Get to know Bluffton on a walk through its history

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For those who think they know the history of Bluffton, Rodney Vaughn says you "don't know Jack" - yet. Bluffton Jack's Old Town Tours are a new staple in town, but the stories that tourists walk away with date back to the beginning of Bluffton as a community.

The Bluffton Historic District includes 46 buildings that directly contribute to the town's history, including events that occurred throughout The Antebellum Resort Era (1815 to 1860), The Civil War and Reconstruction (1860 to 1880) and Commercial Growth and Decline (1880 to 1945).

The tour covers at least 20 of those structures, and is led by the fun Bluffton Jack character, created and personified by Vaughn. His anecdotes make participants feel like they played a part in the story.

Jack's accent is a colorful combination of Kevin Spacey in "House of Cards" and Tom Hanks in "Forrest Gump." Vaughn credits his friends and associates in town for helping educate him about the day-to-day life in Bluffton's early days. Emmett McCracken, owner of Stock Farm Antiques on May River Road and former mayor, was just one of the people he mentioned.

"You think you know a lot, but when you really start looking into things and talking to people whose families were here at the time, you realize there's so much more," Vaughn said. "It's not just stuff you can read online."

During Colonial times, Bluffton appealed to planters and their families because of its geographic location along the May River, which helped deter the mosquitoes and heat. It stands out in Civil War history for many reasons, including the still-standing Secession Oak, under which Robert Barnwell Rhett first argued for Southern independence in 1844.

Vaughn is a licensed tour guide endorsed by The Bluffton Historical Society and former president of the Old Town Bluffton Merchant's Society. He grew up in Savannah, spending summers in Bluffton and Hilton Head.

As co-founder and producer at Coastal Stage Productions based in Ridgeland, he has picked up many stories to help build his character "Bluffton Jack," who was hypothetically "born" on Sept. 25, 1851, a decade before the kick-off of the Civil War.

Tickets for the walking tours are $20 per adults, $15 for youth ages 10 to 18, and free for children 9 and under. The tours take place on weekdays at 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. starting at 41B Calhoun Street in Bluffton.

The tour concludes at Heyward House and includes a $5 discount on the guided house and grounds tour. To book a tour, visit www.blufftonjacktours.com or call 843-717-2175. Bluffton Jack also is planning historic ghost tours for Halloween season this fall.

Shae Dalrymple is the assistant editor of the Bluffton Sun.

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