Less well known than Charleston or Savannah, Beaufort is an extraordinary historic town. It’s much smaller than those two cities, and harder to reach, so although it has been gentrified by what seem to be well-off retirees all reading Southern Living, it doesn’t feel as overrun by tourists. The small downtown is very spiffy, and some of the adjoining residential areas clearly have been getting a lot of attention.
But what really struck us was the district known as The Point. Many of the houses are large and spectacular, but it doesn’t seem that hedge fund managers have been pumping a few million into each one. Perhaps they still belong to old families, or perhaps they are just too big and would cost too much to renovate. Or maybe there aren’t any good golf courses nearby. For whatever reason, the neighborhood exudes that atmosphere of Southern decay that we all know from black and white movies. I kept expecting to see a fat old guy in a Panama hat and suspenders sitting on the porch drinking bourbon.
As much as I loved Charleston, eventually you get tired of everything being so perfect. Beaufort has some ruins and some neglect – it doesn’t have the armies of gardeners ready to pounce on every weed that appears, or painters with their three levels of trim paint ready to go.
Traveling across the South, it’s been discouraging to see how much it has become like the rest of the country – every little town has five fast food places that have displaced the bbq joints and old diners. The new houses look the same as in New Jersey or Texas. Either things are really poor and dilapidated and depressing, or they are brand new and character-less. Beaufort had a strong presence of the past, and it looked old. It helped prepare us for New Orleans.