During the Civil War, the Union Army famously burned and destroyed hundreds of Southern homes and buildings as Sherman marched through the Southern states. But the John Verdier House in Beaufort is one building that exists today because of Union troops.
The Federal-style mansion was built in 1804 by John Mark Verdier, a prominent plantation owner and merchant who had made a fortune trading indigo and the Lowcountry's rare pima cotton, also known as Sea Island cotton because of how well it grew in the Sea Island area around Beaufort.
The Verdier family remained in the house until November 1861, when Union troops took the city after the Battle of Port Royal. In anticipation of the Union victory, most of the Southern residents of Beaufort fled, leaving behind their homes and many of their possessions, not to mention hundreds of newly freed slaves.
It was at this point that John Verdier's mansion on Bay Street became the headquarters for the Adjutant General of the Union Army. Other homes in Beaufort were used as housing for union troops, hospitals, and storage for the army. As a Union stronghold in the Deep South, the city was spared the devastation that many other Confederate cities underwent in the final days of the Civil War. As a result, today Beaufort's beautiful antebellum architecture remains and is part of what makes the town such a delightful place to visit.
The John Verdier House was a multi-tenant structure in the 1940s and was condemned to make way for a proposed gas station. A group of citizens, recognizing its important place in American history and trademark Federal architecture, successfully organized to save the building. It opened as a museum in 1976.
Restoration efforts are ongoing today. The Verdier House has consulted with experts from Colonial Williamsburg to restore the house with as much authenticity as possible. The exterior of the building was whitewashed when the folks from Colonial Williamsburg arrived. After conducting tests on the building they found more than 20 different colored layers of paint on the house and were able to determine its present-day shade of brown as being consistent with its color around the time of the Civil War.
The docent-guided tours here are really exceptional. My guide Dave's enthusiasm for the history of the home and easy-going demeanor made for a fascinating and enjoyable time. Tours are offered Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the half hour. Admission is $5.
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