Beaufort Historic Sites: 8 Notable Places Everyone Should See
As the second-oldest city in South Carolina, Beaufort has a storied past that dates from 1711. This rich history paired with local efforts to preserve it enable visitors to experience what makes this an award-winning Lowcountry destination. Colonial times, Spanish-American War, Civil War and famous movie sites — see it all here. To get started, check out the top Beaufort historic sites.
Top 8 Beaufort Historic Sites Visitors Should Explore
Beaufort History Museum and Arsenal
Beaufort History Museum features 450 years of Lowcountry history and culture. As one of the top Beaufort historical sites, the museum houses permanent and temporary exhibits, an on-site arsenal, and hosts tours. The arsenal – located on Craven Street – was built in 1798 to serve the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery after they fought during the Revolutionary War.
Both sites now operate as popular attractions. While touring, see exhibits showcasing Native Americans, European settlers, Antebellum era, Civil War and present-day growth. In addition, Beaufort History Museum hosts special exhibits, such as Beaufort in Films and the reconstruction era.
This multipurpose center once served as a school for enslaved African Americans. Today it represents an important part of Gullah and African American culture. Penn Center, which dates from 1862, features an entire district where guests can explore and learn.
Top sites include Martin Luther King Jr. Retreat House and Dock, Brick Baptist Church and Pine Cove Cottage. Some modern attractions are located within historic structures, such as The Shed (Courtney P. Siceloff Welcome Center) and Cope Industrial Shop (York W. Bailey Museum). Other noteworthy buildings include Lathers Dormitory, various cottages and Emory S. Campbell Dining Hall.
In addition to outdoor structures, Penn Center has exhibits showcasing art, handmade items, books and photos. Those visiting during November should attend Penn Center’s Heritage Days Festival, a three-day celebration of Gullah, Geechee and Sea Island history, food, music, crafts, and West African culture.
Hunting Island Lighthouse
Hunting Island Lighthouse has stood tall on St. Helena Island since 1859. This site is the only lighthouse in South Carolina open to the public, which means guests can climb the 167-step spiral staircase. At the top, enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the Atlantic Ocean and nearby area.
Fun fact: Hunting Island Lighthouse was designed to be dismantled in case it needed relocation. Due to erosion, it relocated further inland in 1889.
While on St. Helena Island, visit Fort Fremont. The fort dates to 1899, and the Spanish-American War when Fort Freemont was built to protect the U.S. Naval Station in Port Royal.
Today, the 15-acre site welcomes visitors to enjoy high-bluff coastal views of Port Royal, picnic in the park and learn about the area. The entire fort still remains, including disappearing breech-loaded cannons.
The Point Neighborhood
Also known as Old Point or Black Point, this neighborhood radiates local culture and Beaufort’s history. While checking out Beaufort historic sites here, note the neighborhood dates to the Revolutionary War and was once owned by James Black, who built a shipyard.
The Point now ranks among the wealthiest areas in Beaufort. While browsing, enjoy early American architecture, Antebellum homes, boutique shopping and dining. Find this gem between Carteret Street and Beaufort River — an area full of live oaks and Victorian and Queen Anne-style homes.
Most of downtown Beaufort is located along Bay Street, which runs along Beaufort River. This historic street serves as a commercial spot with attractions and entertainment. Whether riding on horse-drawn carriages or strolling, visitors love browsing nearby parks, art galleries, boats and people. For a break, stop at a local restaurant on Bay Street.
Beaufort National Cemetery
Beaufort National Cemetery is an active cemetery and has served the armed forces and their families since the Civil War. This site features an 1870s Union Soldiers Monument in honor of 174 unknown Union soldiers, a Fighting Fourth Marine Monument and Blue Star Memorial, to name a few. In addition, notable people have been placed at the cemetery including Medal of Honor recipients and other military heroes.
Visitors are welcome to visit daily until sunset however should be respectful of others.
St. Helena’s Anglican Church
St. Helena’s Anglican Church in Beaufort ranks among the oldest active churches in the U.S. Dating from 1712, St. Helena’s was established by the Church of England. The building has received a few reconstructions but still retains historic artifacts. A few must-sees include a silver communion set from 1734 and marble baptismal font from 1784.
Today most know St. Helena’s Anglican Church as part of Beaufort’s Historic District. The parish hosts Sunday services as well as docent-led tours five days a week. During tours, guests walk the church grounds to see over 12 sites and notable graves.
City Tour to See Beaufort Historic Sites
Beaufort History and Film Van Tour
Not everyone has time to see all of these Beaufort historic sites. If that’s the case, book an activity with Beaufort Tours. They offer a one-hour van tour that explores historical sites and those featured in movies. A few film locations are featured in The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides, Forrest Gump, The Jungle Book, G.I. Jane and Rules of Engagement.
In addition to van tours, Beaufort Tours welcomes guests to join walking tours. This option lasts two hours and discusses 300 years of history and star-studded talent. For more adventure, ask about the Sea Island Plantation and Gullah Tour at Penn Center.