Beaufort community members debate over how to preserve the Robert Smalls House

Published: May. 11, 2022 at 5:08 PM EDT
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BEAUFORT, S.C. (WTOC) - The city of Beaufort’s National Historic District includes many sites that people are trying to preserve.

The historic Robert Smalls House was bought by two brothers about a year ago. Brothers, who want to further highlight the site’s history.

One of them is actually the former mayor of Beaufort.

“The goal here is public knowledge and understanding.”

He tells me they’ve made an agreement with the national parks service, that would allow ranger led walking groups to get tours of the property up to twice a day.

“As the owners of the property, it’s our property, we should have the right to allow people to visit our property,” Billy Keyserling, Founder, Second Founding of America said.

The Historic Beaufort Foundation fears consistent tours would cause wear and tear on the Robert Smalls House. Something they feel is their responsibility to watch out for.

“Historic Beaufort Foundation has held an easement on it since 2002 protecting the exterior and the grounds,” Cynthia Jenkins, Executive Director said.

The details of that easement is where the two parties but heads.

“We’ve met with them and we basically agreed to disagree. We agreed that a third party might have to settle it.”

I’m told those conversations happened over months, but this week action.

“We filed a declaratory judgement asking the court to interpret the meaning of the easement.”

Inside the historic foundation office, they think they’re right for several reasons.

“It’s a neighborhood, there are people who bought houses around that to live their lives in and it’s not zoned for public use by the city of Beaufort.”

Meanwhile the building owners claim they’re just looking to share the area’s history.

“The last thing Paul Keyserling and Billy Keyserling are going to do is anything that destroys or challenges the character of our hometown.”

Keyserling tells me it’s a common misperception here that he and his brother would be making money off of these tours, but he says that’s not the case.

As this goes through the courts, we’ll follow it and keep you updated.

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