Beaufort’s Must-See Museums and Recovered Ruins

Beaufort is full of history and structures that reflect life as it was hundreds of years ago. There are some museums and sites in particular you should see and experience. Be sure to put these historic destinations in Beaufort on your travel itinerary when you visit. 

Beaufort History Museum, 713 Craven St., Beaufort

Beaufort History Museum

Beaufort History Museum

Learn the rich stories of the Beaufort District. Did you know it was the first major settlement in the US by the Spanish at Santa Elena? Or that one of its citizens was a signer of the signer of the Declaration of Independence? And that it was home to secret secessionist meetings and the Port Royal Experiment. The Arsenal, built in 1798, is itself a piece of history and the original home of the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery.  This group of volunteers fought to protect the area even before the Revolutionary War. Open Monday-Saturday,10 a.m.- 4 p.m., with docent-led individual and group tours available.

Fort Fremont Ruins, 1126 State Rd., S-7-45 off Lands End Rd., St. Helena Island

This fort, built in 1898, just before the Spanish-American War, was meant to protect Port Royal Sound, and showcased some of the most advanced military technology of the time. To understand why, stop by the St. Helena Branch Library and see the scale model. Just beyond the ruins is a secluded beach. Catch a free, docent-led tour of the ruins on the fourth Saturday of every month at 10:30 a.m. from the library, or explore on your own.

John Mark Verdier House Museum/Lafayette Building, 801 Bay St., Beaufort

John Mark Verdier House Museum photo

John Mark Verdier House Museum photo: Ckhopper [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Come see what a wealthy, pre-Civil War household looked like. Built in 1804, this beautiful Federal-style mansion stood as a symbol of its owner’s rise from wealthy merchant to Beaufort elite by trading indigo and Sea Island cotton. The lovely interior is home to permanent exhibits. The exhibits showcase the first African American to serve in the United States Congress, the Beaufort Volunteer Artillery and Civil War-era photography by Samuel Cooley. Open Monday-Saturday, 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., with tours every half hour.

Old Sheldon Church Ruins, Old Sheldon Church Rd., Yemassee, SC

Sheldon Ruins

Old Sheldon Church Ruins photo: Sheldon – Bill Fitzpatrick [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Built in the 1740s and ’50s, this church was twice burned in conflicts on American soil: first by the British in 1779 and again in 1865 by General Sherman. Its imposing columns and red brick arches, set amid giant oaks and aging gravestones. The Ruins make for a dramatic setting. Photographers will love the play of sun and shadow throughout the day. Open daily from sunup to sundown.

St. Helena Parish Chapel of Ease Ruins, Lands End Rd., St. Helena Island

Built in the 1740s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this eerily beautiful church served those that could not regularly make the trip to Beaufort for worship. Though it was virtually abandoned during the 1861 hurricane evacuation, it was later the site of the Port Royal Experiment. The Experiment the first known government effort to train and educate freed men and women. St. Helena parish Chapel was used for a variety of purposes by freedmen until a fire destroyed it in 1886. 

Tidalholm/The Edgar Fripp House, 1 Laurens St., Beaufort

This gorgeous antebellum home sits next to the Beaufort River amid swaying palms and giant oaks. Now private, it has seen its share of history and is worth a gander from the gates if you’re in the neighborhood. Built in 1853 as a summer home, Tidalholm was occupied by Union troops during the Civil War. It was auctioned off and later provided the setting for iconic Hollywood films The Great Santini (1979) and The Big Chill (1983). In 2017 Country Living magazine named Tidalholm the most famous historic house in South Carolina.