54th Annual Spring Tour of Homes features some intriguing surprises

When you combine a Civil War era mining paymaster’s house with a shack, do tons of additions and renovations, and hang an important collection of Canadian modern art, what do you get? Just one of the seven fascinating residences (and one church) on this year’s 54th Annual Spring Tour of Homes.

The Parish Church of St. Helena will host “Old Point by Candlelight: A Walking Tour of Historic Beaufort’s Most Distinguished Neighborhood” on Friday, March 19 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

The evening begins in downtown Beaufort with a free tour of the Parish Church of St. Helena from 4-6 p.m., and concludes with a reception on The Green featuring butler-passed hors d’oeuvres and live entertainment by a local bluegrass band. All proceeds will benefit The Women of the Parish, which supports more than 20 local and foreign charities.

Tour participants will be given maps to help them explore seven noteworthy private residences in The Old Point, Beaufort’s most historic neighborhood, where architecture ranges from the early 1700s to the twentieth century. The structures of four of the private residences pre-date the Civil War. Some have fantastic art collections, others have histories as rich as the Lowcountry’s, and still others sport fantastic renovations.

“The Old Point boasts majestic homes and quiet streets lined in shady oaks, similar to downtown Charleston,” said tour chairman Elizabeth Klosterman. “But people still know the majority of their neighbors, and children still play in the streets. Old Point is such a special place, and it has been a particular pleasure to plan a tour of homes here.”

When the Coosaw Phosphate Mines closed in the 1870s, the Paymaster’s House was moved from Lady’s Island by barge, then rolled on logs over The Green and up to the property. “There was a shack there already,” said current owner Brian Robbins with a laugh, correcting himself by saying, “There was a cottage there already.” The Paymaster’s House was joined to the cottage to create a dwelling. It has since undergone extensive renovation, with a re-design by architect Jane Frederick, that included moving the house forward 25 feet, an addition in the back, and an apartment.old-point-robbins-house

Robbins and his wife, Sheila, had been coming to Beaufort for about 15 years from their home in Toronto, when they decided to look for a part-time residence here. About four years ago, they found something close to downtown that “fulfilled our needs.”

One of those needs was a place to showcase their passion, Canadian art. Though he’s collected art for 20 years, about ten years ago, Brian began to collect abstract paintings from the 1950s and 1960s. He’s particularly interested in works by a group of painters called Painters Eleven, which held the first major commercial exhibition of abstract expressionist art in Toronto. He has bought over 30 paintings specifically for the Beaufort house, saying his choices were “a function of size and pretty bright colors.”

Though he bought the house fully stocked with original period furnishings, it didn’t take long for Sheila to redecorate the home in a contemporary style.

“Old houses can be a little drab,” he says, adding that his art collection “has brought some light to it.”

Marking a new tradition for the 54-year old tour is the addition of The First African Baptist Church, which was built in 1865 by emancipated slaves.

“I’m so happy we had the opportunity to include the church as part of the tour this year,” said Klosterman. “While it has many unique architectural features, what is more significant is the role its congregation has played in the history of this community.”

Tickets to the Spring Tour of Homes are $40 per person and include the reception. For more information and tickets, call 524-0363.