The Old South

Historic and Haunted Carolina Ports
By Emily Matchar
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Aerial view of Hilton Head Island’s harbour town
HEAD LANDS: The harbor town at Hilton Head. (courtesy, the Hilton Head Islands CVB)

Tracing the shoreline from Georgetown, South Carolina, to Beaufort, North Carolina, will take you through some of the oldest settlements on the southeastern coast. Start in Georgetown, 60 miles north of Charleston. This port town was flush with money from indigo and rice plantations until fortunes were crushed by the Civil War. These days 25 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, and streets lined with stately mansions are all that remain of the boom days. Stop for lunch in the postcard-pretty downtown overlooking the bay crowded with shrimp boats, and check out the Georgetown Rice Museum in the Old Market Building.

The village of Southport, about 38 miles past the South Carolina-North Carolina state line at the mouth of the Cape Fear River, is an antique-lover's heaven. Boring, you say? We're not talking chipped porcelain and old portraits. We're talking vast, dusty wonder emporiums brimming with oddments like 19th-century carved whale tooth scrimshaws and leather-bound Victorian porno novels. If you have time, take the ferry to Bald Head Island, a vacation community and sea turtle resort where cars are banned and everyone zips around on golf carts. Many of the rental cottages are up to 20 percent off during the late fall and winter.

Another three hours up the coast is the 17th-century port town of Beaufort, North Carolina. Even when it's crowded in summer, Beaufort always has a slightly eerie vibe, with wind-battered old houses sporting ornate widow's walks and streets lined with gnarled magnolias. In fall, it gets downright spooky—as it should; Beaufort is reputed to be the most haunted town on the Carolina coast. The pirate Blackbeard lived at the so-called Hammocks House off Front Street, where he's said to have stabbed his 13th wife to death on the stairs. You can't go inside, but it's fun to stroll past on the way to the nearby Old Burying Ground, where Confederate spies, shipwrecked soldiers, and ill-fated pirates sleep eternally beneath massive oaks veiled with Spanish moss. The Beaufort Historical Association on Turner Street has tons of area info and can hook you up with guided tours. For sleeping, choose from a handful of frilly bed and breakfasts. Anchorage House, in a sprawling white cottage, is the best of the lot.

Published: 24 Dec 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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