The first homes in Bluffton were constructed during the early 1800s.
Area plantation owners sought the high ground and cool summer breezes from the May River. Its prime location along the river offered easy water access for residents and visitors and the natural beauty of the river and tidal coves offered prominent locations for residences.
The first streets were laid out during the mid-1800s, forming an informal grid of streets interwoven amongst the coves. A steamboat landing was constructed at the end of Calhoun Street in the 1850s, which allowed the Town to be a stopover for travelers between Savannah and Beaufort or Charleston.
Within one year of the capture of Fort Sumter, Bluffton became a safe haven for residents fleeing Union occupation of the South Carolina barrier islands. Bluffton was a headquarters for Confederate forces until Union forces on Hilton Head Island ordered the Town’s destruction in 1863. Approximately 60 structures stood in the Town before the attack; only fifteen residences and the Town’s two churches remained following the attack.
The Town did not experience a true rebuilding until the 1880s.
This is when the Town emerged as a commercial center for Beaufort County. The Town remained a commercial center until the 1920s. At that time, Coastal Highway (US 17) and the bridge over the Savannah River at Port Wentworth made riverboat trade and travel less attractive. The Great Depression, beginning shortly thereafter, delayed the building of the US 17 bridge. This caused an inherent decline in the Town’s prosperity and commercial importance.
Over time the Town became less dependent on commerce along the May River. Calhoun Street (which runs north-south from May River Road to the river) still acted as the Town’s “Main Street”. At one point in time, at least five general stores lined the street. Today there are one hundred contributing historic structures in Old Town. The Oyster Factory, located at the end of Wharf Street, remains a strong reminder of Bluffton’s long history and dependence on the May River.
*This information is from the Town of Bluffton. For more information on Bluffton history, please visit www.townofbluffton.com.