The rocking chairs on the front porch of the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, South Carolina, peer out through Spanish moss to Bay Street and the river beyond. “The view of Beaufort River that we have was described in Prince of Tides,” says the center’s executive director, Jonathan Haupt, of one of the late author’s most beloved books. “It includes the courthouse and the schoolhouse, both of which are walking distance. Pat described what is really Bay Street, right next to what is now his Conroy center.”
Haupt was working at the University of South Carolina Press when he met Conroy, and together they launched a fiction imprint called Story River Books. “He was the editor at large, but we called him the ‘editor at larger than life,’” Haupt says. Conroy was famously gregarious and supportive of other writers, and he loved introducing people to his adopted hometown of Beaufort. Haupt moved there in 2016, just a few months after Conroy died, to lead the center, which keeps a full calendar of workshops, book clubs, and author events. Haupt now fills his days honoring Conroy’s literary legacy, and exploring and discovering plenty of favorite spots of his own in Beaufort County’s Lowcountry landscape.
“Beaufort has good literary bones—it’s a town that loves and values stories,” Haupt says. “And I love that we have three independent bookstores: NeverMore Books downtown—which grew out of the owners’ personal collection, and where we often do events—McIntosh Book Shoppe, which is primarily a used bookstore, and Beaufort Bookstore, which is just out of downtown on Boundary Street.”
At the Conroy center, visitors often stop to sit and read, or to see where the author wrote some of his bestsellers. “We have Pat’s actual desk where he wrote half of his books,” Haupt says. “It spent most of its life out on Fripp Island, but now it’s here. We put a lot of effort into making this place feel like a combination of a museum and almost like Pat’s residence. Visitors feel the presence and absence of Pat Conroy.”
“We love to send people to the Gullah Art Gallery & Museum, which is within walking distance of the center,” Haupt says. “That will give them an immersive insight into the Gullah experience and Gullah artwork.” When guests stay overnight, Haupt directs them to the Rhett Inn, which runs a guided tour of places related to Conroy’s life.
“There’s a restaurant here Pat adored called Griffin Market,” Haupt says. “It’s an Italian restaurant that’s now open only for dinner, but Pat would gather his friends and fellow writers on Thursday afternoons for lunch. That was a great way to see Beaufort through Pat’s eyes.” When Haupt and his wife head downtown for dinner, they might check out Old Bull, a local favorite. “I’ve been to Old Bull Tavern many times. They have a cool little patio that you don’t know about unless you ask to go back there. But my favorite restaurant in Beaufort is called Herban Market. It’s on the bluff at the highest point of downtown, and it’s a breakfast-all-day place. I get a breakfast burrito, but they also have the best eclairs and a nice selection of coffee.”
Haupt says his must-visit barbecue joint is Roadhouse Ribs, a bit outside of town. “The area looks like it’s got everything else but a restaurant—you don’t get there by accident, but it’s worth it. Also in Port Royal, there’s Fishcamp on 11th Street, which is right at the docks and has some of the best and freshest seafood in the area. I love the little screened-in porch on the water at sunset. And in downtown Port Royal, there’s The Smokehouse at Paris Avenue, where all the food is extraordinary.”
Another must: The farmers market. “Every Saturday morning, the Port Royal Farmers Market is a destination event for a lot of Beaufort County,” he says. “The best brisket you can find is at Calibogue Catering, and my usual stops also include Jannie’s Breads, Rio Bertolini, Hank’s Lowcountry She Crab Soup, Penny Acre Farm & Microgreens, and Three Sisters Farm. The conversations you have at the farmers market are as fun as anything else.”
The joys of an amble.
“The words ‘pets welcome,’ or ‘breakfast served all day’ are two of my favorite ways to say I love you,” says Haupt with a laugh. He’s always looking for trails to explore with his dog, Rommie, a brindle-coated mountain cur whose looks, he says, are akin to “a striped little hyena.”
“The Spanish Moss Trail is ten miles of paved trails, including a trailhead that’s close to the Conroy center,” he says. “They’re still expanding the trail, but what’s fun about it is it lets you see the backside of Beaufort, through neighborhoods and routes that you would never encounter otherwise. It crosses marsh vistas and wilderness. There’s an amazing art mural tunnel which runs under Ribaut Road connecting the two sides of the Technical College of the Lowcountry’s Beaufort campus (the Mather Campus, so named in honor of the historic Mather School, which was on that location). The artwork is by John Bradley Jr. and includes portraits of local figures of historical and cultural importance, like Robert Smalls, Candice Glover, and Pat Conroy.”
Haupt often thinks about something Conroy told him about Beaufort, and about life: “I’ll paraphrase him, but he said you’ve got to make yourself see something different about it every day; remind yourself to keep noticing. That’s what sends us out on our walk every morning. There’s nothing that can’t be improved by a walk.”