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One of the most prominent grave markers around old St. Helena's Episcopal Church is that of Henry Hermann Von Harten and his wife -- the first of many Von Hartens to call Beaufort home.
Many of the family grave markers in the plot around it are damaged or too weatherworn to read, but the chiseled words, sculptural flourishes and Freemason logo are clear and intact on the gray obelisk that marks the final resting place of the family patriarch.
The German native settled in the area in the late 1850s and married Anna Bertha Helen Scheper -- also a family of German origin and with deep Beaufort roots.
Four generations later, it's tough to do anything in Beaufort without running into the name Von Harten. Seven of Hermann Henry Von Harten's direct descendants who still live in the Beaufort area helped piece together a partial family tree and a rich family history that's in many ways synonymous with Beaufort's history.
Little is known about the original Beaufort Von Harten, though he may have owned a mercantile business or grocery story on the corner of Bay and West streets. Many of his male descendants -- all the way down to Herman Henry "Bo" Von Harten III, who is 41 and general manager of the Beaufort Yacht & Sailing Club -- had lives inseparable from the sea.
Henry Hermann Von Harten had three sons, Clarence Henry, Henry Hermann Frederick and William Henry Eider. They were all watermen. Clarence Henry and William Henry Eider both were bar pilots, guides who would lead foreign ships safely to port. Not much is known about Henry Hermann Frederick, except that he probably drowned when his boat sank off the coast of Hilton Head Island in 1898.
Hauling goods to and from area ports was a risky business in the 19th century without a pilot boat with a local captain leading the way through the Port Royaland St. Helena sounds' dangerous sandbars.
"Oh yeah, lose the boat in a heartbeat. You'll go from 40 foot of water to 2 foot, you don't know what you're doing," said William Henry Eider's 76-year-old grandson, Herman Henry "Bubba" Von Harten Jr.
Before radios, bar piloting was a loosely organized and competitive business based on speed; the first bar pilot to reach an incoming ship got paid, the others were out of luck.
Clarence Henry also died at sea at the mouth of the St. Helena Sound, leaving behind a widow and five children.
I KNOW THREE BROTHERS
Clarence Henry's oldest son, William Pullman, was only 11 when he lost his father but was thrust into the role of provider for his family. The other two boys followed suit, going to work to support their mother and two sisters.
A U.S. Navy Department certificate states that William finished a three-year machinist apprenticeship at the U.S. Navy Yard in Charleston in October 1920; he was 19.
With his newfound know-how, "William Von Harten started a garage (in Beaufort) with two or three old wrenches, a hammer, screwdriver and no money at all," according to a news report provided by the family dated Feb. 5, 1931, the business's 10th year. His younger brothers, Zoo and Ernest Carl Frederick, came back to Beaufort to run the business together, which had a new, expanded location under construction that would include a car dealership.
To promote the business, the brothers had a rhyme that went: "I know three brothers/ I think you know them, too/ One is Carl, one is Bill, the other one is Zoo."
The 1931 news story quoted a businessman with prescient words: "There are no three brothers in the country who deserve more credit; and respect of the people ... They have made a success and their monument will be left in Beaufort for years to come."
Today, a stone-cut sign of a long-abandoned Carteret Street business boldy reads "Von Harten Bros."