Site History Summary

The GARVIN HOUSE is located at the intersection of Bridge Street and Wharf Street within the “Old Town” district of Bluffton, SC. The structure dates to ca. 1870 and is an excellent example of Carolina Lowcountry vernacular architecture of the late-19th century. The building was constructed during the Reconstruction Era; an historic period rarely represented architecturally due to the impermanence of the construction methods and materials. The house utilizes a combination framing technique using indigenous materials to create an original hall-parlor plan with shed extensions. Traditional building techniques in the structure include hand-hewn timbers and notching and Anglo methods introduced through Union occupation of Hilton Head Island (milled lumber and fabricated materials). The floor plan constitutes a 20th c., Georgian modernization of the common hall-parlor folk house, modifying it into a more refined I-house plan. The GARVIN HOUSE is believed to be one of the earliest known freedmen owned houses still extant on the May River. The residence remained in the Garvin family for three generations until 1961. The structure remained in private hands until 2001, when
the Beaufort County Land Trust acquired the house and property. In 2004, Beaufort County and the Town of Bluffton entered into a partnership to share the responsibility of maintaining the Oyster Factory Park, which includes the GARVIN HOUSE. The house has the potential to become a centerpiece of interpretation for the park due to its extreme rarity as a home constructed and owned by African-Americans in Bluffton during the Reconstruction Era.


Cyrus Garvin, a Freedman, built the GARVIN HOUSE on the property of what might have been his former owner Joseph Baynard. Baynard’s house was burned down during the Union attack on Bluffton on June 4, 1863, and the GARVIN HOUSE stands on the exact location where the residence had been located, on a bluff overlooking the May River. Garvin purchased the land, 54 acres, from the Estate of Esther Box on May 10, 1878 for $239.70. The house now sits in parkland owned by Beaufort County.

The Garvin family history is fragmented, and there appears to be no record of Cyrus Garvin before an 1870 census, which lists him as a 49 year-old mulatto male who could neither read nor write. The census states that he was a farmer with real estate valued at $250 and personal net worth valued at $375. Additional information in the 1870 census of St. Luke’s Parish indicates that Garvin had a forty year-old wife named Ellie and one twelve year-old son named Isaac. Garvin and his family were not on the list in the Index of Free Blacks and Mulattos of the Parish’s 1860 census, indicating that they were likely slaves of Joseph Baynard. The 1860 St. Luke’s Parish census lists Baynard as being the owner of forty-four slaves. Additionally, historical trends indicate that newly freed slaves tended to remain on properties familiar to them, supporting the conjecture that Garvin was a former slave on the property.

A deed of conveyance dated to November 12, 1878 indicates that Garvin may have also been known by the surname Garvey. In this conveyance, Garvey states that another conveyance of January 31, 1878 referred to him as Cyrus Garvin. Thereafter, however, all documents refer to him as Cyrus Garvin. Garvin was active in the Bluffton community, serving as an agent of St. Matthew’s Baptist Church and acting as achurch trustee alongside “FS Keates, Geo H Guerard, Jacob Givens, S. Scott, and John Chisolm.” In the previously mentioned 1878 conveyance, Garvin bought land from Dr. Paul Pritchard; additionally, he purchased the aforementioned fifty-four acres from Esther Box in 1878. Another document shows Garvin selling land to J.H. Estill in 1885.

The 1880 census of St. Luke’s Parish states that Garvin, then 60 years-old, residedwith his wife Ellen, 50; son Isaac, 21; daughter-in-law Jenny, 22; and seven-month-old grandson Paul. A deed of conveyance from 1914, where Isaac conveyed the family property to Paul, explains that the property formerly owned by Joseph Baynard was originally granted to Cyrus Garvin in 1891 by the state of South Carolina. A 1913 survey map of Bluffton shows the Garvin homestead at its present location.

Recent historic documentation uncovered by Celebrate Bluffton indicated that the Garvin family hosted social events at their house during the early 20th century. One newspaper article describes a “flinch” party at the home of Mrs. Isaac Garvin “On the Bluff” where “dainty refreshments were served and dancing indulged in until a late hour” (Savannah Tribune 8.19.1905). This new information highlights the importance of the family in Bluffton society during the early 20th century.

Following the death of Cyrus around 1891, the title of the property was passed from Cyrus to Isaac Garvin. According to interviews with community members, Isaac’s wife Jenny was the last known person to inhabit the house. She passed away in the 1950’s. For the last decade of her life Jenny Garvin was blind (Brown 10.30.14 and Martin 09.08.14). Historic records show that the title of property was passed to Paul Garvin in 1914. Around 1930, Paul Garvin constructed a second house on the property (see site map on p. 19 for location). The home was demolished in the early 2000’s. In 1961 the property transferred to J.S. Graves Jr. before being passed to the Bluffton Oyster GARVIN HOUSE and then Beaufort County in 2001.

Source: Garvin House - Structural Assessment and Preservation Plan; courtesy Meadors, Inc.

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