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Established in 1969, the downtown Beaufort National Historic District is comprised of five distinct neighborhoods that have played major roles in the history of the city. Of these neighborhoods, the Downtown, the Point, and the Bluff areas are the most familiar to visitors. Impressive architecture, shaded streetscapes, and unique shops & restaurants are part of what give the historic district its unique appeal.
Downtown is considered to be Bay Street, which is Beaufort's traditional commercial area. Bay Street is bound by the Henry Chambers Waterfront Park to the south and features a wide range of small shops and restaurants that will keep window browsers and hungry stomachs satisfied. Adjacent to downtown are the residential areas of the Point (to the east) the Bluff (to the west), and the Old Commons (to the north).
The Point neighborhood features a wide range of homes, ranging from Queen Anne and Victorian style homes on Craven Street to large scale plantation style homes along the Beaufort River.
The Bluff features mostly larger mansion style homes along Bay Street. These homes front the Beaufort River and offer beautiful vistas under the cover of live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss.
The Old Commons neighborhood is a hodgepodge of homes which are generally single-room wide homes that front the streets, though a couple of larger set-back homes do exist as well.
Although off the beaten path, the streets of the Northwest Quadrant neighborhood feature unique architecture that pays tribute to late 19th Century and early 20th Century shotgun style homes. This community has for years been the center of the African-American community in town and is experiencing a resurgence of redevelopment that is sensitive to the existing built environment.
There are several ways to see the Historic District. Please consult the Getting Around travel article for more information.
Beaufort is an architect’s dream destination—especially if you are drawn to colonial and antebellum period Southern architecture. In the downtown historic district, the dominant styles include the Federal, Greek Revival, Neoclassical, and shotgun styles, often with overlapping features. Unlike its larger sister cities of Charleston and Savannah, Beaufort's homes are much larger in character and can often occupy half a block or more. These mansions housed some of the wealthiest citizens in America prior to the Civil War, prompting one historian to call Beaufort the "Newport of the South".
The "Beaufort Style" of architecture is unique to this area. This style features a "T" designed house, in which rear rooms in the house were built outwards in order to catch prevailing southern winds. These features, along with two-story piazzas (front porches), false doors, and blue painted roofs are among the many interesting features of the Beaufort style. Complimenting the impressive architecture are beautiful gardens and terraces that accompany many of the homes in the downtown area.
Downtown Beaufort should not be mistaken as a musuem itself; it is by all means a residential neighborhood. While this allows for visitors to generally see homes from the outside, it also means that these homes are privately owned and lived in, so seeing the inside of them is not an option for many of them.
The John Mark Verdier House is Beaufort's only historic home that is continuously open to the public. Located on Bay Street right in downtown Beaufort, the Verdier House is one of the finest examples of the Federal architectural style in the city. Built shortly after the Revolutionary War, the house has been a mainstay in Beaufort for years and was rescued from demolition in the 1940s by concerned citizens. That effort sparked Beaufort's larger historic preservation movement which continues to this day.
You can also "see" the inside of many of Beaufort's homes by picking up books and literature in bookstores and gift shops around town that specialize in interior design and history.
The Historic Beaufort Foundation provides a number of publications, including guidebooks and maps that will help you in your quest to view the town’s historic buildings. Please keep in mind that many of these homes are private residences and trespassing is an offense.
Home Tours do occur several times a year for those interested in seeing more homes. In late March, the St. Helena Spring Tour of Homes offers visitors a unique glance to visit the homes of several church parishioners, some of whom live in Beaufort's most renowned residences. In late October, the Historic Beaufort Foundation hosts the Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens which occurs during the dusk hours and offers an intimate experience for those interested in architecture and home design.
Additional smaller tours may be scheduled during the year, but may not necessarily be annual events. Contact the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce for more information. Reservations for these popular events are highly recommended.