Historic Beaufort Foundation: The goose that laid the golden egg

8 mins read


Before the mid-1960s, far too many of Beaufort’s finest historic properties, especially residential houses, were dying on the vine. Lost forever.

Many were unoccupied, derelict from neglect and in disrepair, with weeds growing up through the floor and rotted wood exteriors all too common. Many of the residential areas that eventually comprised the Historic District, were, by all indications, depressed neighborhoods, insofar as “demolition by neglect” caused too many bulldozers to wipe them from our precious historic patrimony.

The year 1965 was a seminal time for Beaufort’s historic future.

Energized, a cadre of dedicated citizens, including such luminaries as Helen Harvey, Harriet Keyserling, Jean Aimar, and too many others to mention, decided that Beaufort must dedicate itself to preserving and conserving what was left of its historic and cultural heritages.

For many years since its charter in 1965, Historic Beaufort Foundation has been a dynamic historic organization, whose mission has been to support the preservation, protection and presentation of sites and artifacts of historic, architectural and cultural value throughout Beaufort County.

Half a century later, HBF has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of its visionary creators.

Contrasting the early architectural character of Charleston, Savannah and Beaufort, architectural historians Carl Feiss and Russell Wright conducted Beaufort’s first inventory of historic properties and noted: “It is a remarkable fact that these neighboring three communities, developing simultaneously, should have each so successfully created their own high quality, individual architectural design.”

Understanding the uniqueness of Beaufort’s historical character, HBF’s immediate goal was the creation of a federally recognized historic district for Beaufort. Working jointly with the City, HBF did the heavy lifting – organizing, writing, researching and submitting the application for such recognition to the U. S. Department of the Interior. 

In 1972, Beaufort was awarded its coveted prize as a National Historic Landmark District.

Today, there are four designated National Historic Landmark Districts located in South Carolina, two of which are in Beaufort County (the other being Penn Center). Recognizing the State’s historic value, the General Assembly passed enabling legislation establishing Historic Review Boards, with the authority and mission of protecting the State’s historic legacy.

Shortly thereafter, Beaufort’s City Council passed an ordinance establishing its historic review board, previously known as the Board of Architectural Review, and today more appropriately known as the Historic Review Board.

At that time, in their supreme wisdom, Council dedicated that one member, of the five members of what was then called the Board of Architectural Review (BOAR), always would be a member of HBF. 

An active and conservation-based historic review board is mandated to be strict in its application of the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for approving changes to any historic building located within the boundaries of the Historic District.

HBF’s important work continues today. The guarantee that 20 percent of the Board would always be held by a member of HBF has steadfastly supported all the goals and mission of preserving Beaufort’s historic patrimony. It has been, and is essential that it continue to be, a guaranteed presence on what is today called the Historic District Review Board (section 2.7 of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).

NHLD designation in 1972 delineated the district’s boundaries, which encompassed the downtown central business district, and several surrounding residential neighborhoods such as The Point, The Northwest Quadrant, The Old Commons and The Bluff. 

Beaufort’s NHLD encompasses more than 304 acres and contains more than 500 “contributing” structures, making Beaufort the largest federally recognized NHLD in South Carolina.

Beaufort’s NHLD is nationally recognized and acknowledged for its rich and varied history, reflected in a coastal environment defined as much by its stately mansions as it is by its modest cottages, revealing a history covering four centuries of habitation — 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st.

This lineage of diversity, long age and exceptional designs, reflects the rich history and the cultural and economic diversity of Beaufort’s lengthy antiquity.

Buildings contained within Beaufort’s NHLD exhibit many of the principled historic styles of American architecture from the Colonial period to the modern. We are one of a kind; a kind to be proud of and to protect and preserve at all costs.

Why does City Hall now want to eliminate the guaranteed HBF seat on the Historic District Review Board? 

It is no stretch of the imagination to envision that without the Historic Beaufort Foundation, Beaufort would not have its Historic District designation today. At the very least, without the heroic efforts of the HBF, Beaufort would not have received it NHLD designation for many years later than 1972, with the consequent loss of many more historic properties that could never be replaced.

HBF is a true treasure; the Goose that did lay the golden egg called the National Historic Landmark District. It behooves all of us to exercise great diligence to maintain this historic legacy, an inheritance that cannot be replaced. 

There are very few derelict homes remaining in Beaufort’s historic district, such as existed before the HBF launched its dedicated commitment to save its heritage. Its guaranteed presence on the review board must be retained. 

We can repay the contributions and give a heartfelt thanks to a long list of our citizens who have worked tirelessly that ensures the conservation and preservation of this heritage for ourselves and our progeny. 

Long live the HBF and its permanent representation on the Historic District Review Board. Let the “powers that be” hear your voices loud and clear on their behalf.


David M. Taub was Mayor of Beaufort from 1990 through 1999, and served as a Beaufort County Magistrate Judge from 2010 to 2015.  He may be contacted at david.m.taub42@gmail.com.

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