Couple once again opens historic home for annual oyster roast

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Couple once again opens historic home for annual oyster roast

By CATHY CARTER HARLEY charley@beaufortgazette.com 843-986-5512
Published Sunday, January 25, 2009 in The Beaufort Gazette  |  734 Words  |  features/lifetimes

Walking in the footsteps of a Lowcountry cotton planter in a house built circa 1790 isn't a daily occurrence for everyone but it is for Sidney and Deborah Ann Snelgrove, owners of Tombee Plantation.
"I personally have always gravitated to old things, used things, loved things, and this fit the bill," said Deborah, who finds Thomas B. Chaplin's era in the cotton industry and the part it played in the country's economy among the most interesting parts about the home the couple purchased in 2003.
The two split their time between two landmarks: the St. Helena Island plantation, Tombee, which was made famous by the publication of the plantation journal of Chaplin (1822-1890) in the book "Tombee Portrait of A Cotton Planter" by Theodore Rosengarten, and their business, Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West, Fla., popularized by patron Ernest Hemingway.
The couple is once again opening up the home for the ninth annual Historic Beaufort Foundation's Membership Oyster Roast to begin at 5 p.m. Friday.
The final day to purchase tickets is Tuesday.
Last year, those who attended the oyster roast toured the house during deconstruction while the Snelgrove's enlisted Beekman Webb's company to reinstate the original footprint of the house.
This year, those attending the roast, with the help of docents, can see the finished work.
All of the floors and wall finishes (except the historic ones) were refinished and the colors are lighter now.
The floor color is lighter with the removal of paint buildup and plaster that was used to fill cracks. The exterior is now white.
"The owners are great," said Webb. "They love the house and do whatever they can to see that it lasts another 200 years. One of the important things they did is to insist that we rewire the house totally in metal conduit. We installed a new copper roof and put in all new plumbing and HVAC. All the floors and wall finishes (except the historic ones) have been redone. We did a lot of repair on the tabby foundation."
Tabby made of burned, crushed oyster shells was a common material used in Lowcountry homes. "A slurry was made by mixing the oyster shell lime, sand and water," Webb said. "Then whole shells were added and mixed in. Today, we make an acceptable replacement by using lime, sand and water together with a very small amount of white Portland cement. Then whole shells. All tabby deteriorates if it is not covered by stucco."
The house remained in the hands of descendants of freed slaves until 1971.
It eventually fell into disrepair, and there were rumors it was going to be demolished to make way for a fishing camp. It was saved and restored by James A. "Jim" Williams, of Savannah -- central character in the book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" -- who completely restored the house.
By Sept. 18, 1975, Williams had applied and got the plantation and home listed on the United States Department of the Interior National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places.
Tombee Plantation is now listed as one of the few surviving antebellum plantation houses remaining on St. Helena Island.
The small, two-story plantation house is set on a tabby foundation and constructed in a T-shape, allowing each room to have window exposure on three sides.
In Chaplin's 780-page journal, kept from 1822 to 1890, he offers insight of daily life on a Sea Island plantation.
The annual membership oyster roast offers Historic Beaufort Foundation employees a chance to meet their supporters and new members. "We really get to put a face to the voices of our membership and to those who make donations," said Joy Kircher, HBF events and membership program coordinator. "As an employee of HBF, the oyster roast is my favorite event. We get to meet the people who support us and help with our preservation efforts."
The oyster roast is among the foundation's informal events for its members who come from diverse backgrounds. "It is a very fun, laid-back event and a way to show our appreciation to our members for their efforts," said Kircher of the members who come from all walks of life.
"This is just to show you how our members are, not only do they want to preserve the history, they want to share it."