Beaufort News

How to easily get your hands — or eyes — on Beaufort’s famous history

People here may not necessarily live in the past, but it’s never too far from the present, either.

Numerous social media sites celebrate Beaufort’s past through pictures or reminiscences of the old Huddle House near the hospital, across from the old car lot, just down from Ned Brown’s photography studio. The old Yankee Tavern even has its own page where people share their photos of the building.

Thankfully, because of the College of Charleston’s Lowcountry Digital Library — partners with the Beaufort County Library — there will also always be a place ( for the preserved photographic artifacts of old Beaufort.

Old Beaufort, that is, as our ancestors might have seen it.

Bay Street.jpg
“Bay Street By Moonlight,” a postcard of the Beaufort business district at night. Correspondence postmarked Dec. 5, 1917. Beaufort District Collection at the Beaufort County Library; Russell J. Arnsberger Postcard Collection

There, on a website anyone can visit, are digitized photos of things you might not have seen before, many of them relating to Beaufort’s people of the past.

For instance, an entire archive is dedicated to the medical journal of Dr. Richard Johnson, an Assistant Surgeon in the Confederacy who worked in the Beaufort District during the war. Like most physicians, his handwriting is difficult to read at times, but it’s an important document nonetheless.

Without this journal, we would have never known how Cpl. W.H. Husky of the SC 3rd Regiment was treated for war wounds received in a Knoxville skirmish on Nov. 18, 1863. When a bullet passed through Husky’s left hand and into his right clavicle, Dr. Johnson made the decision to amputate the hand, followed a month later by a second surgery to drain an abscess in the clavicle. As the whiskey for the pain ran dry, so did Cpl. Husky’s luck, as he died in late January 1864.

Perhaps even more relevant and less depressing is another collection that exhibits Civil War and Reconstruction Era stereoscopes.

Though our library has had the collection since the last century, and all photographs were verified by our own local historian Dr. Stephen Wise, they were only digitized and made accessible online within the last three years.

A photograph in the collection entitled “View on Bay Street,” gives us just that — a view of Bay Street long before even Harvey’s Barber Shop existed. The sandy-looking street is lined with small trees and fences of various height. In other words, it’s hard to picture it as the hub of commerce and entertainment it would eventually become.

Other photos are devoted to houses and magnolia trees and rudimentary roads, but perhaps the most important are of unidentified freed men, women and children staring back at what was undoubtedly a foreign object at the time.

As Beaufort’s recognition as a Reconstruction landmark continues to expand, photos in collections like these become gemstones among the rubble of depicting what life really looked like post-Civil War.

In that same vein, a second, smaller collection is also available on the site. Thirty-six stereoscopic photos of the Civil War era donated by a former Beaufort postmaster shows Beaufort during that chaotic period in history.

That collection shows more houses than people, but houses didn’t normally move, and taking photos of people posing back then took enough time to grow a beard from start to finish when the bulb finally flashed.

Still, if you’ve ever walked down Bay Street and wondered what the Verdier House looked like between 1860 and 1870, a completely normal thought, you’d know it’s always been recognizable, thanks to the collection here.

Finally, bringing us a little closer to the present, the Russell J. Arnsberger Postcard Collection exhibits over 350 postcards of Beaufort scenery. It’s apparent that Mr. Arnsberger was a postcard collector, as the 350 digitized cards available for viewing online are not even all of the collection.

The usual suspects are all here — the Episcopal church, The Anchorage, the Arsenal — but a favorite in the vast collection is “Bay Street By Moonlight,” a postcard from 1917 that highlights power poles and lights on in windows at night, proving we didn’t always roll up the sidewalks at 5 p.m.

Other postcards capture Beaufort’s underappreciated history, such as young women at the Mather School on Ribaut Road and the Waterhouse Cotton Ginnery on the Beaufort River. All of them are now forever accessible via mouse click, easily available for research or reminiscing or rainy-day perusal.

Nostalgia is in, if you haven’t heard. Now, thanks to digitization, we can really dig deep into our past from the comfort of our homes.

Someday, perhaps, even those photos in your collection will become part of what people look at to see what life was like in this town in 1986. You know, back when the old Broad River Seafood was just down the road a bit from the old Chevy dealership.