Iconic Beaufort home keeps making history.
Story by Lisa Allen and Photos by Tony Pierro
The house at 601 Bay Street in Beaufort appears immortal, earning survivor status in the 1860s and the 1900s and in the 1990s by outlasting war, fire and Barbra Streisand, in that order.
Known now as the “Prince of Tides” house, it was built by Lewis Reeve Sams as a breezy reprieve from his cotton plantation on Dataw Island in the 1850s. Soon after, Civil War Gen. Rufus Saxton had his pick of all of the homes in Beaufort in which to live during the Union occupation and chose it first. But like the three bears, Saxon moved into a series of other Beaufort mansions, so 601 Bay then served as a hospital.
The home reverted to the Sams family after the war, and they sold it to Northerner George Waterhouse in 1866. Waterhouse became a prominent merchant and cotton-gin owner who arranged lifesaving food shipments after the town was wrecked by a hurricane in 1893.
Later, a bucket brigade from Waterhouse’s cotton gin saved the house from the great Beaufort fire of 1907, the only home on that end of Bay Street to survive.
Its latest claim to fame is its scenes in the 1991 film “Prince of Tides,” directed by Barbra Streisand.
“Barbra didn’t think our fence was fancy enough, so she had those post toppers added,” said homeowner Gwen Myers, pointing to two balls adorning their back gate. Streisand also moved around some landscaping to suit her eye.
The home has passed through relatively few owners over its lifetime. Three generations of the same family owned the home, and then it was converted to the Bay Street Inn for about 25 years before being purchased and returned to a private residence. Scott and Gwen Myers bought it in 2006.
Now it’s up for sale. The Myerses plan to move to Austin, Texas, to be close to their grandchildren. The new owner will learn that the 7,600-square-foot home has its own social calendar that it enjoys fulfilling.
“When we bought the house, we were informed that the house was part of the CAPA ghost tours each October and the site of an annual Open Land Trust luncheon, as well as a participant in home tours of the Historic Beaufort Foundation, and other charity tours,” Gwen said, who remembered thinking at the time that the house has a presence, almost like a person, and its family is the town of Beaufort. It likes to be shared.
There are many reasons the home is a frequent flyer on architectural lists.
The home has three of the classic indicators of the Beaufort style of Greek Revival: The parapet around the low-pitched roof, T-shape construction to allow for cross ventilation of interior rooms and a raised foundation, in this case, 14 feet up.
The interior is flawless and includes black marble fireplaces, sculpted plasterwork and heart of pine floors. The furnishings, collected by the Myerses, date from the 1850s to 1890s along with a few other pieces that came with the house.
The Myerses hope the new owners will continue to keep the house’s history alive as a single-family residence. For example, the first meeting of the Clover Club convened in the home’s parlor in 1891. The women’s study club continues today, in which members write primary-sourced papers on a different topic each year, even if it means a trip to China for research.
Real estate agent Annie Powell with Keller Williams said the next owner could be from anywhere but likely will be someone who loves history, much like the Myerses do. Scott has known of the house most of his life. He grew up in the Upstate, but went to Beaufort Academy.
“I remember whenever I came over the Woods Bridge, I would stare at this house. It was my favorite one in Beaufort,” Scott said. But years later, he wasn’t initially sold on the idea of buying it.
“We had vacationed on Fripp Island for years and planned to build a house there,” Gwen said. “I loved this house the moment I saw it. Scott took a little convincing.”
They had owned historic homes before, so they knew there was a lot involved in owning it. They redid all of the bathrooms that had been installed in the 1970s when the house was turned into a six-room inn, Scott said.
As tourists stop and gawk at the house, Gwen or Scott will surprise them with an invitation to come inside for a tour. Gwen has kept all of the thank you notes from those visitors over the years, including some from the Sams family. “I have notes from all over the world,” she said.
But family calls. Austin also is where Scott and Gwen met years ago as graduate students at the University of Texas, Gwen in early childhood education, eventually earning a Ph.D. and Scott in engineering.
The Myerses will miss Beaufort and their home. “Of all of the houses I’ve owned, this is my favorite,” Scott said.
“But as they say, it’s people, not places,” Gwen said. “We want to be more than a voice on the phone to our grandchildren.”
Did you know?
Four actresses played the role of Savannah Wingo in The Prince of Tides. The 13-year-old Savannah was played by then Hilton Head Island resident Kiki Runyan (now Kiki Patsch living in California). Many locals know her mom, Debi Lynes. Here, she is shown on the set with Nick Nolte and two other actors from the film. “Barbara (Streisand) was really great to all of the people on the set, especially us kids,” Kiki said.
“During the filming of the rape scene, she kept checking on my emotional state.” She also has many funny memories of Nolte. “He would pull out his nose hairs to help him cry,” she said. Kiki obviously learned from the pro tip. By the end of filming, she was so good at crying on camera, she couldn’t stop. Streisand started lightheartedly referring to her as Leaky Kiki.
Etched on film
• 601 Bay Street was used as the home of Tom Wingo’s mother in the 1991 film “Prince of Tides.”
• Stars: Barbra Streisand, Nick Nolte, Blythe Danner
• Scenes from 601: Tom looking at the Woods Bridge from the front porch. A confrontation in the front parlor between Tom and his stepfather.