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Tabby Architecture, Known as Coastal Concrete, Still Stands Strong After 300 Years

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Ever wonder how people built homes, churches and and other buildings before bricks and concrete? In the South Carolina Lowcountry, they used what they had, which included oyster shells and sand.

Tabby, also known as coastal concrete, is made from a mixture of lime, sand, water and oyster shells. While nobody is exactly sure how long tabby has been around, it's believed to have been used by the Spanish explorers in Florida in the 16th Century and the British in South Carolina and Georgia around 1700. The availability of slave labor and shells made it a popular building choice in the Lowcountry, where the labor-intensive work involved collecting and burning shells to make lime, and then adding whole shells as aggregate.

Some remnants of it remain today, especially in Beaufort County, which is believed to have the largest number of tabby ruins in the US. The Historic Beaufort Foundation has placed the county's tabby structures on its endangered resources list.

Here are a few places where you can get a glimpse:

Tabby Manse at 1211 Bay St. in downtown Beaufort was built in 1786-1788, making it one of the city's oldest surviving homes. The exterior tabby walls are 2 feet thick and finished with sand-colored stucco.

The seawall facing the Beaufort River on Bay Street, just east of Carteret Street, offers a chance to see how tabby has stood up to the elements. The seawall's age isn't exactly known, but it is believed to have been built sometime between the Revolutionary and Civil wars.

The Francis Saltus House at 802-806 Bay St. in downtown Beaufort was built with tabby and old English bricks in 1774. The building was first used as a customs house and hotel, and later as a commissary during the federal occupation of Beaufort during the Civil War.

Chapel of Ease, an Episcopal church that was located on Land's End Road on St. Helena Island, was built of tabby and brick between 1742 and 1747. A forest fire caused major damage in the late 1800s, and the ruins now belong to the St. Helena Episcopal Church.

Baynard ruins in Sea Pines Plantation on the southwestern end of Hilton Head Island include what's left of the early 19th century Stoney-Baynard cotton plantation. The estate was the site of a grand home built of timber and tabby. It was raided during the Civil War and burned shortly afterward, but the ruins remain today.

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