquarters and the adjutant general’s office.
Bottom photograph: Verdier House in 2011. Restored to the colors of the 1863 exterior.