Chartered in 1711, Beaufort is older than any other South Carolina city save Charleston. The number of movies—Forrest Gump, The Great Santini, and The Big Chill, to name a few—filmed in the town of about 12,000 people is one testament to its allure. And the nearly 500 buildings in its 304-acre historic district (South Carolina’s largest) are another. Homes range from cottages to mansions, and are of Greek Revival, neoclassical, and Federal construction, many in the “Beaufort style” with raised first floors and wide, double-level porches to help combat Lowcountry humidity and heat. Most are privately owned, but for one weekend each October, their stately doors swing open and allow curious visitors to peek inside.
The Beaufort Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens begins with afternoon walking tours of local buildings on Friday (October 28), and continues Saturday (October 29) with a different set of structures. Several dwellings on the tour date back to the early 1800s, such as the Daniel Hingston Bythewood House, which features original pine floors and hand-carved mantels inside, and descendants of Mrs. Bythewood’s beloved Crinum lilies out in the garden. The Henry Farmer House is another historic stunner, with parterres in a design that dates to the 1830s. In addition, the gracefully symmetrical, Federal-style John Mark Verdier House, which serves as the Historic Beaufort Foundation’s museum and exhibit center, will be open to visitors. On your way in, stop to admire its Corinthian columns made from whole logs.
“For me, the highlight of the Beaufort Festival of Houses is seeing how contemporary lifestyles are lived within eighteenth-and nineteenth-century houses,” says Isabella Reeves, special events coordinator at the Historic Beaufort Foundation.
The final day of the festival, Sunday, October 30, is a tribute to that present-day aspect of Beaufort living. Five recently built homes on Lady’s, Cat, and Distant islands will host local chefs who plan to prepare regional dishes for visitors in those private kitchens.
The festival is the Historic Beaufort Foundation’s largest fundraiser of the year. That success, says Reeves, means there’s something greater at play than just sightseers’ voyeurism. “It speaks,” she says, “to the commitment of people in Beaufort to historic preservation.” Your $50 ticket to the festival helps them keep up the great work.