In many ways, Beaufort, SC, and nearby St. Helena Island are wonderful places for a historian to catch a glimpse of the Old South. Beaufort has some modern homes, somewhere, but the center of the city is still full of antebellum mansions and giant live oak trees that were there when the Civil War started and long survived it. Take the Hamilton House, for example (sometimes referred to by its original name, Tidalholm.) You might recognize it if you are a movie buff. It played a small role in "Forrest Gump" and "The Great Santini," and it was also the house where the reunion of "The Big Chill" took place.
It was recently listed for sale at a handsome $4.5 million, and one assumes the inside has been renovated, but from the road it looks just like it did in 1862. Here is a picture I took in 2012. And next to it is a tiny treasure of a picture of its front yard, with the Gideonite women who came to Beaufort with Laura Towne in 1862. Yes, it's exactly the same house.
On St. Helena Island, the Brick Church, where Laura taught her first classes, is still being used for services, and in the churchyard you'll be able to find the old school bell and commemorative headstones for both Laura and her partner Ellen Murray. Although the actual wooden building has disappeared, a historical marker shows the location of the Penn School.
Just a mile or so down the road, the burned out remains of the "White Church" still stand guard over a graveyard that holds the plundered crypt built for the nefarious Fripp family of slaveowners. These aren't museum pieces, protected by stanchions and velvet ropes. These are the remnants of the story of "The Road to Frogmore" -- places where you can walk freely and alone, listening for the voices of the past.
Not all the landmarks are so welcoming, unfortunately. The plantation Laura and Ellen bought and used for more classes is now a private residence, reached only by a distinctly unwelcoming dirt road, large "Posted! Keep out!" signs, and at the far end, a fellow standing on guard with a shotgun. We did not visit.
If you're in the mood for more pictures, please visit my Pinterest board dedicated to the people and places of Frogmore. You'll find it at https://www.pinterest.com/roundheadlady/the-road-to-frogmore-a-civil-war-novel/
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