One of the unique aspects of the Lowcountry  is the large amount of historical homes in totally private hands. When buyers purchase one of these fine old homes, they generally know what’s in store: a historical marker of some sort will be nearby, organized tours will periodically swing by their home, and production companies will sometimes approach them about using the home as a film set. It’s a trade-off most homeowners are only too glad to accept.
Here’s a walking tour of some of Beaufort ’s fine historic homes in private hands. You won’t be taking any tours of the interior, but these homes are part of the legacy of the area and are locally valued as such. Be sure to respect the privacy of the inhabitants by keeping the noise level down and not trespassing on private property to take photos.
Thomas Fuller House: Begin at the corner of Harrington and Bay, and view this 1796 home (1211 Bay St.), one of the oldest in existence in Beaufort and even more unique in that much of the building material is tabby (hence the home’s other name, the Tabby Manse).
Milton Maxcy House: Walk east on Bay Street one block and take a left on Church Street; walk up to the corner of Church and Craven Streets. Otherwise known as the Secession House (113 Craven St.), this 1813 home was built on a tabby foundation dating from 1743. In 1860, when it was the residence of attorney Edmund Rhett, the very first Ordinance of Secession was signed here and the rest, as they say, was history.
Lewis Reeve Sams House: Pick up the walking tour on the other side of the historic district, at the foot of the bridge. This gorgeous house (602 Bay St.) at the corner of Bay and New Streets, with its double-decker veranda, dates from 1852 and served as a Union hospital during the Civil War.
Berners Barnwell Sams House: Continue up New Street where you’ll find this 1818 home (310 New St.), which served as the African American hospital during the Union occupation. Harriet Tubman of Underground Railroad fame worked here for a time as a nurse.
Joseph Johnson House: Continue up New Street and take a right on Craven Street. Cross East Street to find this 1850 home, nicknamed “The Castle” (411 Craven St.), with the massive live oak in the front yard. Legend has it that when the Yankees occupied Hilton Head , Mr. Johnson buried his valuables under an outhouse. After the war he returned to find his home for sale due to unpaid back taxes. He dug up his valuables, paid the taxes, and resumed living in the home. You might recognize the home from the film Forces of Nature.
Marshlands: Backtrack to East Street and walk north to Federal Street. Then take a right and go to the end of the street. Built by James R. Verdier, Marshlands (501 Pinckney St.) was used as hospital during the Civil War, as many Beaufort homes were, and is now a National Historic Landmark. It was the setting of Francis Griswold’s 1931 novel A Sea Island Lady.
The Oaks: Walk up to King Street, take a right, and go to the corner of King and Short Streets. The Oaks (100 Laurens St.) at this intersection was owned by the Hamilton family, who lost a son who served with General Wade Hampton’s cavalry in the Civil War. After the conflict, the family couldn’t afford the back taxes, and neighbors paid the debts and returned the deed to the Hamiltons.
Edgar Fripp House: Walk east on Laurens toward the water to find this handsome Lowcountry mansion, sometimes called Tidalholm (1 Laurens St.). Built in 1856 by the wealthy planter for whom nearby Fripp Island  is named, this house was a key setting in The Big Chill and The Great Santini.
Francis Hext House: Go back to Short Street, walk north to Hancock Street and take a left. This palatial estate, known as Riverview (207 Hancock St.), is one of the oldest structures in Beaufort; it was built in 1720.
Robert Smalls House: Continue west on Hancock Street, take a short left on East Street, and a quick right on Prince Street. This 1834 home (511 Prince St.) was the birthplace of Robert Smalls, a former slave and Beaufort native who stole the Confederate ship Planter from Charleston Harbor while serving as its helmsman and delivered it to Union troops in Hilton Head. Smalls and a few compatriots commandeered the ship while the officers were at a party at Fort Sumter , taking it right past Confederate pickets. Smalls used the bounty he received for the act of bravery to buy his boyhood home for his own. After the war, Smalls was a longtime U.S. congressman.