Historic walls in Beaufort quit talking, start lecturing

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comMay 6, 2014 

  • If you go

    • Symposium on a Soldier's Life, Death and the Discovery of His Identity Lost for 150 Years, Friday 7 p.m., USCB Performing Arts Center, 805 Carteret St., Beaufort. Tickets: $10. Ticket information: 843-521-4145; uscbcenterforthearts.com
    • Unveiling of the new gravestone by descendants and re-enactors with gun-and-cannon salute, Saturday 10 a.m., Beaufort National Cemetery, 1601 Boundary St.

If walls could talk ...

As of this weekend, the walls of Conway and Diane Ivy's home on King Street in Beaufort will have gone from sharing interesting chitchat to giving full lectures.

Soon after moving into the William Wigg Barnwell House in 2008, the Ivys engaged Penelope Holme Parker of Holme Histories to research stories their old walls might tell.

The research led to letters and diaries, archives and cemeteries. It was done in time for the Historic Beaufort Foundation Fall Tour of Homes in 2010.

But the walls are still talking in the three-story, Federal-style house that was a wedding gift in the early 19th century.

They tell of antebellum financial drama in an elite family, and of Yankee officers giving its window sills the white-glove treatment when the home served as a hospital during the Civil War.

The walls tell that the old slave quarters were converted to a chapel when the house sheltered a strict Presbyterian school for freedmen. One of its leaders was the son-in-law of Civil War hero Robert Smalls, an ex-slave from Beaufort who became a congressman.

Later, a Latvian immigrant used the chapel as a shop for his Beaufort Home Bakery, which filled the neighborhood with a delicious aroma.

In modern times, the home was chopped into 11 apartments. And it was destined for the wrecking ball before the Historic Beaufort Foundation intervened, and a white knight rode into town to restore it. It was Jim Williams of Savannah, the main character in the book, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."

This weekend's lecture will focus on one short-time occupant who did not make it out of the house alive. Haywood Treadwell of Sampson County, N.C., was a Confederate private who was buried in Beaufort National Cemetery as an unknown. The recent research revealed his identity. About 15 of his descendants will be in town this weekend to breathe life into history and witness the unveiling of a tombstone now etched with his name.

Conway and Diane Ivy searched many historic towns before settling on Beaufort when it was time to leave the Sherwin-Williams corporate world and Cleveland, Ohio, behind. Diane has restored the home's gardens. Conway has pushed for more restoration and more research in an area he thinks is unique because existing structures can tell 400 years of history.

"We're kind of all stewards of this property," Ivy said. "This is kind of the continuum."

Parker said history is more interesting when told through the stories of real people.

But Ivy said it all comes down to the walls. If the walls aren't there -- if a historic building has been destroyed -- no one cares about the stories the walls can tell. Without historic preservation, the conversation never begins.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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