Garvin-Garvey House Renovation Receives Fourth State Award

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The City of Bluffton’s rehabilitation of the Garvin-Garvey House was recognized last month with its fourth statewide award since the project’s completion in 2017.

The South Carolina Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIASC) presented the Historic Preservation Society of Charleston Meadors Inc. with a Citation Award for Adaptive Reuse and Preservation for the project at its annual awards ceremony in November, the city said.

The city engaged Meadors Inc. and its architects and historic curators to research and plan the preservation and rehabilitation of the Garvey-Garvey House.

The AIASC jury members said: “The Garvin-Garvey house was on the verge of collapse. The rehabilitation represented an intensive and thorough investigation of the remains to understand the original construction and its details.

“This investigation led to its restoration and the rebuilding of large parts of the house back to its original form. The design firm is to be commended for their level of effort and commitment to preserving an important part of our heritage.”

Betty Prime, project architect for Meadors, said the Garvin-Garvey House was one of the company’s most challenging and rewarding projects.

“Members of the Meadors team were honored to be part of the Garvin-Garvey House project,” she said. “Through an in-depth analysis of the existing building materials, our team was able to rehabilitate the building to approximate its original form, allowing the building to serve as a vessel to tell the family’s story. Garvin-Garvey and a freedman in the Reconstruction era.

The house facing the May River in Oyster Factory Park was built around 1870 by Cyrus Garvin, alias Garvey. It is believed to be the oldest house built by freed slaves in Bluffton.

Garvin purchased 54 acres from Esther Box’s estate on May 10, 1878, for $239.70. He became a registered voter in 1868 and oversaw 26 newly freed slaves on Ephraim Baynard’s Montpelier plantation.

Garvey lived in the house with his wife Ellen, their son Issac and his wife Janie, and their son Paul. Janie was the last member of the family to live in the house. She died in 1954.

The Garvin-Garvey house can be seen donning a Christmas wreath this month.

Beaufort County Open Land Trust acquired the property in 2001. In 2004, Beaufort County and Bluffton entered into a partnership to share responsibility for the upkeep of Oyster Factory Park, which includes the house.

The project to renovate and preserve the historic structure was carried out throughout 2016 and completed in 2017. Guided educational tours are offered at the site almost daily.

The municipality has been recognized three other times for the renovation:

• 2018 Preserving Our Places in History Award, South Carolina African American Heritage Commission, April 2019.

• 2018 Historic Preservation Honor Award, Preservation South Carolina, July 2018.

• 2018 Municipal Achievement Award, 10,001-20,000 Population Category, Municipal Association of South Carolina, July 2018.

Mayor Lisa Sulka said the Garvin-Garvey House has received more statewide and regional attention than any other city project in her memory.

“It is the privilege of the city to tell the story of the resilience of Cyrus Garvin and his family members,” she said.

“The house, which is the last freedman’s cottage on the River May, has also been imbued with the strength of the family as it has survived nearly 150 years. This project has been on the city’s radar for nearly 15 years and we are still as proud of this structure as we were when it was unveiled in June 2017.”

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