Every house has a story: Take a tour of Old Town Bluffton’s beautiful history.
By Barry Kaufman + Photography by Mike Ritterbeck
Over the past few centuries, Bluffton has been many things to many people. It’s been a retreat for wealthy planters, coaxed from their lands to a summer getaway spent among the cooling breezes off the May River. It’s been the epicenter of a political movement that would tear this country in two, as the “Bluffton Movement” eventually led to South Carolina’s secession. It’s been a near casualty of war, as the Union Army did its level best to burn it to the ground in 1863. And it’s been a haven for artists, a bedroom community for Hilton Head Island, and a thriving small town quickly rising to national prominence.
Throughout its growth, there are a few picturesque homes that have stood silent during this march to progress. From their front porches, they’ve seen dirt tracks become paved roads and a sleepy Southern town awaken as one of the most beautiful places to call home. Come join us as we tour a handful of these historic homes, sharing the stories they would tell if walls could talk.
The Fripp House, 48 Bridge St.
Another house to escape Yankee torches, the Fripp House was built sometime around 1830 by James L. Pope and came into the possession of the Fripp family in 1885. Set on eight-foot piers, its three stories loom tall over Bridge Street, a dizzying height for the generally low-lying homes of the age. Currently in the hands of private owners, it once served as a bed and breakfast.
The Heyward House, 70 Boundary St.
At turns known as the Cole House and the Cole-Heyward House, this Carolina farmhouse-style home has risen to prominence as a visual shorthand of Bluffton’s historic charms. Originally built by John Cole, the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society now calls it home and has done a remarkable job restoring and maintaining the grounds. That includes restoration work on the two outbuildings around the back of the property, old slave quarters and a kitchen. When you visit, be sure to see the mirror in one room in which a Union soldier carved, “Flee, rebels. Hell is here,” on the day Bluffton burned.
The Card House, 34 Bridge St.
Some houses have stories. The Card House has legends. Unlike other homes in Bluffton named after their owners, the origin of the Card House’s name depends on whom you ask. Some might point to the home’s unique architecture, with pointed roofs sloping perpendicular to one another and note its similarity to a house of cards. Others will tell you the story of a high-stakes poker game in which William Eddings Baynard won the deed to Braddock’s Point on Hilton Head Island. Local records may refute this story, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.
Seven Oaks, 82 Calhoun St.
Before the roads came to the Lowcountry, most goods were shipped by water, making the docks of Bluffton a commercial hub for the entire area. During the 1920s, business was booming and Seven Oaks served as a boarding house for merchants and tourists. Legend has it you can still see a blood stain in room 13 from an unfortunate tenant who wound up on the wrong end of a gun during a fight. Originally owned by a Col. Middleton Stuart before the Civil War, Seven Oaks is notable for having seen very few changes to its interior since.
Pritchard House, 131 Pritchard St.
Despite still standing today, the Pritchard House was one of the casualties of the Burning of Bluffton. The original was built by Dr. Paul Fitzsimmons Pritchard and put to the torch on June 4, 1863. The house you see today was built to replace it by his son, Charles Teft Pritchard, in 1890. Constructed in a similar Carolina Farmhouse style as the Heyward House, the Pritchard House has since undergone remarkable renovation work that saw two wings added to the house along with modern upgrades and amenities.