The John Mark Verdier House Museum is one of the most revered historic homes in Beaufort and the Sea Islands. If you are into colonial architecture and Civil War history then you’re in for a treat!
The house is located on Bay Street across from the Waterfront Park playground. The museum is open Monday to Saturday 10AM – 4PM and admission is $5 (includes a guided tour of the house interior).
Listed in the National Register this magnificent Federal-style mansion is one of the finest example of early 19th century architecture in the Southeast.
John Verdier House highlights and interesting facts
• The house was graced by Marquis de Lafayette and became Union troops headquarters and Assistant General Office during the Civil War occupation.
• Beaufort’s first telephone was installed in the house ballroom.
• The ground floor was used to store food, household supplies and equipment. In the 1900s it became home to various business like the Lafayette Tavern, a fish market, ice house, yarn shop and a fruit stand.
• The brick arch still supports a chimney that expands 4 stories and served 4 fireplaces in the rooms above.
• The house was constructed using shipbuilding techniques and sturdy materialslike beams and hand cut boards laid horizontally, unusual for South Carolina at the time.
No wonder the house is in such good shape more than 200 years later…
• The house didn’t have any kitchen, bathrooms, closets (all of these were outside). The furniture was kept to a minimum and stored along the walls.
• Each room had a fireplace decorated with fine, hand-carved mantels featuring allegorical figures, ribbons, fruit, flowers, and sheaves of wheat.
The rise of the freedmen (data provided by the Verdier museum exhibits)
• The Port Royal Experiment attempted to help the newly 10,000 slaves freed by the Union occupation. Many northern missionaries and teachers came to Beaufort to open schools, expand churches and prepare the freedmen to citizenship. Most famous was Harriet Tubman, who worked as a nurse, spy and military aide to Union troops.
• Freedman’s Bank open in 1895 in Robert Chisolm’s former house on Bay street to help freedmen save money earned during the war as soldiers, cooks, tradesmen and farmers.
• The Republican Party in Beaufort started during those times. Robert Smalls, a freed slave, organized the local Republican Party at the Stevens House hotel on Bay Street. African-Americans will dominate the political scene and the Republican Party in Beaufort for the next 30 years.
Robert Smalls, legendary figure and local hero
Robert Smalls was born in Beaufort in 1839. At 12 he was sent to Charleston where he worked as a lamplighter and waiter and then learned the trade of sail maker, rigger and deckhand.
Smalls was thrust into the national spotlight after bravely piloting Planter, a Confederate ship, into Union hands. This event led to his commissioning as 2nd Lieutenant, and eventually he became Major General. With the prize money received from piloting Steamer he was able to purchase the same house where he was born a slave and live in it until his death in 1916.
After Civil War Robert Smalls entered the political scene serving as SC Senator and US Congressman when he was instrumental in helping to establish a permanent military training and recruiting base on Parris Island.
Things to know before you go
1. You’re not allowed to take pictures while on tour (however you can take photos of the artifacts on the ground floor). The National Register website has beautiful pictures of the John Verdier House interior and details on its architectural designs.
2. Little kids will get bored while on the tour so better go alone or have someone to baby sit downstairs. You can’t bring strollers, food or drinks inside the house.
3. The tour goes rather quickly. At times I felt overwhelmed with the amount and the speed of architectural and historical details thrown at us by our guide. It helps to ask lots of questions, if nothing else you get a tirade break!
4. If you care to remember, write it down. Unfortunately the museum doesn’t have good handouts materials, nor could I found much on the Historic Beaufort Foundation website.
5. Once done touring the house you can relax along the Beaufort marina and let the kids loose at the Waterfront Park playground. For lunch I recommend the Ice Cream and Lunch Parlor at the other end of Bay Street.
Ready for more history tours?
• Visit the vibrant St. Helena Episcopal Church, the second oldest and still active congregation in South Carolina (free admission).
• Be a Marine at the Parris Island Museum and admire incredible weapons, enemy captures and heroic soldiers stories (free admission).
• Join in the 2009 Beaufort Fall Festival of Houses & Gardens held on October 23, 24 and 25.
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