County Council puts damper on Keyserling’s plans for Smalls home
BEAUFORT – Beaufort County Council wasn’t very nice to former Mayor Billy Keyserling and his efforts to expand the historic Reconstruction Beaufort district he’s worked hard to establish.
Keyserling, who opted not to run for re-election in 2020 to focus on Beaufort County’s Reconstruction history, had asked the Council to use $276,000 in accommodations tax dollars for the purchase of the Robert Smalls home to be used as a National Park museum.
But neighbors of the 511 Prince Street home once owned by the Reconstruction-era political leader, showed up en masse at Monday night’s council to object to his request.
Keyserling and his brother Paul purchased the house last month and with A-tax funds to match federal funds and private contributions, plan to donate it to the National Trust for Historic Places. In his comments to the council’s Finance Committee last week, Keyserling said those opposed to the project were focusing on misinformation.
He contends opening the home to the public will not increase tourists in the area.
“Frankly, I’m not sure they want the kind of people this will draw into their neighborhood,” he told the Council committee, speaking of those opposed to his request.
The Beaufort Historic Foundation has an easement on the house which has been used as a private home. BHF Executive Director Cynthia Jenkins addressed the council and suggested there were too many unknowns about the project to support the proposal.
Council members rejected Keyserling’s request to redirect the appropriations already approved from two Reconstruction Beaufort projects – a hut associated with Brick Baptist Church on St. Helena Island and foundation repairs at the Grand Army Hall in downtown Beaufort – to the Smalls home.
Councilman Logan Cunningham, once Council voted 7 to 4 to reject the request, said the “vote was about moving the money, not Reconstruction.”
Keyserling said he would continue with the capital campaign to raise $2 million to cover the purchase and provide a maintenance trust fund.
Lolita Huckaby Watson is a community volunteer and former reporter/ editorial assistant/columnist with The Beaufort Gazette, The Savannah Morning News, Bluffton Today, Beaufort Today and The Robesonian (Lumberton, N.C.). She can be reached at email@example.com.