Bluffton may preserve former slave's home

July 13, 2008 

Visitors to Bluffton's Oyster Factory Park might notice one building that, at first glance, seems like an eyesore that mars an otherwise dazzling view of the May River.

What those visitors might not know is that the Garvin House is a historically significant cabin once inhabited by former slave Cyrus Garvey, the first freed man to have his own home on the May River.

The house is what Bluffton planning staff has called a "piecemeal structure" built in 1870 of various building materials spared when Union troops burned the town seven years earlier.

Visitors to the park today likely pass the dilapidated, two-story shed without giving a thought to its rich, historic legacy.

Caution tape and chain-link fencing surrounds the overgrown structure, which sags from the middle on both sides. Faded clap-board siding falls from all four walls, leaving one side almost entirely open. A heap of wood seems to suggest the house is already being torn down.

But instead of demolishing it, town planners hope to restore the Garvin House as part of a $2 million effort to enhance Bluffton Oyster Factory Park and improve public access to the May River.

In the coming months, planning staff likely will hire a consultant to create a proposal to preserve the site, planning director Laura Morgan said. She said she did not haveprojections on a timeline or costs.

Morgan said the town has not specifically allocated money for the restoration.

The renovated structure would be owned by the town, but it is unclear what it would be used for, she said.

The Garvin House is just one of the new amenities that could be added to the Oyster Factory Park over the next several years.

A plan for the park calls for a new community building, expanded picnic areas and community gardens, among other things. Proposed walking trails would crisscross the area between Bridge and Wharf streets.

The trails will cut through a portion of land just west of the Garvin House the town purchased in 2007 in an effort to add land to the park, according to a staff report. The sale price was $1.5 million, according to Beaufort County Assessor's office records. Earlier this month, the Historic Preservation Commission approved demolition of another house on that land.

The town has set aside $400,000 for the Oyster Factory Park project for this budget year, which began July 1. An additional $1.6 million is projected to be spent on the project over the following three years.

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