(Beaufort, South Carolina) About an hour and a half south of Charleston lies Beaufort, a charming town nestled in the Barriers Islands, the islands that ring the Atlantic coast between North Carolina and northern Florida. Founded in 1711, it’s South Carolina’s second-oldest city after Charleston, but since it was spared the fighting of the Civil War, its heart has been perfectly preserved. Tour of an exceptional city.
With its majestic holm oaks, the oldest of which are over 600 years old, the Old Point district offers a real step back in time. Its majestic residences inspired by British colonial architecture in the West Indies are unique and bear witness to the splendor in which the first plantation owners of South Carolina lived. Alerted to the arrival of the Unionist army at the start of the Civil War, the owners of Beaufort chose to flee in disaster, leaving behind residences and slaves. The Armée du Nord therefore made Beaufort a base of operations, with several of the largest houses being converted into field hospitals, which explains the exceptional state of preservation of the heart of the city. In fact, the entire area, plus downtown and The Bluff, The Old Commons, and the Northwest Quadrant neighborhoods, are protected under the National Monuments Act.
“We are exactly between Charleston and Savannah, we can attract tourists who are looking for something that is more on a human scale,” says Ms. Jeffries.
Some of the slaves freed after the disaster departure of the southern owners were able to redeem the mansions left vacant. Such is the case with Robert Smalls, one of the most legendary figures in the history of Beaufort—a statue in his honor has been erected on Carlton Street, near the Baptist Church and cemetery where he was buried in 1915. Trained to work in port facilities, Smalls had stolen a Southern ship in Charleston before bringing it and a few men to the port of Beaufort, controlled by the Unionists. His house still stands on Prince Street in the Old Point neighborhood.
Many of the freed slaves in Beaufort and the region were given land on the belt islands, giving rise to the Gullah-Geechee culture, which is distinguished among other things by a dialect spoken from North Carolina to the north of Florida. Several families are still established in the island of Saint Helena – it is here that we find the Penn Center, site of the first school built for the freed slaves of the region.
Its visit is highly recommended before continuing the road to Hunting Island State Park and its majestic lighthouse, but above all its superb beach spared from any commercial construction. Access to the park is also completely exotic with its subtropical vegetation, so that it feels like you have arrived in Hawaii. It’s no wonder that footage from G.I.Jane and The Jungle Book was filmed here.
But the most famous filming done in the Beaufort area — locals pronounce it Biou-feuwrt — was certainly Forest Gump. The Beaufort swing bridge is the one that, in the film, spans the Mississippi River in one of the sequences where the unforgettable character played by Tom Hanks runs tirelessly across the United States. A little further on the neighboring island of Saint Helena is the small shrimp fishing port Gay Fish Company, the site that inspired the creation in the film of the famous Bubba Gump restaurant chain – it has since become a real teaches with restaurants all over the world.
Shrimp is in the spotlight in Beaufort, the cradle of the Lowcountry, an area located in the lowlands of southern South Carolina which is distinguished by a typical cuisine inspired in particular by the Gullah culture. You have to try the she-crab soup, a bisque of blue crab, the shrimp and grits, grilled shrimp served on a thick cream of ground corn, the grilled oysters, the tomato pie or the hushpuppies, a kind of donuts fried in crab.