Tombeetime: Part One
In the middle of the pandemic, an irresistible home came on the market in the low country of South Carolina. Steeped in history, beauty and culture, we immediately knew we had to get a taste of “the low country life.”
The plantation derives its playful name from Thomas Benjamin “Tom B.” Chaplin, who originally constructed the house over 200 years ago. The house itself is a charming Georgian-style home surrounded by magnificent live oaks, towering pines, beachy palms and ancient magnolias on a 24-acre slice of what is now one of the few remaining Antebellum estates still standing in the Lowcountry. The property overlooks nearby St. Phillips Island, once media mogul Ted Turner’s private island retreat, now owned by the state of South Carolina.
Pictured above, the lodge at Tombee
Tombee Plantation is estimated to have been built around 1795. Located on St. Helena Island in Beaufort County, the centuries old plantation was originally 376 acres and once was a shipping hub for cotton heading north from Charleston before being divided into smaller tracts during the Port Royal Experiment when the Union forces captured the islands in 1861.
The formerly enslaved persons began to work the land independently, selling surplus cotton to purchase their own land on St. Helena which would remain home to many of their descendants. St. Helena became an epicenter for post-emancipation life, with the Tombee home designated by the government as an agricultural school to educate Freedmen with the basement serving as a local ‘juke joint’ for the Gullah Geechee community well into the 20th century.
Tombee’s storied history continues in the 1970’s when nationally recognized restorer James Williams purchased the property and began restoring the home to its “original grandeur.” His life and efforts were documented in the books “Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil” by John Berendt and “More Than Mercer House: Savannah’s Jim Williams & His Southern Houses” by Dorothy Williams Kingery, which both feature Tombee by name.
Fast forward to 2020 and that’s where we enter the picture. For us, Tombee was love at first sight. We spent the next year restoring, furnishing and bringing Tombee back to life.
The main house
Our experience was surreal, much like living in a painting. It’s almost like life in the Lowcountry at Tombee is part of a different world, divorced from time, or “Tombee time” as we affectionately dubbed it. I can’t wait to share our experiences on the island restoring the house, discovering the Gullah Geechee community and meeting the many great folks that reside on St. Helena.