As heavy equipment operators began work on building a break wall at the Wright Family Park on Calhoun Street, Bluffton town officials publicized an online survey seeking suggestions from the public for what to do with the Squire Pope carriage house that still stands on the property.
Once owned by the wealthy landowner “Squire” William Pope, one of Bluffton’s founders, the wooden structure stands in stark contrast to the building across the street. The Church of the Cross, built in 1857, stands on land given in 1842 by Pope for a church.
The carriage house is a melding of the few outbuildings that survived the burning of Bluffton during the Civil War. The buildings were razed in about 1850, according to historical documentation, and the main house itself was razed by Union forces in 1863.
The Town of Bluffton purchased the property in 2017 and plans to make it open to public access.
As officials and citizens ponder the future of the property and the structure, anecdotes are slipping away, but Bluffton’s story has been documented by historians, and descendants recount tales handed down from one generation to another.
Hilton Head Island artist Liz Bundy, Pope’s great-great-great-granddaughter, said her mother had many tales, and a much-thumbed family history begins the story in the Old World.
Her mother was Marian Gautier Guerard Moore. The Guerards were French Protestant Huguenots who – with many other families – fled France’s imposition of civil and religious punishment of non-Catholics.
Under Charles II of England, this particular branch immigrated to the colony of Carolina, arriving in January 1680, according to the family history.
Marian’s grandparents were Benjamin Elliott Guerard and Gertrude Pope Woodward, who happened to be William and Sarah Lavinia Pope’s granddaughter. When Marian visited her grandmother, Gertrude would tell her stories from when she was a child, Bundy said.
“I wish now I had paid more attention to what my mother said. There was one story we heard often. Gertrude Woodward, who was born in 1845, was a teenager when the Civil War began. They were warned that Sherman was coming and he was going to burn Bluffton. I don’t know why – it was a sleepy little town. That was crazy,” Bundy said. “They were to get the kids out. Mother said they had two huge wagons, and they were told to put the girls on the bottom and cover them with blankets, and then to put the boys on top because those Yankee soldiers would rape the girls.”
In her copy of “The History and Genealogy of the Guerard Family and Related Pope and Woodward Families of South Carolina from 1679-1980,” there were additional details from the period.
“The Pope home in Bluffton was prominent and right on the bank of the May River,” Bundy read. “Federal gunboats came up the river, and shelled and burned the Pope home and part of Bluffton. Everything was destroyed except the carriage house. The family went first to Savannah, then Charleston, then upcountry to Sandersville, Ga., for several months. Then they went to Midway near Milledgeville.”
In 1865, Sarah Pope and her daughter Elizabeth returned to what was left of the property and adapted what buildings were left into their home – a rare example of outbuildings joined to form a residence during reconstruction. It is two stories high, one-room deep with porches facing the river, and became the property of the Wright family in the 1950s.
When Gertrude died in 1929, another story was added to the family lore.
“Out at the original St. Luke’s Church, which is that little white Methodist church on [S.C. Hwy.] 170, mother’s parents and grandparents are buried out there,” Bundy recalled. “There’s this cute story that when Gertrude died – that was mother’s grandmother who told her the stories – they buried her out at St. Luke’s, and nobody bothered to put a headstone on her. They buried her right next to her husband. Mother got on the bus, and she had a headstone to match the other one. She put roller skates on the bottom, because it was heavy. It was marble or something. She was pulling it with the wheels on it. She had a cousin in Summerville who picked her up at the bus, and they came over and they put that tombstone there. Isn’t that something? A tombstone on roller skates.”
The property purchase has historical and cultural significance, but it also strengthens the community’s physical boundaries.
“Each new construction project provides an opportunity to enhance environmental protections and the bulkhead will allow us to clean debris from the existing shoreline and prevent further erosion of the bluff,” said Bryan McIlwee, the town’s director of engineering, in a press release.
According to the town’s press release describing plans for the property’s upgrades, “the master plan for the Wright Family Park includes a large central lawn, walkways, parking, landscaping, site furnishings, lighting, fencing, and an adaptive reuse of an existing garage building for public restrooms, storage and a small warming kitchen.”
Access to the bluff and shoreline at Wright Family Park will not be permitted during the construction phase. Responses from the survey, which ended July 26, will be shared at 5 p.m. Aug. 8 at Town Hall.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.