For the perfect day trip, you don’t have to look any farther than Old Town Bluffton, a quaint village with historical tours of antebellum homes and churches, a thriving art district, great antique shops, cozy cafes and bakeries, and a fabulous Farmer’s Market.
Nestled on a high bluff overlooking the beautiful May River, the one-square mile village of Bluffton was settled in the early 1800s as the summer place for wealthy rice and cotton planters. It grew to become an important coastal commercial distribution center. Prosperity eventually led to year-round residences, churches, and a thriving commercial main street. The village was officially incorporated in 1852.
During the Civil War, Union forces occupied Hilton Head, Beaufort, and Savannah. The town of Bluffton was known as a “hot bed of secessionism” and on June 4, 1863, Union gunboats came up the May River and dropped soldiers at Alljoy. The ships continued up the May River and began bombarding the town, while the soldiers marched in and burned 75% of the town. Thanks to a heavy layer of smoke, 15 homes and two churches escaped destruction. Today, eight homes and two churches still stand, in addition to 19 post-Civil War homes.
To best see Old Town Bluffton, start at the Heyward House Museum and Welcome Center, located at 70 Boundary Street in Bluffton’s National Register Historic District. Built circa 1841, this historic home serves as a museum as well as Bluffton’s official Welcome Center. The house is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Admission is free. There you can pick up free information and take a docent-guided tour of the house and grounds (nominal charge for adults and students, children 10 and under are free).
Guided walking tours of the Historic District are available for a small fee on weekdays by appointment (please call 48 hours in advance for reservations). Or you can choose to take a self-guided tour of the town. The Welcome Center will provide you with a National Register Historic District Walking Tour map developed by the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society. The map includes 27 historic locations within the one-square mile Historic District.
The historic Garvin-Garvey House, built in 1878, is now open for guided tours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and by appointment. This old freedman’s cottage is located in the Oyster Factory Park at the intersection of Bridge and Wharf Streets.
Old Town is experiencing a re-emergence as a Mecca for artists and artisans. It is worth spending a few pleasant hours strolling the streets and taking in the town’s folksy charm, eclectic collection of boutiques and art galleries, several restaurants, and the splendid playground DuBois Park. The town is host to numerous annual festivals throughout the year. And don’t miss the popular Bluffton Farmer’s Market, located on Calhoun Street, on Thursdays (hours are seasonal).
For more information, contact:
Heyward House Historic Center (843-757-6293)
Live Oac Adventures (843-384-1414)
Outside Hilton Head (843-686-6996)