Beaufort Today -

Reconstruction era dedication set for Saturday

The long wait for a national monument to the Reconstruction era in Beaufort County is over.

The National Park Service and local partners are inviting the public to a celebration of the recent federal government designation from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at the Penn Center on St. Helena Island.

Beaufort County, Brick Baptist Church, the city of Beaufort, Penn Center, the town of Port Royal, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Navy also are organizing the event.

“Penn Center is excited to host the national monument kickoff event on its historic grounds,” Penn Center executive director Rodell Lawrence said. “The interpretation of the Reconstruction era is a major milestone in the legacy of Penn Center and our nation.”

The Reconstruction Era National Monument was established as a unit of the National Park Service by a presidential proclamation Jan. 12 in recognition of the role Beaufort County played in shaping the historic post-Civil War period.

“The establishment of the Reconstruction Era National Monument is enormously important to our city, county, region and nation,” Mayor Billy Keyserling said. “National recognition of this period in the development of the United States unlocks some treasures of our hidden history, giving students, scholars and the general public opportunities to better understand our past as we create our future.”

The monument protects and interprets historic buildings and landscapes in Beaufort, St. Helena Island and Port Royal.

“We look forward to dedicating the new Reconstruction Era National Monument with our partners and the Beaufort County communities who were central to the park’s establishment,” National Park Service regional director Stan Austin said. “The park interprets a critical period in American history not fully understood and credited for its national significance.”

Visitors may find information about local Reconstruction sites at:

• Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, 713 Craven St., Beaufort; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

• Penn Center Welcome Center, 16 Penn Center Circle, St. Helena Island; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday.

The Reconstruction era began during the Civil War and lasted until the dawn of Jim Crow racial segregation in the 1890s.

During Reconstruction, 4 million African Americans, newly freed from bondage, sought to integrate themselves into free society and the educational, economic and political life of the country.

It began in November 1861 after the Battle at Port Royal Sound brought the Lowcountry under Union control. More than 10,000 slaves remained when their owners fled the cotton and rice plantations.

The Lincoln administration decided to initiate the Port Royal Experiment to help the former slaves become self-sufficient.

The Reconstruction Era National Monument is composed of three historic locations:

• Darrah Hall and Brick Baptist Church within Penn School National Historic Landmark District on St. Helena Island, the site of one of the country’s first schools for freed slaves and a church built by slaves in 1855 and then turned over to former slaves in 1862.

• The Camp Saxton site on U.S. Navy property in Port Royal, where some of the first African-Americans joined the U.S. Army, and the site where elaborate ceremonies were held on New Year’s Day 1863 to announce and celebrate the enactment of the Emancipation Proclamation.

• The Old Beaufort Firehouse, a historic building in downtown Beaufort within walking distance of dozens of other historic Reconstruction properties.

The Old Beaufort Firehouse, Darrah Hall and the Camp Saxton site are not yet accessible to the public. Brick Baptist Church is privately owned and supports an active congregation.