Hot Old Times at the Big Chill House
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"Roundheads and Ramblings"

Hot Old Times at the Big Chill House

Do you recognize the  people in this photo?  How about the house behind them? You're looking at the cast of "The Big Chill", while it was being filmed in Beaufort in 1983.  Cast members included Tom Bereinger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams. And the house? Well, it was also the location of much of the action in "The Great Santini," filmed in 1979 by the same director, Lawrence Kasdan. Until Hollywood made it famous, however, this house was known as "Tidalholm", or the Edgar Fripp House.

"Tidalholm" was built in 1853 by rice planter Edgar Fripp, who intended the Italianate mansion to serve as a summer home, where he could escape the mosquitoes on St. Helena Island. By 1861, his brother, James Fripp, owned the house. When the Great South Carolina Expedition brought 80-some Union naval vessels and 12,000 Union soldiers into Port Royal Harbor, southern planters fled for their lives, abandoning homes, plantations, and slaves to their fates.

The Fripp House, like others in the neighborhood, suffered great waves of destruction.  Starving slaves, who had been left without provisions, broke into the cellars, hoping their masters had left something behind. When they found the shelves stripped, they turned to plundering the house itself in hopes of finding valuable items they could sell. Union soldiers were little better.  Trained to live off the land when their supplies ran low, they, too, stripped empty houses of food supplies and valuables.  They smashed locked closets and drawers, drank the alcohol stored in the wine cellar, and left behind only the objects too large to carry.  Third came the cotton agents, hoping to furnish their residences with items that would make them appear rich and important.

In March, 1862, a new group known as Gideonites arrived in Beaufort, also looking for places to live.  They were teachers, preachers, and missionaries, sent by benevolent societies to help and train the slaves who had been abandoned by their owners. Most of the men were headed for plantations on St. Helena and Ladies Islands, but the leaders of the group appropriated the Fripp House as their Beaufort Headquarters.  The house was practically unfurnished, marble mantle pieces cracked, mahogany woodwork smashed, the smell of spilled wine mingling with the unmistakable rotten-egg aroma of pluff mud, which bordered the property on three sides when the tide went out.  One lady, traveling with the group, inspected it briefly and left, declaring it "not a very pleasant place." After a relatively short stay in Beaufort, the Gideonites moved out to supervise the island plantations, and the Fripp House became Union hospital #7.

After the war, the Fripp family regained possession of the house, thanks to the generosity of a Frenchman who purchased it at a sale for back taxes, and then gave the deed to James Fripp. From there, the house has had a varied past.  It was partially destroyed in the Great Hurricane of 1893. From the 1930s until 1974, it was a guest house for the rich and famous. Then it was remodeled once more as a private residence, whose owners found it much in demand by the movie industry and the tourist industry.

Today it is still a private residence, fenced off and surrounded by dense foliage. (I managed to get this photo only by doubling over to peer underneath the bushes and assuming an ungraceful pose that involved holding my camera through a gap in the ironwork.  Like the other great residences of Beaufort, the house still stands tall and strong.  It is a masterpiece within the oldest section of downtown Beaufort, sitting out on what is known as "the Old Point," nearly surrounded by the Beaufort River, and reminding us of a very mixed history of great luxury and great suffering