Bluffton isn't just strip malls.

There are two faces of Bluffton.  The first face you see is the modern-day commercial sprawl along Highway 278: Miles of shopping centers, box stores, restaurants, golf courses, and residential developments.


The second face is Historic Old Town, one-square mile of eclectic art studios, galleries, boutiques, antique shops, farmers’ markets, and charming restaurants.  


Either face works, it just depends upon what you are looking for.  



Nestled on a high bluff overlooking the scenic May River, Bluffton’s beginnings were tied to the river and the wealth of Lowcountry plantations during the late 1700s and early 1800s. 


The town was founded in the early 1800s as Bluff Town (“town on the Bluff”), a summer vacation destination for Lowcountry planters looking for a retreat from harsh summer conditions, and wealthy citizens from Savannah trying to escape outbreaks of yellow fever and malaria. 


Bluffton’s first homes were built in the early 1800s and the town was officially incorporated in 1852.  Its coastal waterway location between Charleston, Beaufort and Savannah was perfect for commercial and tourist development.  The town prospered, eventually leading to year-around residences, churches, and a thriving commercial main street.


However, during the Civil War, Bluffton became a haven for Confederate sympathizers fleeing from the Union occupation of Beaufort, Hilton Head Island, and Savannah.  In June 1863, Union troops stationed on nearby Hilton Head Island got fed up with harassment from the Bluffton-based Confederate troops.  The Union troops sailed up the May River at night and fired upon Bluffton. Over the next two days they burned down about two-thirds of the town.   Fortunately, ten antebellum homes and two churches survive to this day, including the Church of the Cross, Rose Hill Mansion, and the Heyward House.


The town did not rematerialize from its destruction until the 1880s when it once again became a commercial center and desirable vacation destination.  Its prosperity continued until the Great Depression brought an end to its commercial importance.  


Bluffton returned to sleepy getaway until the 1970s development of Hilton Head Island. The Island’s developmental success, combined with its policy of restricted growth, spilled over to Bluffton.  Residential developments, golf courses, and sprawling shopping centers grew like hotcakes. Bluffton became the area’s new commercial center.  


Text courtesy of INZANOUTS Travel Guides

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