Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Port Royal Cottage

“Success is not a place at which one arrives but rather the spirit with which one undertakes and continues the journey.” - Alex Noble
We have embarked on another journey, another soon to be chapter in our lives. We are buying a little fishermen's cottage in Port Royal SC. If all goes well we will close on the property November 30th. We have had a satellite office in Beaufort for a couple of years. We leased some space in a mixed use flat in the Habersham community. Although we liked the area, we wanted a place of our own and Habersham was clearly out of our price range as second homes go. We also never really liked the planned community feel. Although Habersham's architecture seems to be period correct and Lowcountry inspired, the absence of the random shanty lends an aire of plastic uniformity that is difficult to ignore. After two years of searching for the perfect spot, we found the Port Royal cottage. Weighing in at a spry 860 sq-ft, we'll need to add on to the existing structure to get the footprint we need. The good news is that the house is solid and the lot is large.

Port Royal is a beautiful area steeped in history and tradition. Most people don't know that it is one on of the oldest continually used ports in the US. The first landing at Port Royal was made by Pedro de Salazar in the1500s. Spain sent other ships to this area in the 1520s and built the first fort in North America in 1525. Most men perished during that first winter. The Spanish, nevertheless, continued to use this area as a major anchorage in their explorations, and eventually made it the center of their North American empire.

In 1562, Capt. Jean Ribaut led a group French Huguenots to the New World. Three months later they sailed up a "mighty" river, the mouth of which they named Port Royal. Ribaut wrote that he had found ". . . no fairer or fitter place . . . the Port Royal." On what is now Parris Island, the French expedition built a fort they named Charles Fort in honor of King Charles IX. Ribaut returned to France for men and supplies and left 30 settlers on the island. When Ribaut did not return by July, the settlers feared the worst. With the help of the natives the stranded Frenchmen built a ship, the first ever known to have been built in the new world, and set sail for home. Although the ship floundered at sea, they were eventually picked up by English sailors and returned to France.
In 1565 a Spanish squadron was sent by Philip II to destroy the fledgling French colony. After destroying the French fort, the Spanish carried off the pillar set up by founder Jean Ribaut as a symbol of French domination, and returned with it to Cuba. One year later, they returned to St. Elena (now known as St Helena) to establish their own military port. For twenty-one years, St. Elena was considered the capital of Spanish "Florida".
In 1629 Charles I of England granted Sir Robert Heath the region comprising the two Carolinas, Georgia and much of Florida under the name Carolina, but no effort was made to colonize the area until 1663 when Capt. William Hilton sailed from Barbados on the ship Adventure and raised the first English flag over St. Helena Sound. Hilton Head Island was named in his honor. Seven years later Charles II of England gave the territory to eight of his friends in appreciation of their services in restoring him to the throne. The group was known as the Lord Proprietors. The Lord Proprietors began bestowing Land Grants in Port Royal.
Union occupation during the Civil War spared the Town of Port Royal from destruction. Gen. Thomas Sherman was quite content to ride out the war comfortably on Hilton Head Island. As a result, with the exception of a few unsuccessful forays a few miles north of Beaufort to attempt to sever the vital Confederate railway from Savannah to Charleston, Port Royal remained a pleasant beachhead for the Union. In fact, it was considered so safe that many Officers' families moved down form the North. The only evidence of war were the wounded who were routinely treated in Beaufort. When the other - the fighting Sherman- came through the area some three years later burning and pillaging, he spared the little historic town, destroying instead neighboring Hardeeville and McPhersonville just to the north. As a result, many of the majestic homes that were built in Port Royal are still in existence and are listed as historic buildings. Two churches were built, both of which still stand; Port Royal Union Church on 11th Street and the Zion Baptist Church on 15th Street. Mercantile buildings were constructed (including the F.W. Scheper store which still stands), two drug stores; dry goods stores; a blacksmith shop; a bakery was located in the Masonic Lodge Building that is now the Last Chance Saloon; and no less than seventeen bars and taverns. Many newspaper articles from the era mentioned fist fights and brawls. Train arrivals and departures were so frequent and the population so dense in Port Royal that pedestrian accidents frequently occurred on the rails.

In 1891 Congressman Robert Smalls was instrumental in having a U.S. Naval coaling station built on nearby Parris Island, complete with a 120 x 150 ft dock. The naval yard brought several ships into Port Royal Harbor including the USS Texas, the USS Indiana, and the ill-fated Battleship, USS Maine. In 1959 the South Carolina State Ports Authority re-activated Port Royal and provided the necessary funding to dredge the ship-turning basin and build transit sheds and berthing spaces. The Port Authority leased the facilities to the Port Royal Clay Company which exported Kaolin, a raw material used in the manufacture of porcelain. Along with the demise of the Railroad, both the Navy Yard and much of the commercial Port business were eventually moved to Charleston. In the 1960 Census the population of Port Royal was registered at less than 750 people. Today the population is around 3000.

I fully intend to restore the little cottage to its former glory. I'll chronicle the transformation on this blog. Photos coming after closing :-)