Immerse yourself in the past by discovering these 20 historical sites and statues that share the story of the Lowcountry.
Story by Jordan Matthis
The Lowcountry boasts an array of stunning landmarks that are steeped in rich history and culture. From the unspoiled beauty of Hunting Island to the opulence of Hilton Head, visitors can traverse over 99 miles of impressive and instructive destinations. Whether you’re a history buff or simply seeking a relaxing road trip, the Lowcountry’s landmarks offer a fascinating glimpse into the region’s captivating past. So, take a break from your journey, and experience the vibrant history and culture of the Lowcountry’s most intriguing destinations.
Hilton Head Island
1. Harbour Town Lighthouse
149 Lighthouse Road, Sea Pines
What makes it iconic: The red-and-white striped lighthouse was built in the 1960s to help attract tourists to the island. Real estate developer Charles Fraser worked with architect I.J. Please to create the distinctive tower that was modeled after the
lighthouses of New England. It was the first privately financed lighthouse built in the United States in over a century and did not require a full-time lighthouse keeper. Over the years it has become a symbol of the island and a popular tourist attraction.
Experience it: Climb to the top ($5.75) for panoramic views of Harbour Town, Harbour Town Yacht Basin, the 18th hole of Harbour Town Golf Links and Calibogue Sound. If you need over 100 steps to meet a fitness goal, this is a fun way to get them. It’s like climbing through a museum with displays of 19th-century and Civil War-era photographs and artifacts.
2. Zion Cemetery and Baynard Mausoleum
547 William Hilton Parkway near the intersection of Mathews Drive
What makes it iconic: Willam Baynard, a wealthy plantation owner, built the Baynard Mausoleum three years before his death in 1849. The tomb was built after Baynard lost his young wife a year after acquiring the land and plantation. His heartache drove him to wander the grounds in pursuit of his wife, believing that when he died, he would be able to meet and take his wife home in the afterlife. Baynard Mausoleum is thought to be Hilton Head’s oldest preserved structure and is said to be haunted. The Zion Cemetery dates back to the 18th century.
Experience it: Explore the cemetery and mausoleum for free, or join a costumed mausoleum and cemetery tour ($10, Tuesdays) led by the Heritage Library.
3. Stoney-Baynard Ruins
Plantation Drive, Sea Pines
What makes it iconic: The mansion and plantation grounds were owned by Capt. Jack Stoney, a Revolutionary War hero. Baynard lived on the property until his death in 1849, when it was taken over by Union forces during the Civil War. After the war the house was burned to the ground. It is said to be haunted.
Experience it: Visit the ruins, which are open to the public from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Perhaps you’ll feel the presence of Capt. Stoney or the young Mr. and Mrs. Baynard wandering among the ruins of their former home. You’ll need a gate pass ($9).
4. Fort Mitchel
65 Skull Creek Drive, Hilton Head Plantation
What makes it iconic: The aim of Fort Mitchel was to defend the Union coal supply for its ships. The landmark is known for its Civil War-era earthworks artillery battery. The fort was built of palmetto logs, which were readily accessible and were noted for their resistance to splintering when struck.
Experience it: A gate pass is required to access the community where Fort Mitchel is located. Not much of the fort remains, but the relaxing trail that loops around the site is worth walking.
5. Fort Howell
160 Beach City Road
What makes it iconic: Capt. Charles R. Suter, the Union Department of the South’s chief of engineers, was given permission by Major Gen. John G. Foster to build an earthwork fort akin to Fort Mitchel to protect Mitchelville and Hilton Head. The pentagonal earthwork secured Mitchelville’s two main entry points from the southwest and southeast, and it is now one of South Carolina’s best-preserved Civil War earthen forts.
Experience it: The fort is located close to Hilton Head Airport, where Beach City Road connects with Dillon Road. There are a handful of parking spaces available. A well-worn trail goes around and over the above-ground mounds that represent the original location of the fort’s tall perimeter walls.
6. The Gullah Museum of Hilton Head Island
12 Georgianna Drive
What makes it iconic: Louise Miller Cohen, a Hilton Head Island native, founded the museum in 2003. Its goal is to preserve, restore and bring back to life Hilton Head Island’s Gullah history for the benefit of all. Through stories, history, language, food, culture and more, this museum educates children of all ages, islanders and tourists with an insight of life on Hilton Head Island before the bridge to the mainland in 1956.
Experience it: The Gullah museum is open to the public throughout the day and offers a one-hour private tour ($25) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
7. Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse
53 Leamington Lane, Palmetto Dunes
What makes it iconic: The lighthouse was one of two authorized by Congress in the 1870s to serve as part of a larger network of navigation lights directing ships to Port Royal Sound. The rear-range lighthouse was built using a cast-iron skeleton tower that stands roughly 92 feet tall. During WWII the building acted as a crucial lookout tower for enemy ships and anchored Camp McDougal.
Experience it: The lighthouse is located between the 5th and 15th greens of Arthur Hills Golf Course in the Leamington neighborhood of Palmetto Dunes. A gate pass is required. The lighthouse is visible from 15 miles away.
8. Neptune Statue
17 Harbourside Lane, Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina
What makes it iconic: Sculptor Wayne Edwards and Greenwood Communities & Resorts produced the 12-foot-tall, 26-foot-wide Neptune statue more than 30 years ago. The monument was created at a foundry in Princeton, New Jersey, and is known as the largest figurative sundial in the world. In 1983 it was transported to Hilton Head Island by truck.
Experience it: Visit Shelter Cove Harbour & Marina’s main entrance to see the statue. For a fun photo, ask a friend or family member to lie next to Neptune’s trident.
9. Heyward House
70 Boundary St.
What makes it iconic: The Heyward House was built in 1841 and is one of only eight antebellum residences still standing in Bluffton. George Cuthbert Heyward, grandson of Declaration of Independence’s signer Thomas Heyward Jr., was the first Heyward family member to live in the house. The Heyward House has largely escaped the ravages of time, and little has changed over the past 179 years. It was owned by the Heyward family until 1998, when it was purchased by the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society.
Experience it: The Heyward House offers a Historic Bluffton Walking Tour that includes antebellum mansions and two National Register of Historic Places churches. This tour is available Monday through Friday.
10. Church of the Cross
110 Calhoun St.
What makes it iconic: Construction of the Church of the Cross began in 1854 and was completed in 1857 to accommodate the growing number of congregation members from a sister church located next door. The church’s unique design and layout are centered on its renowned Gothic Revival architecture. Bluffton was burned down by the Union Army in 1863, but the church survived. Services resumed when the Rev. E. E. Bellinger arrived in 1870 and oversaw renovations. In 2004 the Church of the Cross celebrated its 150th anniversary, and as it approaches its 170th anniversary in 2024, it continues to stand as a symbol of resilience and a beacon of hope for the community.
Experience it: Free docent-guided tours are offered from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., Monday-Saturday. Services are at 5:38 p.m. Saturdays, and 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Sundays.
11. Bluffton Oyster Company
63 Wharf St.
What makes it iconic: Bluffton Oyster Company, with its century-long legacy, is a must-visit destination in Bluffton. The story began with Simpson V. Toomer, who devoted his life to the oyster industry, a legacy that was carried on by his grandsons. Larry Toomer and his wife, Tina, who took over the business, have continued to produce fresh, locally sourced seafood, while also building a devoted customer and worker base. The building itself stands on reclaimed land, which has been built up over the years by discarded shells from previous shucking operations, adding to the historical significance of the place.
Experience it: Specializing in fresh local seafood, Bluffton Oyster Company is known for fresh, local oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, scallops, fish fillets, soft-shell crabs and live blue crabs. All oysters are harvested by hand and shucked by hand.
12. The Garvin-Garvey House
Oyster Factory Park
What makes it iconic: Built in 1870, the historic house sits on a bluff overlooking the picturesque May River and was originally owned by Cyrus Garvey, a freedman. The Garvey family continued to live in and own the estate for over 90 years until 1961. The property holds a significant place in history, as it’s believed to be one of the earliest known freedmen-owned houses still extant on the May River. The edifice was constructed during Reconstruction and stands as a testament to the perseverance and ingenuity of the Garvey family during a pivotal moment in American history.
Experience it: The Garvin-Garvey House is open to the public for guided tours ($5) at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The tour lasts 30 minutes and tells the history of the house and Cyrus Garvey.
13. The Store
56 Calhoun St.
What makes it iconic: Built around 1904, this one-and-a-half-story commercial building was among several family stores owned by the Peeples family. In 1973 Babbie Guscio opened her store, aptly named “The Store,” at this location. Since then, it has become a popular destination for visitors and locals alike, offering an eclectic selection of chic and unusual items that reflect Bluffton’s eccentric reputation. With its rich history and unique offerings, The Store remains a fixture in the community, providing a one-of-a-kind shopping experience.
Experience it: Stop by The Store (10 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday) to find unique souvenirs and home goods with a Bluffton feel. Walking up and down Calhoun Street is a great way to spend a beautiful afternoon, experiencing all of the boutique clothing stores, specialty shops, restaurants, and art galleries.
14. The Hunting Island Lighthouse
2555 Sea Island Parkway
What makes it iconic: Originally constructed in the 1700s, the lighthouse suffered damage during the Civil War and was rebuilt in 1875. The innovative reconstruction featured interchangeable cast-iron components that allowed for easy removal and potential relocation if needed. In 1889 the lighthouse was moved 1.3 miles inland due to significant beach erosion. This relocation not only saved the historic structure from imminent collapse but also allowed it to continue serving as a navigational aid for ships in the area.
Experience it: The lighthouse’s on-site museum offers visitors a chance to explore its rich history and significance through an array of exhibits and artifacts from its past. The lighthouse itself can be viewed from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day of the week, providing a striking visual reminder of the area’s maritime history. While the interior of the lighthouse is currently closed for renovations, informative tours on its history are still available, giving visitors a glimpse into the fascinating story of this iconic structure. With its scenic location and historical significance, the lighthouse remains a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to the area.
15. The John Mark Verdier House
801 Bay St.
What makes it iconic: The John Mark Verdier House Museum is a captivating attraction located in downtown Beaufort, offering visitors an array of reasons to visit. The 1804 estate is the only historic planter’s mansion open to the public, boasting beams, hand-cut planks and a remarkable four-story chimney. It provides a fascinating insight into how Beaufort’s wealthiest residents lived before the Civil War. Despite the region being devastated by a cyclone in 1893, the John Mark Verdier mansion still stands tall as one of the few historically significant structures of this grandeur in the area, showcasing the rich history of the city.
Experience it: Visitors can embark on a professionally guided tour of the exquisitely preserved home’s interior, delving into its hidden treasures and other historical sites. For those interested in Beaufort’s rich history, a golf cart tour is available, showcasing unmarked locations from popular motion pictures like Forrest Gump, while providing fascinating insights into the city’s local history. Horse-drawn carriage tours are also available.
16. The Beaufort Arsenal
713 Craven St.
What makes it iconic: Designed by Col. Thomas Tailbird, the Beaufort Arsenal was built in 1798 to house the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery, a collection of prominent local figures who had fought alongside the Continental Army during the American Revolution from 1775 to 1783. Over the course of its 200-year history, the arsenal served a multitude of purposes, including storage of munitions as well as hosting events such as parties, meetings and social gatherings. As one of the oldest arsenal buildings in the United States, the Beaufort Arsenal has played an important role in the history of the region.
Experience it: The armory, known for its striking yellow walls, has been transformed into the Beaufort History Museum, a popular tourist destination ($10). The museum is open to visitors from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday-Friday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays. Explore and learn about the varied uses of the arsenal over time, and discover how its distinct color helped to cement Beaufort’s place in history.
17. Beaufort National Cemetery
1601 Boundary St.
What makes it iconic: Established in 1863 as one of six national cemeteries for Union soldiers and sailors who died in the area, Beaufort National Cemetery is home to much history. Due to its coastal location, Beaufort was a strategic target for the Union during the Civil War. In 1863 a national cemetery was built to re-inter the remains of soldiers found in cemeteries on Hilton Head and other islands in the Port Royal Sound, Charleston, eastern Florida and Savannah. Over the years the military also transferred the remains of 2,800 Union POWs from a cemetery in Georgia to Beaufort National Cemetery between 1863 and 1968. The cemetery also holds the remains of over 100 Confederate soldiers, making it a solemn and significant site in the history of the region.
Experience it: Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Numerous tours make a stop at this iconic landmark.
St. Helena Island
18. Chapel of Ease
Lands End Road
What makes it iconic: The Chapel of Ease, formerly known as the White Church, holds a significant place in the history of St. Helena Island. Built by rice and cotton planters in the early 1800s, the church served as a place of worship for the local community, which was far from the churches of St. Helena in downtown Beaufort. The church was utilized by Northerners who came to the island to educate and train the newly freed enslaved. It became a sanctuary for Methodist freedmen around 1868, providing a safe haven for those seeking spiritual guidance and community. In 1886 a massive forest fire ravaged the area, destroying many of the surrounding houses, including the Chapel of Ease. This catastrophic event resulted in the abandonment of the area, and the church has since become a haunting reminder of the island’s tumultuous past.
Experience it: Today the ruins of the Chapel of Ease serve as a poignant symbol of the island’s history and offer visitors a chance to reflect on the struggles and resilience of the people who once lived there. The site provides a window into the past and serves as a reminder of the importance of preserving our cultural heritage. It’s a small property, but it’s full of character.
19. Penn Center
16 Penn Center Circle East
What makes it iconic: The Penn School has a significant place in the history of the American South, as it was the first institution of its kind to educate freed African Americans. It was founded in 1862 by Quaker and Unitarian missionaries from Pennsylvania, who recognized the need for education among the newly freed Gullah population on the island. Over the years the Penn School became a beacon of hope for the community, providing crucial educational opportunities and support for those who had been oppressed for generations.
Experience it: The Penn Center, situated on a 50-acre expanse of St. Helena Island, is a significant historical site that boasts approximately 25 well-preserved buildings and structures. Visitors can tour the grounds and explore the rich history of this unique location. The York W. Bailey
Museum, Administration Office and Welcome Center serve as gateways to the past and are open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Saturday. The Penn Center offers guided walking tours, led by knowledgeable guides who provide insights into the center’s history and its pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement. Visitors also can embark on self-directed excursions to discover the center’s story at their own pace.
20. Fort Fremont
1126 Lands End Road
What makes it iconic: In 1899 the Army Corps of Engineers constructed Fort Fremont, using condemned private property across the Beaufort River from the Naval Station. The fort was strategically positioned to defend the vital dry dock and coaling station, which were crucial to the Atlantic Fleet during the Spanish-American War.
Experience it: Fort Fremont has been transformed into a beach-side park for the community and visitors to enjoy. After a thorough restoration, the park offers visitors an opportunity to explore the rich history of the fort and its role in American military history while also providing a scenic and recreational space for outdoor activities. The Fort Fremont History Center is open and free to the public Friday through Sunday. Saturday tours are available upon request.