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Historic Beaufort Foundation

By Mary Thompson 

IN THE BEAUFORT STYLE

As you stroll along the streets in Beaufort, South Carolina, the charm and sense of nostalgia are unmistakable. There is something special about Beaufort. Is it the breeze off the water, the tree-lined streets, or the beautiful old homes reminding us of the past? It is the combination of these elements that truly represent Beaufort and it’s unique and idyllic charm.

Combining architectural beauty and its distinct terrain, Beaufort’s city plan was designed to fit the landscape and benefit from the Beaufort River. Beaufort is defined by its coastal setting, strategic location, and the architecture that developed over three centuries. Out of this design, a unique sense of place and a link to the Lowcountry has developed. One of the most defining forms of Beaufort architecture has grown out of this marriage of coastal land and history: the Beaufort Style.

The Beaufort Style is based on five architectural elements that are conventionally found in more rural settings. Different from the rowhouses of Savannah or Single Houses of Charleston, Beaufort homes were built on spacious lots—more like smaller versions of plantations.

 Colonial settlers of Beaufort designed homes with techniques that incorporated the topography and climate of the area—and specifically the South Carolina Lowcountry. Large windows take advantage of the breezes from the water, deep porches provide shade from the hot summer sun, and low-pitched roofs don’t hold onto the heat. But what architectural elements particularly set the Beaufort Style apart from other historic southern architecture?

The Beaufort Style typically employs these architectural elements:

A raised foundation of usually tabby or brick.

Tabby is a type of concrete that is made by combining lime, oyster shells, water, sand, and ash. This was popular foundation used by colonist settlers up and down the coast. A tabby foundation was an extremely popular choice in Beaufort, due to the abundance of oyster shells on the shoreline. Beaufort County has one of the largest collections of tabby structures in the country.

Houses that do not have a tabby foundation, will have a brick foundation. As bricklaying was an art previously known to settlers, it is no surprise that some homes feature this type of foundation.

A southern orientation toward the Beaufort River. Early settlers of Beaufort knew the importance of capturing cool breezes off the river. 

Porticos and piazzas on the southern façade, facing the river and the breeze.

Beauty and function combine with beautiful porticos and piazzas on houses  throughout Beaufort. Shady porches help residents manage the heat, but they also serve as key architectural elements that characterize the Beaufort Style.

Low pitched roofs.

Again, in an effort to beat the heat, colonial settlers focused on low pitched roofs that would prevent the heat from being trapped in the house. This picture of the Tabby Manse House shows this popular roof line.

A T-shaped plan.

The Beaufort “T” first appeared in the late Federal Period and allows for better cross-ventilation in the back area of houses. In 19th century examples, we can see the T-shape design being extended to outdoor spaces. The T-shape was tied to piazzas wrapping around three sides of the house—always on the southern elevation.

A distinctly southern town, Beaufort, South Carolina architecture makes it unique. The Beaufort Style has grown out of a combination of architectural preferences and livability. Large city lots and stately residences  bring the grandeur of plantation  architecture  to the city—a unique combination only found in Beaufort. As observed by Russell Wright in the early 1970’s, “Beaufort houses, free-standing on large lots, are more akin to the architecture of southern plantations of the period, plantations brought into town, than anything found in Charleston or Savannah.”

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