Nash Cottage open for Fall Festival with 20th century, root room exhibits

emoody@beaufortgazette.comOctober 20, 2013 

  • If you go
    The Nash Cottage will be open all three days of the Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens this weekend, which includes guided tours and opportunities to go inside private, historic homes. Tickets for each day are $45. The cottage can be visited by non-ticket-holders for a $5 fee. The festival's schedule is as follows:

    • Friday -- Walking tours through the historic district, 3 to 6 p.m. and 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.
    • Saturday -- "Ramble Around Beaufort" open houses, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
    • Sunday -- "Kitchens & Cuisine" with five local chefs cooking in homes, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.

Mary Ragsdale knows from experience not to underestimate a root doctor.

She's fairly certain one hexed her years ago when she and a friend asked for a root to help them win a boat race.

Their boat fell to pieces when the race began, and the competitor they'd intended to hex won.

"It's all just hocus-pocus," friend Liz Key said Friday.

"Well, that depends on what you believe," Ragsdale responded.

That experience -- and a lifelong interest in religion and mysticism -- inspired her to include a root room exhibit in the Nash Cottage, which Ragsdale is setting up for the Historic Beaufort Foundation's Fall Festival of Houses and Gardens.

The Nash Cottage at 508 Duke St. had been a private residence since its beginning as a rental home to two laundresses in 1890. Robert Smalls, who was born a slave and rose to be a five-term U.S. congressman, built it. It remained in his family until 2006, when great-great-granddaughter Dolly Nash left it in her will to the foundation, according to Historic Beaufort Foundation executive director Maxine Lutz.

Nash was specific about her gift -- it must be maintained and periodically opened to the public for educational purposes, Lutz said.

"People haven't really been in it, and it's a charming little cottage," she said.

Ragsdale and a team of helpers, including Alice Wright, JeryTaylor, Tommy McTeer, Dan Huff and Ervena Faulkner, are setting up the home as an educational exhibit showing life at the turn of the 20th century and later.

The kitchen exhibit and backyard give a nod to the laundresses and are being set up with ironing tools, wash bins and other implements. The kitchen is stocked with period-appropriate appliances, including a hand-cranking reflector oven.

"It's the latest," Ragsdale joked. "It would have been these ladies' luxury item."

The bedroom will have not only a rope bed with a Spanish moss-stuffed mattress, but also trundle beds.

"A lot of people with not a lot of means often had to put several generations in one room," she explained.

The front parlor is being set up as Nash arranged it with formal, Victorian-style furniture and photos of Smalls.

Local woodworker Frank Gardner will set up shop in the shed in the backyard, similar to the way Nash's husband, John, did.

The root room will show visitors examples of roots, herbs and other tools a root doctor, a practitioner of hoodoo, might have used in his trade, Ragsdale said. Everything is a reproduction -- nothing is real -- she said, adding that many people in the Beaufort area continue to believe strongly in hoodoo.

Often confused with voodoo, hoodoo puts far less emphasis on organized religion and embraces traditional African folk medicine and magic.

The exhibit does not imply the cottage ever had a root room, Lutz said.

"We want to be educational," she said. "So many visitors don't know about it, but it's a big part of Beaufort's history."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at

Related content: 'Doctuh Buzzard's Rootworks' exhibit explores Lowcountry lore, Dec. 2, 2012

Historic Beaufort Foundation takes over Smalls-Nash cottage, Dec. 13, 2006

5 things not to miss on the Historic Beaufort Foundation's home and garden tour, Oct. 21, 2012

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