Coastal Real Estate - Miles of Waterfront, Golden Marsh and Sandy Beaches
Beaufort County Lowcountry is a collection of hundreds of large and small islands separated by salt water tidal inlets. The outer, or barrier, islands are edged with broad beaches. Inner islands are bordered by golden marshes and salt-water “rivers.” The islands themselves are covered in maritime or pine forests, or long-abandoned fields and dikes of rice or cotton plantations. This topography translates into hundreds of miles of waterfront, the most beautiful and last unspoiled coastline along the eastern seaboard.
The waters are clean. The air is pure. New and recently built communities incorporate woods, nature preserves, well-stocked fresh-water ponds and championship golf courses into their terrain. Eagles, wood storks and other threatened species nest and multiply. Visual and physical access to the water is easy. Public mini parks at the ends of many streets open onto the water, and there are 32 public boat ramps throughout the county.
What this means for the lowcountry home buyer is a great selection of houses and home sites with breathtaking views. Homes can overlook rivers or tidal creeks, marsh or woods, a peaceful golf course or waves crashing onto an empty beach. Where else can so many residents say, “my ‘front yard’ stretches as far as my eye can see”?
Also along the waterways are some new and some very old walking communities, where each house is a work of art, neighbors are friendly, cars are less essential and the personal vistas are just down the street. The old towns of Beaufort, Bluffton and Port Royal existed before the Civil War and have stunning antebellum mansions and cottages and period beach houses. Many historic homes have been restored and are escalating in value. A few still await a loving renovator. In Bluffton, on St. Helena Island and in outlying areas, rare plantation mansions have survived and occasionally come on the market.
It all started in Beaufort and Bluffton where planters built summer homes to escape from inland heat and mosquitoes. Beaufort, described in antebellum days as the wealthiest per capita town in the U.S., was deserted by its white residents at first sight of the Union Navy. Historic buildings became hospitals under Union occupation. Now a historic landmark district, Beaufort’s downtown historic mansions on The Point and along Bay Street and the Beaufort River have almost all been restored. Restored too, are the smaller but highly desired historic cottages, sturdy and friendly, close to the sidewalks.
Nearby Port Royal, originally a working-man’s town, now is a walking neighborhood with homes of every period. Newer communities on Lady’s Island, St. Helena and on islands north of Beaufort are golfing communities, deep water communities, marshfront communities or combinations of all three. Two were designed by Miami’s award-winning Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, who started the “new urbanism” concept of town design.
Bluffton, on the wide and beautiful May River, also has antebellum homes, most a bit smaller and more whimsical architecturally that those in Beaufort. Collections of picturesque beach houses as well as stately grand mansions overlook the May. Bluffton encompasses the land from the Hilton Head Bridge extending out along both sides of Route 278 to the water. On Route 170, the area is called Okatie. Both Bluffton and Okatie are home to newer sometimes gated waterfront and golfing communities. One has the original plantation mansion. Recently restored, it is in the Gothic-Carpenter style of Bluffton’s famed Church of the Cross.
Communities on the gorgeous waterfront on the upper reaches of the Okatie River offer protected waters yet are only minutes from the large sounds. This area is central to all of Beaufort County, almost equidistant to the Lowcountry’s most important destinations such as the beaches, the historic districts, the airport and Interstate 95, the nightlife and shopping of Hilton Head, Bluffton and Savannah and the nature preserves and hunting clubs.
Hilton Head, once a plantation famous for sea island cotton, offers every type of island living, from gated golfing enclaves to resorts and vacation rentals. Houses come in all sizes, including both immense beachfront mansions and modest cottages. Miles of oceanfront and gorgeous beachfront property are located on Hilton Head, Daufuskie, Fripp and Harbor Islands. (See separate article.)
Modern lowcountry architecture resembles historic lowcountry architecture typified by wrap-around porches, pitched roofs sometimes made of tin, lots of windows and high ceilings. Homes are oriented toward the view and the breeze. Nowadays, the kitchen is likely to open into a general living area and most houses are designed for gracious hospitality. Outside facilities, sometimes private, sometimes shared with a neighborhood, can include docks, tennis courts, swimming pools, stables, oyster-roast facilities, golf clubhouses, guest cottages and even fitness centers and small stores.
Home ownership in the lowcountry, whether a primary residence or rental property or a vacation/weekend home has proven an excellent investment. Real estate values increase year by year, yet prices still trail more populated coastal areas. Values are expected to continue to rise in this unique area, where most development is new, the climate is pleasant all year around and the air and water are clean. Life is safe, healthy and full in the Beaufort County lowcountry.
By Kristine Cox