Beaufort has always had salt water in its veins

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJuly 23, 2013 

Any town with a boatless yacht club has its peculiarities.

But that barely makes a ripple this week as life on the river is celebrated with the 58th annual Beaufort Water Festival.

We live in a place where mushy dirt two feet above sea level is referred to as "the hill."

A weekend dining on mullet in a rustic camp down the river is considered finer than Club Med.

A trip to the sandbar on Sunday afternoon is coveted more than a getaway to Paris.

The old swing-span bridge in the heart of town looks like concrete and steel, but it's really our peculiar version of Dr. Phil. We've all heard the story:

"I was already late. And then I got stuck when the bridge opened. I was fuming ... until I looked across the river at a little town, its skyline of two steeples -- one Baptist and one Episcopal -- quietly pointing to heaven. I loosened my grip on the steering wheel. I rolled down the windows and felt the breeze pry the burdens off my shoulders. I heard them rattle through some palmetto fronds, and then make gentle waves that lapped against a homemade boat anchored for no good reason in a bend in the river. And then it hit me. This is why I love to live here. No, this is why I love to live."

Once a native son tried to capture that feeling in a poem. Robert Woodward Barnwell Sr. wrote in the ante-bellum era about Beaufort's love affair with boats and books.

He was a Harvard valedictorian and leader at what is today the University of South Carolina, where his most meaningful contribution was the South Caroliniana Library.

Barnwell's poem helps explain why people still celebrate on the banks of the Beaufort River.

A Town's Peculiarity

Books and the boats I sing:

And this old town of note,

Where each man had a library

And every man a boat.

Leisure and island homes!

For them old Homer wrote,

And oft they went to Odysseus

To learn about a boat.

They'd sit upon a balcony

With Gibbon, Hume and Grote,

And then they'd take some exercise

With six oars and a boat.

Plantations all had muscled crews,

A landing and a boat,

Each lad was taught to sail and row,

But also how to quote.

On summer morns they loved to read;

On summer eves to float,

Woe to the man who had no books

Or chanced to have no boat!

For Beaufort was a strange old town

In those old days remote:

One had to have a library;

One loved to have a boat.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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