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History of the Thomas Law Building, our home
Dated: August 25 2020
The building that houses our offices here at Century 21 Carolina Realty has a very storied past. As with all towns that have been around awhile, there's lots of history to uncover here in Beaufort SC.
The Thomas Law Building here at 920 Bay Street was built in 1857 and acquired after 1900 by William Joseph Thomas, relative of our own Wallace Thomas, BIC at Century 21 Carolina Realty.
Before that it was the Beaufort Customs House since about 1868, and was the office used by Robert Smalls while he was appointed collector of customs in Beaufort SC until his retirement in 1912. The land on which the building sits originally belonged to the Barnwell family, with a house built on it in the 1790s.
Dr. Joseph Johnson in his book "Traditions and Reminisces", published in 1851, wrote "Francis Stuart continued his mercantile establishement in Beaufort, in a house still to be seen on Bay Street at the bend, still in the center of town and no occupied by a Mr. Cockriff. In this house was held the first celebration of the 4th of July in Beaufort SC, and continued hosting the celebration in many years in succession." There, Francis Stuart married Miss Reeve, a daughter of Dr, Reeve, whose other daughter married Mr. Robert Gibbes, one of the most wealthy and respectable men in the province."
"Abraham Cockroft, an English immigrant, came to Beaufort in about 1840 and purchased the house on January 1, 1841. In about 1857, the wooden structure was destroyed by fire and Abraham built the brick house that now stands. The Cockroft family abandoned their home when Beaufort's white population evacuated the town when it fell to the Union Army in 1861 following the Battle of Port Royal on November 7. The building was shown in a drawing in Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, a publication, in November 1861 with ranks of Union troops of the 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment marching past it on Bay Street led by General Isaac Ingalls Stevens."
Then followed what was summarized in an 1891 petition in the U.S. Court of Claims seeking redress that "under the provisions of the Act of Congress approved August 5th, 1861, said land was named and declared to be in Lot D, Block 72 and was appraised for taxation at the sum of $3,000 and the property tax assessed was $24. The house was purchased for $50 at tax sale and Mr. Cockroft was thereby disposessed.
After passing through the ownership of four different people from 1861 through the end of the century, the building was acquired by William Joseph Thomas who came to Beaufort from Hampton County in 1900.
Mr. Thomas was a representative in the State Assembly and actively worked for the builting ot the first Lady's Island Bridge, constructed in 1927, connecting Beaufort SC to the sea islands. (That bridge was replaced with the current Woods Memorial Bridge.)
The look of the building today came from alterations made in 1959. The alterations were described by architect/designer Frank Ramsey as follows: "The old building frontage was at an anble witht the curving street. Redesigned, the building today is in line with the adjoining buildings. To achieve this, the two one-story storage rooms in the front were removed and a new facade build, matching the old pattern. The old front was not torn down and is still standing, hidden behind a wall of concrete blocks. The old portico is gone and shutters were added to approve the appearance, as were vents above the second-story windows."
If you like history as much as we do then get to Beaufort SC. Century 21 Carolina Realty can help make your dream a reality by helping you find your forever home here in the Lowcountry. Call us at 843-521-2121 and one of our experienced agents can assist you in becoming a Beaufort local.
We live the Lowcountry life, and we want to share it with you.
(above photo shows Robert Smalls on the front porch of the building when it was the U.S. Customs House)
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