Bluffton's ante-bellum Heyward House could reach an important milestone this year: It might finally be completely restored.
The house, built around 1840 on Boundary Street, was bought by the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society in 1998, when a few families went out on a limb and put up the money to buy the $300,000 property.
Since then, the society has embarked on a number of restoration projects, most recently shoring up the rotting wooden slave cabin and sprucing up the yard.
This year, the society plans to rebuild the outdoor "summer kitchen" and renovate the second upstairs bedroom. The bedroom has been conspicuously closed off to the public during the guided tours at Bluffton's official welcome center.
"That will complete restoration of the entire campus," said Maureen Richards during the society's 26th annual members' meeting Sunday at the Theodore D. Washington Municipal Building. "We're very pleased about that."
Richards recently was promoted to executive director of the society. Previously, she was director of the house.
Outgoing society president Larry Hughes said finishing the house is important because it is "the only historic structure of any consequence that's open to the public in southern Beaufort County."
Hughes, who has led the organization for the past three years, is being succeeded by Donna Huffman, owner and editor of the magazine, Bluffton Breeze.
The Heyward House is one of only 10 Civil War-era structures remaining in Bluffton. The town that sewed the seeds of secession in this state was shelled, plundered and torched by Union troops in 1862 and 1863. Today, the house is the fourth-oldest building south of the Broad River.
The home, a Carolina farmhouse-style brought from the West Indies by planters in the Colonial period, was built by John J. Cole, and most certainly by his slaves, for Cole's bride, Ester Caroline Corley. The couple owned Moreland Plantation in present-day Palmetto Bluff and, like many other area plantation owners, escaped to breezy Bluffton during the summer.
With the finishing touches to the house now in sight, the historical society will begin to tackle the time-consuming process of cataloging and indexing its Caldwell Archive, one of the largest collections of archival resource materials in the state.
That would make the collection much easier to navigate and potentially draw interest from history buffs throughout the country, said William Behan, an amateur Callawassie Island historian and author.
He urged the society to move ahead with the project and to put a list of the contents on the Internet.
"Right now, nobody's ever heard of the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society," Behan said.