If you want to hear the voices of Bluffton’s past, you need to spend time meandering through the Caldwell Archives. Spending an afternoon searching through the archives is akin to going to your great-great-grandmother’s attic and finding a weathered chest of letters, maps and photographs.
You will discover the voices of former Bluffton residents and hear their innermost thoughts of what life was like in Bluffton in the 1800s and early 1900s.
The Archives, currently located at Colcock-Teel House, are being relocated to Town Hall as I write this. The Bluffton Historical Preservation Society maintains the Archives and you can look at them by appointment.
Katie Epps, director and curator of the Heyward House Museum and Welcome Center, said many people come from out of town to research the surname files and discover their Bluffton relatives. However, even if your family tree doesn’t branch off in the Lowcountry, there are golden nuggets of local history for everyone to discover.
For instance, there is one notebook that has preserved the Town’s governmental history. George Sewell Guilford documented the first Town Council meeting in April 1903. He writes, “Council met this day at 8:30 p.m. for the purpose of organizing,” and describes the first people elected to offices to run Bluffton’s government.
This notebook has 118 pages of previous Town Council meetings minutes and spans from years 1903 to 1908.
There’s also a book titled, “Bluffton Boy,” written by Andrew Peeples. It was published in 1979, just months after the author died. Peeples was born in 1905 to a prominent Bluffton merchant and was one of 14 students in his graduating class at Bluffton High School. Throughout the book, he describes his memories and reflections of growing up in Bluffton.
One of the most peculiar items in the archives is a large lock of hair. It was saved by a mother, Gabriella Chancellor Martin, in her personal scrapbook. It was her son’s hair. James died in 1905 at the age of 22.
The scrapbook includes family memories from 1885 to 1908 through newspaper articles, death notices, poems as well as the hair. There is even a heartfelt letter addressing her deceased son.
In the “Bluffton Newsletter” from 1932, you will read about a spiritual singing contest at Campbell AME Church and about an alleged prank played on the superintendent of schools, Mr. McCracken. It describes McCracken’s home had been “turned topsy turvy by unknown party.”
The story describes Mr. and Mrs. McCracken returning home and finding their living room and two other rooms in disarray. It further says, “Mr. McCracken … is very popular with the students … is at a loss to even hazard a guess who the guilty party was. Whoever entered the house did so merely through a desire for malicious mischief, because nothing was stolen.”
There’s so much to digest in these archives and they are historically delicious finds. One tip: Bring a magnifying glass and your best reading glasses. Some of the documents are more than 100 years old and were written in decorative cursive with ink which has now faded.
Lisa Sulka is the mayor of the Town of Bluffton.