Budding historian Paul Tollefson with Bluffton native Mary Vaux Bell. COURTESY PAUL TOLLEFSON

There is a growing divide between native Blufftonians and the newcomers to town. Peruse any social media platform discussing local issues and you will see the frustrations vocalized with an ever-increasing heated tone.

At the core of the grievance is a respect, or perceived lack thereof, for the town’s history.

There are a myriad of ways to plug in to the stories of Bluffton’s yesteryears, with the Heyward House and Bluffton Historical Preservation Society at the top of the list.

But if you’re looking for an instant infusion and electronic fix of history, we highly suggest the “You Know You’re From Bluffton When …” Facebook page.

Native son Michael Reynolds founded the group 11 years ago and has regularly sprinkled the news feed with historical factoids and tidbits as well as a regular call for memories on little-known or long-forgotten happenings in the State of Mind. His personal remembrances as well as passing along stories from his mother – 60-year Bluffton resident and Bluffton Christmas Parade founder Dianne Reynolds – has led countless olden-day buffs down hours-long rabbit holes of discovery.   

The visuals are equally impressive, with a constant pipeline of black-and-white photos from parades, sporting events and everyday life in Bluffton.

Reynolds is known for starting a thread with a primer and classic photo of historical figures like a recent posting on Gaillard and Hasell Heyward. But Reynolds’ knack for sparking and encouraging remembrances has turned the page into a running oral history, as more and more long-time locals have discovered and become active participants in the group.

Everything old is new again, and the old is definitely the flavor du jour, judging by the page’s recent growth. Between curious newcomers looking to become enlightened and informed residents to a flood of quarantined Blufftonians looking to the page for solace and community in a time of isolation, membership in the public group has grown by 40 percent in the last few months alone.

One look at recent posts and it’s easy to understand why. One flourish of recent Reynolds shares includes an old newspaper clipping of a 100-gallon moonshine bust in Bluffton, a photo of the 1969 Bluffton Bulldogs team, a thread on the Haig Point lighthouse, and a “name these faces” photo of late-1960s Bluffton High students.

Reynolds is an avid marathoner and has spent much of the recent years traveling the world to conquer new courses and chase personal bests. Any potential lull in the discussion by his occasional absences has been aptly filled by a relative newcomer to the Bluffton history game.

Paul Tollefson moved to the Lowcountry in 2002 from his hometown of Kalamazoo, Mich., where he went to the same school and was just a few grades behind Yankees legend Derek Jeter.

He came to Hilton Head Island to teach tennis and found a home at the Van Der Meer Tennis Academy. Within months, he met his wife, started a family and knew this was to be his adult hometown.

“You either like this place or you don’t. The outdoors, the water, the vibe, it just fits me,” Tollefson said of planting roots here.

He and his family moved to Bluffton 12 years ago, and as he continued to grow his tennis lessons clientele, Tollefson developed an addiction with learning the town’s history.

“It started with just stumbling on to some old photos by dumb luck,” he said. “I found Michael’s page and started sharing the stuff I found and I started getting private messages from lifers that wanted to share more and more of their own collection.”

As those who have seen his famous backyard tiki hut can attest, when Tollefson gets on a project, he locks in like a vice-grip tenacity.

He has paired his photo finds and uncovering of such gems as the Women of the Church of the Cross’ Favorite Bluffton Recipes with a number of longer-form essays on topics such as Bluffton’s rich baseball history at Eagles Field.

Tollefson says that each one of his popular photo dumps, a digital sharing of piles of mostly black and white photos from decades gone by, leads him to new enthusiasts anxious to feed his obsession.

“I get stopped at the grocery store, constantly get private messages thanking me for sharing and leading me to the next find,” Tollefson said. “It is so cool how this has taken on a life of its own.”

His latest score: boxes filled with every issue of The Bluffton Eccentric, the town’s first newspaper, founded by William Graham Bullock that published from June 1987 to December 1991.

“My friend Josh Simpson bought them for $5. It’s amazing to me how people just didn’t think Bluffton was cool, so they never saved this stuff,” he said of the discovery. “The Eccentric lives up to its name. It’s this chronicling of a quiet town and every bit of seemingly mundane news that just jumps off the page reading it now.”

Tollefson has more recently begun brief vignettes chronicling Blufftonians of note, such as former mayor George Heyward, woodworker and musician Andy Pitts and realtor/group fan Mary Vaux Bell.

“Paul has been such a blessing for the page and the group,” Reynolds said of his new partner in historical pursuit. “He has so much enthusiasm about not only encouraging others to talk about Bluffton’s history, but in doing the research and talking to longtime Blufftonians.”

While Tollefson is telling more contemporary tales, Reynolds’ latest endeavor is recording conversations with his mom Dianne and challenging others to capture their family’s history before it’s too late.

Together, they are weaving a rich storytelling tapestry one post at a time.

Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at timwood@blufftonsun.com.