Historic Downtown Beaufort and Hilton Head Island

The South Carolina African American Heritage Commission suggests the following trip itinerary through Hilton Head Island and Beaufort to enrich your vacation in South Carolina. Trips like this are outstanding, day-long excursions suitable for family reunions, fraternity / sorority get-togethers, meetings and other gatherings. For details about day-trips, including best practices for trip planning, click here.

9 a.m. Mitchelville Freedom Park – 229 Beach City Road, Hilton Head Island – 843-255-7301
This historic site interprets the sacrifice, resilience and perseverance of the freedmen of Mitchelville, which in 1862 was the first self-governed town of formerly enslaved people of African descent in America. More here.
Time at site – 1 hour
10:15 a.m. Fort Howell — 160 Beach City Road, Hilton Head Island  — 404-507-5868
Fort Howell, a Civil War earthwork fortification constructed in 1864, is significant in military history for its role in the Federal occupation and defense of Hilton Head Island, which included deploying the United States Colored Troops. It was also built to defend nearby Mitchelville, the nearby Freedmen’s village established on Hilton Head Island in 1862-63.
Time at site – 30 minutes
Drive time to downtown Beaufort – 45 minutes
11:30 a.m. Grand Army of the Republic Hall – 706 Newcastle Street, Beaufort – 843-525-8500
Although Beaufort’s black military companies remained active after the Civil War, statewide the “Negro militia” rapidly declined during the 19th century. By 1903, the only units left were two companies in Beaufort. Many black Union veterans lived in the community, and after the war they formed the David Hunter Post #9 of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization for veterans of the Union Army. Built in 1896, this meeting hall for the post is believed to be the only surviving building in South Carolina associated with the Grand Army of the Republic. It is included in the Beaufort Historic District.
Time at site –If you secure a tour of the museum inside, allow 30 minutes.
NOON Tabernacle Baptist Church — 901 Craven Street, Beaufort – 843-524-0376
The Tabernacle, a meeting house and lecture room, was built by Beaufort Baptist Church in the 1840s. In 1863, Tabernacle Baptist Church was organized by Solomon Peck of Boston with most of the 500 African American members of the congregation coming from Beaufort Baptist Church. The new congregation acquired this building for their worship services. The church was rebuilt after it was damaged by the hurricane of 1893. A bust of Civil War Hero Robert Smalls is on the church grounds. The church also will erect a monument to Harriet Tubman, memorializing her contributions to the Underground Railroad.


Include a drive by the visitors center for the Reconstruction Era National Monument at 706 Craven Street until the facility is open and ready for visitors.

Time at site – 30 minutes
Drive time to St. Helena Island – 30 minutes
1 p.m. LUNCH – Recommend Gullah Grub (large groups must call in advance) at 877 Sea Island Pkwy, St. Helena Island, SC, 843-838-3841 or MJ’s Soul Food, 1634 Sea Island Pkwy, St. Helena Island, SC, 843-838-2009
2:30 p.m. Penn Center / Reconstruction Era National Monument – 16 Penn Center Cir. E, St. Helena Island, SC – 843-838-2432
Penn School was founded in 1862 by northern missionaries and abolitionists who came to South Carolina after the capture of the Sea Islands by Union troops. The site and its collection of historic buildings were venues for education, the preservation and interpretation of sea island culture, and a strategy meeting for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. before his March on Washington in 1963. In January 2017, Penn Center and other historic sites in Beaufort County were declared the nation’s first Reconstruction Era National Monument by President Barack Obama.
Time at site – 2 hours.
MAPQUEST route itinerary — https://www.mapquest.com/directions/from/us/south-carolina/hilton-head-island/29926-2705/229-beach-city-rd-32.238368,-80.687762/to/us/south-carolina/hilton-head-island/29926-2704/160-beach-city-rd-32.232152,-80.694223/to/us/south-carolina/beaufort/29902-5023/706-newcastle-st-32.435468,-80.674247/to/us/south-carolina/beaufort/29902-5575/901-craven-st-32.432809,-80.671904