City of Beaufort at a Glance

The City of Beaufort

The City of Beaufort, founded in 1711 and incorporated in 1913, is located on the eastern coast of Beaufort County, South Carolina, 70 miles south of Charleston, South Carolina and 45 miles north of Savannah, Georgia and encompasses approximately 18 square miles. The population of the City according to the 2020 U.S. Census was 13,607.

Local History

The City was chartered in 1711 as the second-oldest settlement in South Carolina and named after Henry Somerset who was the 2nd Duke of Beaufort. The City was laid out with 397 lots and two focal points, one on the bay and the other at the intersection of Carteret and Craven Streets, where each corner was reserved for public use.

In the mid to late antebellum period, the rise of Carolina Gold rice and Sea Island cotton brought enormous wealth to Beaufort and the surrounding plantations. Beaufort was one of the wealthiest cities in the United State prior to the Civil War and was often considered to the “Newport” of the South. Although Charleston and Columbia were the leading cities in the State, much economic and political influence was reared by Beaufort.

The Civil War had a dramatic effect on Beaufort and it was one of the first communities in the South to be held in Union hands in November 1861. The Sea Island and the City of Beaufort were evacuated by the majority of the white inhabitants who abandoned their plantations, town houses and their slaves. The first school for freed slaves was established on nearby St. Helena Island in 1862 and would later be officially named Penn School. In addition to educational advancements, the City made some political ones as well. Robert Smalls, a native son and leading figure in post-war Beaufort would late become one of South Carolina’s first elected African-Americans to the United States Congress and remain a prominent civic leader in the State and in Beaufort until his death in 1915.

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was read to the African-American population which was growing as refugees from nearby plantations made their way to town looking for shelter and work. These former slaves took part in the first efforts to assimilate freed blacks into the broadest society known as the Port Royal experiment, giving them access to educational opportunities and property ownership.

A hurricane in 1893 followed by a downtown fire in 1907 brought a decline to Beaufort’s economy. Beaufort’s economic recovery in the latter half of the 20th century can be contributed to three major influences: military investment, resort development, and downtown revitalization. Parris Island was selected as a permanent home for the U.S. Marine Corp recruiting station in 1917. A Marine Corp Air Station and U.S. Naval Hospital was established and constructed during World War II. New investment in the form of resort and lifestyle development on nearby Hilton Head Island and Fripp Island also contributed to the economy of Beaufort and the Lowcountry starting in the 1960s. The completion of a downtown waterfront park in place of abandoned docks, championed by then-Mayor Henry Chambers, spurred the redevelopment and reinvestment of adjacent Bay Street and downtown Beaufort.

Today, light manufacturing, military installations and tourism bring in new dollars to Beaufort. Retirees and young families, drawn by the climate, history, and the as-yet unspoiled beauty, are the new settlers who add to the intellectual and cultural life of the Sea Islands.

Government Profile

The City operates under the Council-Manager form of government. Policy-making and legislative authority are vested in a governing Council consisting of the Mayor and four other members. The governing Council is responsible, among other things, for passing ordinances, adopting the budget, appointing committees and hiring both the City Manager and City Attorney. The City Manager is responsible for carrying out the policies and ordinances of the City Council, for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the City and for appointing the heads of the various departments. The Council is elected on a non-partisan basis. The Mayor and Council are elected at-large and serve four-year staggered terms.

The City provides a full range of services, including: police and fire protection, sanitation and recycling services, zoning, redevelopment, economic development and building, fire and code enforcement services, street and stormwater maintenance and up keep of City parks and open space.

Local Economy

Beaufort has several geographic areas of economic activity. The downtown area is the historical center of commerce and is now primarily focused towards tourists, who frequent the area year-round, but especially during the Spring and Fall peak season along with major festivals at Waterfront Park including the Water Festival held in July followed by the Shrimp Festival in October. The commercial growth along Boundary Street, Robert Smalls Parkway, and towards Lady’s Island has significantly increased over the past several years.

The military presence in and around the community is one of the largest economic sectors in Beaufort. Beaufort’s military bases employ thousands of jobs directly and indirectly related to base operations and pump millions of dollars into the local economy.

The tourism and hospitality industry is another major economic sector by bringing nearly two million visitors a year to Beaufort and the surrounding Sea Islands. The primary attractions of these visitors include recreation, history, local arts and beach vacations such as Hunting Island State Park. Tourists will continue to visit now that Beaufort was recently named on the list of the 2019 South's Best Small Towns by Southern Living Magazine and the list of 50 Beautiful Small Towns in America by US News & World Report. Beaufort was also acknowledged by Coastal Living Magazine as one of 50 Secret Places to Visit Now along with on the list of 5 Surprise Romantic Getaways in the US by CBS News.

Principal Property Taxpayers within the City of Beaufort

The area's unemployment rate continues to be lower than the State and National average based on the following chart of Sourth Carolina Department of Employment and Workforce.