Beaufort, SC:Â Historic LowCountry Coastal Living
If you like mild, warm weather, the fresh smell of a sea breeze, historical roots, a commercially viable area and proximity to iconic Southern cities, then Beaufort and the surrounding South Carolina Lowcountry may be for you.
Beaufort (pronounced byoo-fort), the Queen of the Carolina Islands, is a wonderful tapestry of Southern history and modern adventure, spread out among a series of adjacent islands. The entire historic downtown waterfront district is located on Port Royal Island, a delightful mÃ©lange of historic mansions, art galleries, fine restaurants and hip boutiques.
Parris Island, located at the tip of the peninsula adjacent to modern-day Beaufort, was the location of Franceâ€™s first colony in the New World, founded in 1562 (preceding St. Augustine by three years).
The town of Beaufort was chartered in 1711, making it the second-oldest city in South Carolina, after Charleston. The Treaty of Beaufort, signed in the city in 1787, fixed the boundary between South Carolina and Georgia.
The cityâ€™s Golden Era was in the 1800s, when Sea Island cotton became the main crop. Beaufortâ€™s location, midway between the two fabulous seaports of Charleston and Savannah, and a stoneâ€™s throw from Hilton Head, proved convenient. Many of Beaufortâ€™s lovely mansions were built by wealthy owners of cotton, indigo and rice plantations.
Today, Beaufort remains an attractive destination. National Geographic Magazine named Beaufort as one of the top waterfront adventure towns in the country. A kayak trip through the Lowcountryâ€™s salt-marsh ecosystem, one of the worldâ€™s most productive, is a delightful (and tame) wilderness experience. In addition, golf, tennis, fishing and extensive bicycle and walking routes are plentiful.
Two nearby Marine bases, a naval hospital and a viable fishing industry contribute to the business vitality. Beaufortâ€™s distinctive coupling of modern vitality and Southern charm is growing national attention. The town has been featured in books such as The 100 Best Art Towns in America, by John Villani, 1000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz and Americaâ€™s Most Charming Towns & Villages (fifth edition) by Larry Brown. In fact, it was John Villaniâ€™s book listing those best art towns that captured the attention of J.W. and Jenny Rone and brought them to Beaufort.
The Rones moved from Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, another of the 100 Best Art Towns, to Beaufort at the end of 2005. â€œWe traded one art town for the other,â€ laughed Mrs. Rone.
â€œWe were done with the cold,â€ Mrs. Rone said. â€œWe were ready to move and find other challenges, and we literally looked for another best small art town to call home. We used John Villaniâ€™s book as reference and searched for an area that was warmer and more tropical, with population diversity, lots of different activities and the ambience of a small town.â€
Once in Beaufort, the couple started volunteering at the Arts Council of Beaufort County. By August of 2006, they were hired as the new management team. â€œThey got two heads for the price of one,â€ said Mrs. Rone.
While the Rones were looking for that perfect warm environment, Mrs. Roneâ€™s parents also were considering relocating from northern Virginia. They fell in love with Port Royal, built a house and actually moved there a year before their daughter and son-in-law.
â€œBut we swear we picked Beaufort long before they decided to relocate,â€ Mrs. Rone laughed. â€œWe were going back and forth from West Virginia to Beaufort, looking for houses and we finally got tired of driving and just decided to do it. Being in a subdivision was not at the top of our priority list, but it turns out weâ€™ve fallen in love with Mossy Oaks, with our house and with the marsh. And itâ€™s five minutes from the arts center. We love going out to the beach and listening to the waves or going out with friends on their boat to find dolphins.â€
The water also attracted Troy and Tina Eastman, who moved to neighboring St. Helena Island four years ago. Mr. Eastman is retired military and Beaufort allowed him to combine his two passions in life â€“ fishing and kayaking.
â€œI have fished in 26 countries; Iâ€™ve fly fished out West, and I knew the fishing was good in Charleston and in Savannah and itâ€™s even better here because of the marshes,â€ Mr. Eastman grinned. â€œI love any kind of fishing. I also do a lot of kayaking, and I fish from my kayak. You just put the bait out, hook a fish and go for a ride! They call it a â€œLowcountry sleigh ride.â€
When the fish tires, he pulls it up to the kayak and unhooks it for release back to the wild. â€œI had a friend who caught a 450-pound shark from his kayak,â€ he explained. â€œHis sleigh ride was an hour and a half. Itâ€™s the same fishing the Inuits and the Native Americans did. They hunted whales from their kayaks, so I guess we can catch 450-pound sharks.â€
The scenery elicits poetic praise from Bill and Roseann Zimmer, newly transplanted from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. â€œItâ€™s like stepping into a postcard,â€ Mr. Zimmer smiled. â€œItâ€™s so beautiful. Pennsylvania is beautiful, but this is a different kind of beauty. The landscaping, the big oaks with Spanish moss hanging down â€“ itâ€™s just one postcard image after another.â€
Both in their fifties, the Zimmers decided not to wait until retirement â€œto move to a town where you didnâ€™t have to hibernate for six months,â€ as Mr. Zimmer said with a smile. Their daughter was going to school in Columbia, South Carolina, and they decided they would move down now instead of waiting until they were older.
â€œIâ€™m a dentist and I started a brand new practice from scratch down here,â€ Mr. Zimmer explained. â€œWe are in the town center of Habersham (a water-edged residential community just a few miles from downtown Beaufort). We live in the loft above the first floor office. We didnâ€™t have in mind the setup they have here until we saw it. Then it really clicked for both of us.â€
Mrs. Zimmer, who is the business manager of the dental practice, agreed. â€œThe images online donâ€™t do this design justice. My husband first saw it two years ago and I said â€˜no way, I donâ€™t want to live above the practice.â€™ Then we ended up coming down here and saw it and we said, â€˜Where do we sign?â€™ We didnâ€™t do any research to determine if there were a lot of dentists in the area. It was just where we wanted to live.â€
The two-bedroom, 1,400 square foot loft required extensive downsizing. â€œDid we downsize? Oh yes!!â€ she laughed heartily. â€œBut itâ€™s ok; we are empty nesters. It will give me more time when Iâ€™m not working to go to the beach, shop, or play tennis. And the landscaping is taken care of â€“ one dead plant and they pop it out and plant a new flower. Itâ€™s so meticulous.â€
Mr. Zimmer is an avid golfer and has joined a group of about 25 men who play different courses in the area.
â€œPeople are so friendly here, I think because everyone is from somewhere else and we are all trying to connect,â€ Mrs. Zimmer observed. â€œItâ€™s the most unique area in the world. I feel like I am on constant vacation. The sun shines, itâ€™s warm, flowers bloom, the birds sing â€“ itâ€™s so beautiful. Iâ€™m telling you, I canâ€™t say enough wonderful things about it.â€
Itâ€™s a touch ironic that just after the Zimmers moved to Beaufort, their daughter transferred from Columbia to New York Cityâ€™s Fordham University.
Is New York in their future?
â€œNever,â€ exclaimed Mrs. Zimmer. â€œI would never leave this area! The pace of living here is so much slower. Iâ€™ve embraced the pace.â€
What to do & What to see
The Beaufort Museum
Housed in the 1795 Beaufort Arsenal, the exhibits tell the story of cotton, rice and indigo creating plantation life and of the wars which changed the character of the area along with that of the country. Editorâ€™s note: The museum is currently closed for repairs. Please call before visiting.
713 Craven Street; 843.379.3331; www.historic-beaufort.org/beaufortmuseumpage.htm
Parris Island Museum
Located at the U.S. Marine Corps Recruit Depot, exhibits military history and island settlements from the 1500s.
Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island; 843.228.2951; www.pimuseum.us
Penn Center, York W. Bailey Museum
This campus of the first African-American school where freed slaves were educated after the Civil War is designated as a National Historical Landmark. It includes rare artifacts and an overview of Reconstruction.
St. Helena Island; 843.838.2432; www.penncenter.com
Spring Garden Walk
The Spring Garden Walk displays the explosion of color so typical to Southern tradition and Lowcountry climate.
The Spring Tour of Homes
The Spring Tour of Homes is a seasonal highlight featuring beautiful private homes open for visitors.
Art Walks are presented by the Guild of Beaufort Galleries in conjunction with the fall and spring home tours and the Beaufort Kaleidoscope: Film, Food & Fine Art.
The Beaufort Kaleidoscope: Film, Food & Fine Art
The festival is a spring tradition featuring a film festival, art shows and an art walk.
Soft Shell Crab Festival
This annual event is held in April in the Town of Port Royal (five minutes from Beaufort) where old fashioned fun is the style in the streets of the Old Village.
A Taste of Beaufort
Held in early May, the festival features food, wine, art and music in a day-long event in the historic downtown.
In the Town of Port Royal, July 4th is celebrated with family activities, food, drink, entertainment and a dual fireworks display presented by Parris Island and the Town of Port Royal.
Beaufort Water Festival
Water is king during 10 days of celebration each July with a variety of concerts, water skiing, talent contests, air shows, boat races and parades. Tournaments include golf, tennis, boating and bed races. Water lovers also enjoy decorated boats and the traditional Blessing of the Fleet.
Beaufort Shrimp Festival
This October event includes a run and walk plus a huge celebration of the shrimping industry. Enjoy local recipes and tastings or buy directly from the boats and cook your own.