Beaufort never stronger at its remarkable milestone

The city of Beaufort has aged well.

That is because of the sacrifice, vision and work of many people -- many generations of people -- and as the city celebrates its 300th anniversary Monday, we all should first give thanks.

It is a testament to perseverance that the second-oldest city in South Carolina remains a jewel on a glorious bend in the Beaufort River.

Its history is tangible in elegant homes where Union soldiers may have etched names, dates and unusual circumstances. It can be felt in the Beaufort Arsenal -- built in 1798, rebuilt in 1852 and now the official visitors center. It can be appreciated in quiet, moss-laden cemeteries, neighborhoods, churches, parks, stores and restaurants.

Amid such beauty, it would be easy to forget the hardships the community has somehow plowed through in three centuries: A brutal war with Native Americans, slavery, disease, hurricanes, fire, British occupation, the internecine violence of the American Revolution, federal occupation in the Civil War, segregation, the boll weevil, the Great Depression, poverty, hunger and isolation.

It puts the current Bay Street parking brouhaha in perspective, doesn't it? It should.

It's no surprise that Beaufort reaches this extraordinary milestone facing challenges. The economy is down, squeezing both the private and public sectors. Yet as the county seat and the hub of the county's history, Beaufort is expected to be a lot of things to a lot of people. Mayor Billy Keyserling often points to a reality a bit chillier than the sun-dappled facades of "Gone With The Wind" mansions: Beaufort has a relatively stagnant population of about 12,000 people, many classified by the U.S. Census Bureau as low- to moderate-income earners, and about half of whom rent the homes in which they live.

But we know from Beaufort's grand history, which overlays neatly all the pivotal moments and issues of America's history, that never have we had it better .

More opportunity exists for more people than ever before. Jobs may be more scarce than they were a few years ago, and whole industries may have disappeared or faded over the decades: rice, indigo, cotton, phosphates, truck crops, the railroad, the port, oystering and shrimping.

But never has life in Beaufort and this region been better for its people in terms of health care, public education, water and sewer service, sanitation, roads and bridges, parks and recreation, religious diversity and the arts.

Yes, Beaufort at one time was one of America's wealthiest cities, with the Beaufort College and its library standing like the grand homes and churches as symbols of prosperity. But that was enjoyed by the few, not the many. Education and public services as simple as a lending library were for the elite. Today, Beaufort and this region offer a wealth of opportunities for all. It's not a step down from the days of glory, it is a step up from the abject poverty of the 1930s and the failed ideas of history.

Monday's ceremony from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park will most appropriately feature the spine-tingling sounds of the Parris Island Marine Corps Band, a reminder of the Marine Corps' irreplaceable economic and historical link with Beaufort.

Like the Marines, Beaufort's new City Hall is a symbol of the sturdiness of a people who have not only survived, but also done it with great relish and flair.

Beaufort is a small city with a symphony orchestra, youth orchestra, university, library with special historical collection, chamber music series, a clear and distinct downtown, a sense of place, a sense of family, a sense of community, an appreciation for historical preservation and a historic welcome to diverse newcomers and visitors. Its heart shows in churches that provide meals in a city park, a free health care clinic, hospice care for the dying, a Boys & Girls Club for youth and its free park on the glistening bend in the Beaufort River, one of the prettiest places on Earth.

Beaufort is in an enviable place. It has survived a lot. It is still beautiful. Its residents know there will be great problems ahead, but they have never been in better position to find solutions. For that, we give thanks to many.