A Hilton Head native islander is taking steps to preserve a historic structure — dating back nearly two centuries — on his Squire Pope Road property.
Thomas Barnwell came before the town’s Design Review Board on Tuesday to request approval to build within the walls of the tabby ruins.
“I want to preserve this structure because as of today, 2017, it is the best preserved tabby on Hilton Head Island,” Barnwell said afterward. “It was passed to me from my father, and I’d like to pass it on for generations to come.”
The building was likely constructed in the 1820s or 1830s, and it is believed all records of the structure were burned during the Civil War, said Colin Brooker, a preservation consultant hired by Barnwell and who specializes in tabby conservation.
Tabby is a type of building material used in the coastal Southeast from the late 1500s to the 1850s, according to online reference sites. It typically was made by burning oyster shells to create lime, then mixing it with water, sand, ash and broken oyster shells.
Barnwell said after years of consultation and repair work, he plans to build a wooden structure within the walls of the tabby remains to support a roof that will shield the building from the elements. The wooden structure will not be attached to the tabby ruins, according to application documents.
Brooker said the Chicora Foundation, an archaeological consultant group, excavated the property in 1988 searching for clues to the tabby structure’s past.
“The results were somewhat inconclusive ... but what we did learn was it was definitely not built as a habitation,” Brooker said. “I now believe it was a cotton house or something associated with cotton production.”
Eight years ago, contractor Richard Wightman started repairing the structure by patching it with a modern mixture of sand, lime and shell to resemble the original tabby material. Wightman said at Tuesday’s meeting that he plans to construct the wooden structure inside the tabby, as well as the roof.
The Design Review Board unanimously approved Barnwell’s plans. Several thanked Barnwell for his efforts.
“I’d like to commend you for trying to save our history on this island,” said Dale Strecker, vice chairman of the board.
Barnwell said during the meeting he doesn’t have insurance to open the building to the public. He said he hopes that new housing will someday be located near the tabby structure.
“I feel that this is one of those (historic structures) that will be here for many years to come,” Barnwell said. “That’s why I want to preserve it.”