Located in the center of Beaufort County, South Carolina, Bluffton is known as the “Heart of the Lowcountry.” Bluffton offers a strategic location for residents, businesses and guests. Bluffton is also central to other Lowcountry towns and Southeastern attractions such as Hilton Head Island, Beaufort City, Charleston, Savannah, Georgia and Jacksonville, Florida.
Incorporated in 1852, Bluffton was a one-square mile river town. The Town earned its name because of its original one-square mile jurisdiction resided on a bluff above the May River. Bluffton’s “heart” is its May River and it has always been the town’s centerpiece. The river is why area plantation owners and their families first came to Bluffton in the early 1800s. They built summer homes on “The Bluff” to escape the hot, unhealthy conditions of the low-lying rice and cotton plantations. Bluffton’s high ground and cool river breezes from the May River provided that relief. The May River also provided families easy-access to other waterways. What is now known as the Calhoun Street Dock was once a rest stop for boat travelers between Savannah, Beaufort and Charleston.
Bluffton’s coastal way of life has earned it the title of one of “the last true coastal village of the South.” Besides living, working and playing among the Lowcountry’s natural resources, Bluffton residents pride themselves in their sense of community and their non-conforming ways. Often described as “eclectic,” the town is full of artists, art galleries, festivals and parades. Bluffton residents have also been known as a rebellious community. That reputation began in its roots – literally. Bluffton became a hotbed of the separatist movement in 1844. Robert Barnwell Rhett, a South Carolina congressman, spoke to a group of about 500 residents under a big Oak Tree in Bluffton to protest federal taxes and discuss other issues affecting the South. This meeting gave birth to the Secession movement which led South Carolina to be the first state to leave the Union in 1860. That tree still exists today in Bluffton.
The Civil War had a devastating effect on Bluffton as two-thirds of the town was destroyed by fire during the Union’s Bluffton Expedition on June 4, 1863. Those who remained were destitute and it took many years for Bluffton to economically reestablish itself.
Preserving history and the town’s remaining buildings from the Antebellum/Reconstruction Era has resulted in a surge of tourism and numerous local, regional and national accolades.
While time marches on, the reasons why people come to Bluffton haven’t changed much since its early days. People are relocating to Bluffton for its beauty, culture and high quality of life. The Historic District is still the hub of businesses, shopping and community gatherings. The May River is where people still go to fish, oyster and shrimp. It is a town known as the place to get the Lowcountry’s best seafood. Tourists and residents come to Bluffton to see oystermen harvest May River oysters the old-fashioned way, using their hands, gloves and small boats called bateaus. These oysters are brought to the historic Bluffton Oyster Company where employees, many who have worked there for generations, hand shuck the oysters. The Bluffton Oyster Company is the last hand-shucking factory in the state.
One of the secrets to Bluffton’s population surge and success is preserving the town’s uniqueness as it honors its past. Most towns only have one building, or site or one family’s story to carry on the stories of its former years. Wars, especially the Civil War, Mother Nature’s destruction or the desire to build anew have destroyed the history of most American cities. Bluffton is different. Its Historic District is comprised of numerous historic buildings, homes, sites and landmarks. Town leaders know that its uniqueness is what separates it from other municipalities and they continually invest in the Historic District.
While Bluffton still operates in similar ways, the town, itself, has dramatically changed. In the last few decades, Bluffton’s land mass and population has skyrocketed. Since 1998, Bluffton has exploded from about 750 residents and a jurisdiction of one-square mile (i.e. the Historic District). In 2019, Bluffton is 54 square miles due to multiple annexations and has more than 20,000 residents. Bluffton is the fastest growing municipality in South Carolina and is consistently winning honors, awards and accolades for its high quality of life, low crime rate, progressive economic development initiatives and innovative urban planning.