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Bluffton South Carolina – A “Charming” Photographic Tour

by Mary Chong
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Bluffton South Carolina is a short drive from Hilton Head and boasts a history dating back to the antebellum period. Steps that saw South Carolina’s succession from the Union were set in motion here. Steeped in history, this Lowcountry region is a popular vacation destination. There are many things to do on Hilton Head Island, like the Seafood Festival or Coastal Discovery Museum where visitors learn about the history of this sleepy Southern town.

Consider though, a visit to Bluffton as a relaxing way to cap off a day at the nearby Hilton Head Outlet Malls. Old Town Bluffton historic district consists of one square mile that is easily transversed on foot. Visitors will enjoy the breeze off the river bluff as they walk along the banks of the May River under the canopy of live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. 

If you get off Highway I-95 and drive along the US Route 278 and go directly (without stopping or passing go) to Hilton Head Island you are surely going to miss out on some great small-town charm if you don’t stop in Bluffton along the way.

Here’s why Bluffton South Carolina is so Charming

Photo Essay of Bluffton SC by Calculated Traveller

Heyward House Museum and Welcome Center

70 Boundary Street

(featured photo at the top of the article)

Built in 1841 by enslaved Africans for a local plantation owner, the Heyward House was designed to be a Summer respite from heat and humidity of plantation life. John James Cole had it built for his wife and family. They later rented the house to the Heyward family. Daniel Heyward’s family and their descendants stayed here for five generations. In 1998, the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society purchased The Heyward House. In the year 2000, the property officially became the town of Bluffton’s official welcome centre. Guided tours are offered to introduce visitors to life in the antebellum South.

Gullah West African Heritage and History in Bluffton SC

Enslaved West Africans arriving by force to the Southern states, were freed as a result of the Emancipation Proclamation. Several soon fled to Bluffton, South Carolina. Here they created the first Freedman’s village called Mitchelville. Over the years, descendants of these enslaved Africans, called Gullah, had their own unique language and culture. The English language that was thrust upon them interspersed with bits of several West African languages became a way for the Gullah people to protect their heritage and work toward building independent lives. One Lowcountry Gullah tradition passed down through generations for over 300 years is the art of sweetgrass basket-making. Visitors to the area can find these baskets sold at markets, and roadside stands from the sea islands to Charleston.

Cyrus Garvin House in Bluffton: Prominent South Carolina History

Cyrus Garvin House Bluffton South Carolina
Garvin House – thought to be the earliest known freedman-owned home on the May River

In what is likely one of the earliest representations of the emancipation of enslaved Africans, the Garvin House in Bluffton stands as a testament to the sordid history of the United States. On property now owned by Beaufort County, the Freedman’s Cottage located in Oyster Factory Park stands where the former home of Joseph Baynard stood. Freedman’s Cottages, built in the 1890s, met the increased demand for housing of formerly enslaved Africans.

The homes were usually less than 1,200 square feet divided into two or three rooms. Garvin worked on the Baynard plantation for several years. The Baynard home was burned down during the Union attack on the town of Bluffton in 1863. Approximately 30 years later, Garvin was granted property rights by the state of South Carolina, and the Freedman’s cottage was built. The Garvin house overlooks High Bluff and offers tours to visiting guests.

Eggs N Tricities Shows Bluffton’s Quirky Side

5 Lawton Street

Eggs N Tricities exterior view

Probably one of the most eccentric, hence the name, shops in the town of Bluffton is Eggs N Tricities. Located in Old Town Bluffton, visitors will find a mix of everything from ladies’ clothing and accessories, jewellery, home decor items, and stationery and cards. The shop features one-of-a-kind Lowcountry themed art from Margaret Golson Pearson. An assortment of quirky gifts and sundries rounds out the store’s offerings. The location, formerly an actual filling station on the corner of Calhoun and Bridge, is a sight to behold. Shoppers in the market for a little something Southern living inspired will enjoy perusing the Eggs N Tricities aisles. Visitors window-shopping after a trip to the farmers market around the corner will also enjoy a stop inside. The building alone is Instagram-worthy and ideal for an eye-catching photo.

Peaceful Serenity at Bluffton’s The Church of the Cross

110 Calhoun Street

The Church of the Cross, Bluffton South Carolina
The Church of The Cross

The Church of the Cross overlooks the May River at the end of Calhoun Street in Bluffton. Built as a result of a Christian population influx in 1857, the church is a famous Bluffton landmark. Congregation leaders realizing they needed additional space opted to place this building next to the original chapel. The church is currently on the National Register of Historic Places. This list includes protected buildings and sites based on their historical significance. The Gothic style of The Church of the Cross is reminiscent of that of European architecture. The church is a short 5-minute walk from the town of Bluffton Farmer’s Market (open Thursday afternoon only), making it an ideal spot to stop and peruse the grounds.

Bluffton Oyster Factory – One of the First in South Carolina

63 Wharf Street 

Bluffton Oyster Factory shrimp boat
Bluffton Oyster Factory

If there’s one thing, the area is known for besides Southern-style Bluffton BBQ it’s seafood. Local seafood like oysters, clam, and shrimp are the speciality at The Bluffton Oyster Company. The company dates back to the early 1920s. Said to be one of the oldest businesses in South Carolina, it still thrives today. Bluffton Oyster Factory provides a real ‘river to table’ seafood experience. The newest addition to the company’s shrimp boat fleet, shown here, is Daddy’s Girls. Enjoy a freshly caught meal overlooking the water to finish out your day in Bluffton. If you’re visiting the area, especially from September to May during prime oyster season, the Bluffton Oyster Company Restaurant is a must-visit.

Bluffton South Carolina – A Hidden Gem

Bluffton is easily accessible from most Hilton Head Island area hotels and worthy of a day-trip. For the most authentic Southern experience coordinate your visit with the variety of events Bluffton offers throughout the year. The Bluffton Chamber of Commerce provides an updated calendar where you can cross-check your vacation dates to see what’s going on in town during your vacation.

A "Charming" Photo Essay of Bluffton South Carolina by Calculated Traveller

I hope you enjoyed this photo tour of Bluffton!

So the next time you are visiting Hilton Head Island, spend some time in Bluffton I swear you won’t be sorry.

Have you visited Bluffton before? Are there any other small towns near major tourist destinations that deserve a second look? Tell us in the comments below, we’d love to hear about them.

For additional reading:
A Lowcountry Backyard Restaurant in Hilton Head Island
Hilton Garden Inn Hilton Head Review
Flames and Tattoos at One Hot Mama’s American Grille
10 Reasons to Visit Hilton Head Island Before/After Your Cruise

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