CELEBRATE BLUFFTON INC. • A Nonprofit Reveals “New” History • BY CAROLYN COPPOLA
elebrate Bluffton, Inc. is helping people rediscover Bluffton, South Carolina. While working on an M.F.A. in Historic Preservation at Savannah College of Art and Design, Executive Director Carolyn Coppola uncovered the fact that Bluffton was actually one example of a previously undocumented antebellum cultural landscape, that is, a place defined by specific social, political, economic, and physical characteristics. Excited by this fact, Coppola attempted to better understand the Bluffton of today by comparing contemporary towns that shared those historic characteristics. She found that Bluffton was the only surviving example of this cultural landscape in what had been known as Beaufort District, and may well be the only surviving example in Lowcountry. She set out to find a way for Bluffton to tell a story of American history through its extant built environment, one that no other town can tell, and to bring this history to the public. A heritage trail was one such vehicle. With a supportive team, the idea blossomed into a new nonprofit organization, Celebrate Bluffton, Inc. The organization’s mission is to connect residents and visitors to Bluffton’s rich historical and cultural past. Celebrate Bluffton will fulfill its mission through three areas of activities. It will establish heritage tourism programs, one of which is the Bluffton Heritage Trail. It will advocate for preservation activities, projects, and it will develop education programs. A heritage trail is a network of sites, both natural and built, that encourages people to become active participants in learning about and experiencing a place. Residents and visitors alike, will interact firsthand with the landscape of Bluffton, getting a better sense of place through the context of history and heritage. The story of each site demonstrates the relationships among people, places and time periods. Individual sites are interpreted to contribute to the larger story of Bluffton from its beginnings in antebellum
First Zion Baptist Church
times, through the Civil War and reconstruction, to present day. Technology will aid in creating a multi-layered experience. The first delivery method of the heritage trail will be through a downloadable app, available anywhere at any time. The app will transport trail visitors to other times through narration, music and sound effects, as well as visual components. A prototype version is currently in production and is expected to be available this July. A fully-functional version, available to the public, is anticipated to be ready in early fall. Initial sites, include the Garvin house, the First Zion Baptist Church and Praise House, the Squire Pope property, the Pine house, as well as others. The organization will also act as preservation advocates. With successful experience in preparing applications for tax incentives and grants, as well as writing National Register nominations for the owners of historic properties, Celebrate Bluffton hopes to demonstrate that preservation is affordable to property owners and an overall benefit to the community. The organization anticipates many benefits to the community. The Bluffton Heritage Trail will prompt people to explore all of Bluffton, not just Old Town. The locations of trail sites encourage people to move through Bluffton by foot, car, bike, golf cart, etc. Because the trail is self-paced, people will spend as much time in and around Bluffton as they need to complete the trail. As the trail grows, so will the desire for time to take it all in. People will look for places to eat, places to stay, and ways to take breaks with other forms of entertainment. The heritage trail should enhance opportunities for existing businesses and inspire new ones. The two historic properties that are open to the public should see an increase in visitation. This work will also promote stewardship of Bluffton’s cultural resources. The people of Bluffton must preserve these assets, as well as plan carefully for the future, which includes growth and development. Celebrate Bluffton will use preservation advocacy as a tool for sustainable development, main-
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