Beaufort's top-10 status credit to years of resolve

info@islandpacket.comOctober 11, 2013 

The Beaufort Historic District's earning the distinction of one of America's 10 great neighborhoods -- along with Chinatown in San Francisco -- is a credit to much work and sacrifice over many years.

The American Planning Association made the citation, saying:

"A sense of timelessness pervades the Beaufort Historic District, a neighborhood distinguished by stunning vistas and architecture spanning more than 250 years. That's not to say this quaint district is a throwback in time. Rather, it is a place that embraces its past, employing principles and precedents that are as relevant today as when the district was first planned in 1711."

The city of Beaufort's staff completed the award application to the independent, not-for-profit educational association with roots reaching back to 1909 and the first National Conference on City Planning in Washington.

"Bridges, streetscapes and building style are defining elements among the Historic District's five distinct neighborhoods," the association says about downtown, The Point, The Bluff, Old Commons, and the Northwest Quadrant. "The range of architecture -- Federal, Georgian, Italianate and Queen Anne -- results from the city's history and settlement patterns. There are large stately mansions built as summer homes by wealthy planters looking to escape pestilent mosquitoes, small working-class cottages that were home to many African Americans and grand civic institutions."

The recognition is not exclusively about the history that seeps into every glance, the strong sense of place and pride, and the man-made and natural beauty. It is about the effort it has taken to keep these attributes generation after generation. And it is a warning to the current generation to keep the flame alive.

Residents rallied in 1945 to save the Verdier House on Bay Street. The building was spared, and a community ethic was born. A new era of research, documentation and planning came to life. The private Historic Beaufort Foundation was founded in 1965 to encourage and facilitate accurate preservation.

"In 1968, Beaufort recognized the neighborhood as a local historic district," the national association notes. "National Landmark Historic District status was achieved in 1973 after the city adopted a district-specific zoning ordinance and established a Historic District Review Board."

From this came many encumbrances on what can be built, renovated or demolished.

Everyone who complained about the hardship of this extra layer of regulation should now see why the sacrifice was worthwhile.

The Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park, planned in 1975 and renovated in 2001, also is cited as a community landmark. Public expenditures in the park remain a wise investment.

The award is a salute to countless efforts and expenditures, including those made by residents, business owners, schools and churches to maintain and renovate the structures that make Beaufort one of the most envied neighborhoods in the nation.

Tree protection by the city, and preservation of vistas by the Beaufort County Open Land Trust also contributed to this award.

We need to remember this designation as new visions are formed for city planning and zoning regulation. We need to remember it every time preserving something old seems unreasonable or onerous. In the end, the sacrifice is worthwhile.

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