The long history of the Lowcountry, Beaufort and Anchorage 1770 began in Colonial days with the rich resources of land and sea. Guests of Anchorage 1770 have a front-row seat in a rich drama 240 years in the making. If you’re looking for some casual reading, the history of the mansion is a fascinating series of “near misses.” If your interests are more passionate, guest services can share the many walks, exhibits and organizations that chronical the history of the area. You will not be disappointed.
While the first record of a lot located at the corner of Bay and Newcastle Street was granted to Samuel Wilson and John De Lagaye in 1753, there is some speculation as to when the original William Elliott House was completed. According to “Beaufort Memoirs” by Lena Wood Lengnick (1936), the house is pre-Revolutionary and built by William Elliott, I, father of William, Ralph and Stephen. According to the National Register, the house was built by Ralph Emms Elliott, a planter and the owner of Cedar Grove Plantation, who then willed it to his nephew William Elliott, III in 1806.
While the tabby used to build the manse does imply this early construction, the detail suggest the house could have been built several years after the Revolution. Regardless of the original date, the US Department of Interior placed the home on the National Register in 1971 and gave it a construction date of 1770. In the book “The last Foray,” author Chalmers Gaston Davidson, professor of history at Davidson College, says that William III was born at “The Bluff” on Cheeha River but “for years he maintained his father’s large house in Beaufort, the most elegant residence on the Bay.””
William Elliott III was a highly successful politician, planter, sportsman and author. In 1825 as mayor of Beaufort he entertained the Marquis de Lafayette in the house during the Frenchman’s brief visit to town. In 1825, Lafayette visited 180 towns in the 24 states that made up the United States. The 67-year-old said he wanted to visit America in its entirety before he died.’ Most towns Lafayette visited named streets for him. Beaufort’s own Lafayette Street is a monument to the man’s impact.
Elliott grew the valuable crop, Sea Island cotton. In fact, the variety that contributed to his wealth was marketed as “Elliott Cream Cotton.” Elliott, a graduate of Harvard University, presented at the 1855 Paris Exposition on Sea Island cotton, delivering his presentation in French.
In addition to being one of Beaufort’s most successful planters, Elliott was also known as an avid sportsman and author. He wrote what many consider one of the first sportsman narratives in 1846 called “Carolina Sports by Land and Water.” The book describes Elliott’s adventures hunting bear, deer and wild-cat and fishing for drum, sheepshead and bass. He claimed to be the first person to ever land and kill a “Devil-Fish,” the giant stingray.
Elliott was also known for resigning from the state senate over his opposition to nullification. He had served several terms in the South Carolina House of Representatives and in the South Carolina Senate. Yet he so strongly felt that secession was foolish for the state that he could no longer represent South Carolina once the Ordinance of Secession was voted upon.
Although his political views differed from those held by most Southerners, he was highly respected. He was pro-Southern but opposed secession. However, when war broke out he joined with the Confederacy. On November 7, 1861 Elliott fled the home destine for Flat Rock, North Carolina as the Union army approached the town. With other cities and towns becoming mounds of ash, many thought Beaufort along with it’s beautiful mansions was headed for a fiery grave.
Will Beaufort Burn?
In a letter to General Grant, Sherman once wrote, “With Savannah in our possession, at some future time, if not now, we can punish South Carolina as she deserves…I do sincerely believe that the whole United States, north and south, would rejoice to have this army turned loose on South Carolina, to devastate that State…”
However, the Union had other plans for Beaufort. After the Battle of Port Royal, the Union occupied the town as part of it’s plan to blockade the Atlantic coast. The town became a central hospital for wounded soldiers. During the war the Elliott House was designated as Union Hospital No. 11 and then eventually the “Mission House.” William Elliott died in Flat Rock in 1863 before the war’s end, never returning to Beaufort. However, his beautiful summer home and the entire town of Beaufort escaped the burning wrath of Sherman’s Army.
Following the war the displaced families slowly began returning to Beaufort, only to find their homes occupied by freed slaves or northern families who had made there way South behind the Union Army. In 1866 most of the homes were sold by the government “for the taxes due.” When the Elliott home was put on the block, William’s son, Thomas Rhett Smith Elliott won the bidding and regained control of the family home for a brief time.
In 1872, to settle a judgement against Thomas Elliott, the home was auctioned again, the winning bid was S.D. Gilbert who purchased the home for $3,000. A year later Gilbert sold the home to Alfred Williams. On November 30 1880, Williams sold the home to James Anderson of Spartanburg, SC for $2,000.
During Reconstruction the home was used as the Club House to the Sea Island Hotel. According to Miss Towne’s “Letters,” in 1876 General Wade Hampton gave a fiery speech from the piazza of the house while running for governor in the infamous Red Shirt Campaign.
In 1891 a social club of young gentleman was organized calling themselves the Ribaut Social Club. The R.S.C. was housed in the old Elliott House. Initial press reports stated that the members were very enthusiastic and their rooms would be supplied with books, magazines and newspapers. However, the mild mannered beginning of this social club soon changed. The club threw grand parties and celebrations with dancers and costumes usually lasting late into the evening. They also put on performances and plays.
As described in “Tales of Beaufort,” by Nell S. Graydon, the exclusive Ribaut Club “…counted among its members officers of various ships touching port. Like a miniature Monte Carlo, the club was complete with bar, roulette wheel and numerous other gambling devices. It was a far cry from the gracious, cultured people whose home it had been for generations.”
On March 30, 1891 the home was purchased by a Naval officer, Rear Admiral Lester Beardslee for $4,000. From 1891 to 1894 the Admiral was in command of the Port Royal Naval Station. The Admiral’s stated intention for the house was a residence upon his retirement from the Navy In 1901.
Born at Little Falls, New York, Beardslee had a very distinguished Naval career. While on USS Plymouth, he was a member of Commodore Perry’s party at the memorable landing at Kurihama, Japan in July of 1853.
In January of 1863 he married Evelyn Small and during the Civil War, was on the monitor Nantucket during the ironclad attack on Charleston Harbor in April 1863. He served on board the Wachusett off Bahia Brazil, participating in the capture of the Confederate cruiser Florida in October of 1864, commanding the latter as prize to Hampton Roads, Virginia. While commanding the tug Palos to meet the Pacific Squadron in 1870, he took the first US flag through recently completed Suez Canal ending the voyage in China.
While on the USS Jamestown, he served as the Commander of the Department of Alaska from 1879-80, in these waters he, covered, surveyed and named Glacier Bay. The popular Beardslee Islands in Glacier Bay are named for the esteemed Admiral. On July 14, 1901, returning to Japan, he participated on the unveiling of a monument commemorating the 40th anniversary of Admiral Perry’s historic voyage. On May 21, 1895 he was promoted to Rear Admiral and on February 1, 1898 he retired from the Navy at 62 years of age.
The April 3, 1902 issue of the Beaufort Gazette reported, “The renovation of the old tabby Clubhouse on the opposite corner from the Sea Island Hotel by Admiral Beardslee for a handsome mansion is progressing, and soon it will be made an imposing residence. Only a shell of the old building is being preserved, and entire new house walls are being built inside. The mansion will be the finest and most elegant in town. The main features of the old Clubhouse will be preserved.”
No expense was spared. The circular staircase was removed and replaced by a broad oaken one. On the main floor, the Adams Mantles were removed and brick ones installed. The interior wood trim was shipped from Denton and Waterbury in New York, one of the finest mills in the United States. To help save the tabby, the exterior was covered with stucco and the porch was rebuilt with an added 3rd level and massive columns. A rear wing on the home was added to provide room for a passenger elevator, the only one in all of Beaufort. During the renovation the Admiral sent his wife on a shopping trip to England. It was at this time that he had several secret compartments built to hide his liquor from her.
Having traveled extensively in “the orient,” the Admiral had collected many ornate pieces of furniture. The crown jewel of the furnishings was an elaborate sideboard for the dinning room. A Japanese father and son had worked for 2 years creating the piece which had a symbol of a pearl guarded by a female dragon between two male dragons. Money was no object as the house was filled with vases, china, jade and paintings. Upon completion of the $80,000 renovation, the Admiral christened the home “The Anchorage.”
Unfortunately, shortly after completion, the Retired-Rear Admiral died suddenly on November 10, 1903, which is said to have occurred from drinking too much Irish Whiskey and his favorite drink, the Cherry Bounce. He is buried in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery.
His wife Evelyn lived on at the home for 20 more years. She was assisted by the property care taker Tosaku Mizutani and his family. Following the trip to Japan in 1901, the Admiral and his wife returned with Mr. Mizutani. Mizutani was skilled in the art of silk farming. Thus, before he died, the Admiral purchased Lonesome Hill Plantation on St Helena with the intent of producing silk. Beardslee imported 4,000 white mulberry trees from Italy and planted them on the farm. The US Department of Agriculture declared the cocoons produced on the farm a success and note the wild was “first class” and would “bring $1.00 a pound without any trouble.”
Based on the success, Mrs. Beardslee increased her landholdings in 1905 with the purchase of the adjacent 528-acre Isaac Fripp Plantation. Mr. Miztani and his family continued to live at the Anchorage with Mrs. Beardslee silk farming and taking care of all the properties.
Interestingly enough, in 1913, the story of the stately mansion came full circle when on a Monday afternoon in January a quite wedding took place on the property. The contracting parties were Marguerite Elliott, youngest daughter of Captain William Elliott of Yemassee, SC, and Louis S. Givens of Augusta, GA. According to the Captain, the home was built 130 years prior in 1783 by Colonel William Elliott, who was an uncle of the brides grandfather, to whom it was left by will. The Colonel used it as a summer home for many years and his son, the Captain was born there.
On Friday morning December 14, 1923 Mrs. Beardslee passed away at the age of 84 in her room at the Anchorage. Upon her death Mrs. Beardslee left the house to her niece, Ann Usher. Ann’s husband was also a Navy man. Early in his career, Rear Admiral Nathaniel Usher served on the Jamestown under Admiral Beardslee. Through this relationship, he must have met and married Beardslee’s niece.
In another unfortunate occurrence, Ann Usher died only a few months after Mrs. Beardslee on May 29, 1924. After her death, her husband continued to live in the mansion. Admiral Usher had his own distinguished career seeing action in the Spanish-American War and eventually becoming commandant of the Brooklyn navy yard. He retired on April 7, 1919.
After Usher’s death on January 8, 1931, the Anchorage was inherited by their daughter Susan S. Usher. On April 2, 1931 all of the antiques and personal property of the late Admiral Usher were sold by auction in Charleston by Mr. Geo. C. Brilliant at his warehouse on 167 Easy Bay Street. According to Ms. Graydon in “Tales of Beaufort,” the auction was halted after it became evident that “… priceless objects d’art and exclusive pieces of furniture were being sold at ridiculously low prices…” A vase valued at $5,000 was sold for $150.
According to Lengnick’s Memoirs, at some point in the 1930’s the Anchorage was used as the annex to the Gold Eagle Tavern on Bay Street. It was most likely between 1931 and 1936. The December 3, 1936 Beaufort Gazette notes that Mrs. P.E. Bellamy leased the Anchorage from Susan Usher and that it was opened as a tourist home to winter visitors for the season. “The house is one of the show places of this picturesque little seacoast town and it’s many lighted windows at night is a glowing and satisfying sight to the townspeople…”
In 1939 Susan Usher sold the property to Charles E. Townsend. Then in 1944, Lena Townsend, executer of her husband’s estate sold it to Sidney S. and Dreka W. Stokes. The Stokes operated it as a guest home for the next 35 years.
The rooms were listed alphabetically and were $3-$10 a night. Amenities found on the back of registration cards were – cafe, bar, local phone, long distance, valet, laundry, telegram, cigars & news, express baggage and garage. Mrs. Stokes was known for being a great cook and her recipe for cinnamon rolls was famous among the townspeople.
Approximately 100 years after the Union Army invaded Beaufort, the town and the Anchorage almost suffered complete inhalation. In 1959, the strongest storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Gracie delivered peak winds of about 140 mph to Beaufort’s shores. Gracie caused 10 deaths in South Carolina and Georgia, including five in Beaufort.
Just as everyone thought Sherman would burn the town to destruction, they thought Gracie was sure to destroy “Beautiful Beaufort by the Sea.” Even though a category three storm, Gracie hit Beaufort at low tide. This saved the town and the old Anchorage from massive flooding that surely would have rivaled the potential wrath of General Sherman a century before. The storm cost Beaufort and Jasper counties $1.5 million in damages.
The Anchorage House Restaurant
In June of 1969 the Anchorage was bought from Mrs. Stokes by two brothers, Joe (1929-2011) and Randall Horne. After extensive renovations, they opened the Anchorage House Restaurant. They planned to have the decor reflect the history of the building and it’s illustrious owners of the past. However, by August 1971 the building was facing destruction again when new owners, the Bay Street Corporation requested to the city that the building be demolished.
It was at this point that the Historic Beaufort Foundation (HBF) stepped in and requested that the City of Beaufort Architectural Review Board delay the demolition. The Board decided that the demolishment or removal of the Anchorage would be detrimental to the interest of the Historic District and against the public interest of the City of Beaufort. The Board gave HBF until December 30th to locate the funding to preserve the property. On the day before the deadline, a group of HBF members affixed their signatures to a note for the purchase of the historic structure, still hoping that a suitable buyer could be found. It was at this time that the home was placed on the National Register and a restrictive covenant on the exterior was established for all future owners.
Within 10 days a suitable buyer was found. The plans were to carry out further restorations and open the property as a restaurant. This was begun by Mr. and Mrs. DeForest and then overtaken by Mr. and Mrs. Edker L. Cotterman who were awarded for their work in December of 1974 by HBF which stated that they had “successfully adapted the former home of a distinguished South Carolina family into an elegant distinguished restaurant.”
By 1976 the ownership had changed hands yet again. The Jagi family of Swiss German decent owned and operated the restaurant, while living on the top two floors of the home. Milt Rundquist a former employee recalls, “In the summer of ’76 I took my first and only waiter job at the Anchorage. I had to “interview” with Mrs. Jagi, the owner and resident at the time. She was Swiss and I had just returned from living in Austria for the past couple of years. We spoke German and I got hired. One of the others waitering with me was Jim Conroy, Pat Conroy’s younger brother. We loved meeting the local aristocracy at lunchtime, serving Gin Rickeys to the seersucker clad gentlemen and Chablis to the belles of Beaufort in their sun dresses.” On Wednesdays Bay Fashions held shows during lunch at the restaurant. The five-story house was used as a restaurant for about 20 years through the mid-1990s but was then zoned to be used as office space.
Executive Offices to A New Inn
In 1999 Dick Stewart purchased the Anchorage and made it the corporate offices for his company 303 Associates. He renovated the building and was awarded Outstanding Exterior Renovation by the Beaufort Main Street Association. Among other things, structural improvements were made to insure that the grand old home would survive the next hundred years.
In 2007 the Anchorage was purchased by Dr. Paul Brewer with the intention of re-establishing a restaurant in the building. In 2008 a request was made to the city to waive the 19 space parking requirement and the variance was approved. On Thanksgiving Day opening, the Southern Graces restaurant at the Anchorage House in downtown Beaufort opened it’s doors. On December 23rd the ownership and restaurant received a major scare when a fire erupted in the old office building next door. The early morning fire quickly engulfed the 200 year old building. According to the city’s fire marshall at the time, “It was a pretty remarkable fire, there was nothing we could save. Our main concern was to keep it from spreading to the Anchorage House or anywhere else.”
After the close call of the fire, by January of 2009 Southern Graces had stopped operations and was planning to move out of the Anchorage. According to owner Bethany Hewitt, building code restrictions made it too difficult to run a restaurant out of the historic home at 1103 Bay St. She stated, “We are in negotiations for several other options and we continue to do off-site catered events as we have been in the Beaufort area, we are certainly going to be in Beaufort, we are just having to step back and re-invent the culinary wheel for Southern Graces Beaufort.” A short time after this Southern Graces moved to it’s current location next to the Beaufort Inn. While Dr. Brewer still owned the building, it sat vacant as a permanent business or residence from this point until May of 2014 when the property was purchased by Frank and Amy Lesesne.