The power of preservation: Bluffton's Pine House

exterior03The view has barely changed through the front windows of Bluffton’s Pine House from the time it was built in 1903 until today. Looking out over Heyward Cove and the May River, the occupants could watch the mist melt off the water or catch sight of fishing vessels passing by.

Nestled amongst the Spanish moss-draped trees near the end of Boundary Street, the Pine House was built by Savannahnian Dr. Freeman Valentine Walker. It later passed into the hands of Gaillard and Lucille Heyward, who bought the property in 1943.

The Heywards, whose early South Carolina ancestor Thomas Heyward Jr. signed the Declaration of Independence, enjoyed rare indoor plumbing and the only concrete basement in Bluffton. Following the death in 1992 of his mother Lucille, the late Thomas G. Heyward inherited his childhood home. He and his wife Joan researched the possibilities of salvaging the building and restoring it to its original condition.


Web extra: Scroll down to the bottom to enjoy a slideshow of photos from before and after the rebuilding of the Pine House.


“We felt like we were entrusted to save it for future generations,” said Joan. “Tommy felt like his parents would have wanted that.”

Since the house had been vacant for several years, the Heywards were faced with an unfinished attic, floor joists with water and termite damage, and a number of broken glass windows, among other challenges.

Work began in August 2006 after a year of planning with Savannah architect Brian Felder and project manager Matthew Schivera of JT Turner Construction Co.

“Brian and Matthew were absolutely invaluable to Tommy and me in the restoration of The Pine House,” said Joan.

The restoration brought the house back to its original condition with few changes, although not without some challenges.

“We came to the plans fairly quickly, meeting federal guidelines with regard to an historic property. We were actually able to do a lot to the house,” said Felder. “The hard part was once we got into the construction, we found a lot of wood rot. Once we opened it up, we had to go in and dig out everything 30 inches down, holding up the house when we did it. That was the biggest challenge.”

The unfinished attic now offers guests two bedrooms and two baths upstairs. The staircase design(seen on the opposite page) posed a major challenge to both owners and builders.

“We were torn between a winding staircase and a straight-forward one and it had to fit within the space we had,” Joan said. “It looks as if we have added space in order to accommodate the finished attic and staircase but we added only eight feet to the back of the house.”

The finished straight staircase follows the original wall and makes a 90-degree turn, a much better choice than a circular one, Joan said, for guests carrying luggage.

The interior, with its large cupboards, bookcases and wood doors, might exude darkness, but the large windows that seem to look out upon nearly every side of the house bring in the light. The heart pine floors give the rooms a warm feel, enhanced by design changes the Heywards made to give the home more openness.

“My favorite part was probably that we were able to maintain those front rooms, the central fireplace, the old dark wood. We didn’t lose any of the character of the house,” said Felder. “We managed to tighten it up, make it airtight. We had the ability to keep what was special about it in the process of modernization. I was glad we were able to maintain it in its surroundings.”

Free-standing between the front and back living rooms is a fireplace encircled by a deep mantle. It looks just as it did when it was built, said Joan.

Paintings by Daniel E. Smith, a former monk whose work is in the Telfair’s permanent collection, sit on both sides of the mantle, and could have depicted any of the area’s wetlands.

A secret panel much favored by young Tommy Heyward leads from the back living room into the library/office. Old books share shelf space with newer volumes, and all of them are pulled down from their resting spaces from time to time.

“This is a working library,” Joan said. “I am always reaching for one book or another.”

One such volume owned by Dr. Walker (his signature is on the inside) concerned making concrete forms, which has led the family to believe that he made the sturdy concrete planters outside on each corner of the home.

When the Heywards were able to move in and enjoy the space, Tommy roamed around his childhood home until his death in November of 2007.

“There is not a structure like it, from the original shape, the structure of it, the layout of the rooms, anywhere else. That’s a good example of the way a house ought to be,” said Felder. “It had a loving owner with the means to pull it off. It was a really good project.”

Joan continues to cherish her home and frequently shares its ambience and setting with community groups.

“I’ve shared it with the Rotary, the Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and other groups,” she said. “If you can’t share what you have, life is not worth living. This is a great place to live, a fun place to live and a great place to have family.”



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