Culture // 5 min Read

Return to Palmetto Bluff

Written by Palmetto Bluff

Apr 09, 2020

When Roberta Marcantonio spent a few days in the spring of 2011 helping her sister house hunt in Bluffton, she found herself charmed by an old house in the town’s quirky historic district. Back home in Atlanta, she told her husband, Joe Brackin, that a little coastal town in South Carolina might be the perfect place to live. Joe was happy to make the trip to check it out. He and Roberta had been thinking about where to settle when they retired and deciding on a location early would give them plenty of time to plan. A few months later, they drove to Bluff ton to investigate.

What Joe and Roberta didn’t understand yet was that they were already a part of Beaufort County history. As they approached Bluffton, realization began to dawn on Joe. As he describes it, “We’re going down 46 and suddenly I recognized where I was and I said, ‘The cemetery is right down here on the right and that’s where my great-great-grandparents are buried.’ Then I saw the Church of the Cross and I remembered being there when I was a 10- or 12-year-old.

”The family connection made Bluff ton an even more enticing destination. The property that first interested Roberta turned out to be too big to tackle, but there were other possibilities within walking distance of the town’s center. As they discussed the options, they remembered a coffee-table book in Joe’s mom’s house, A History of Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina by Patty Kennedy.

Joe had heard stories about his great-grandparents raising their family at Palmetto Bluff in a small house called “Box” overlooking the May River in what is known as the Headwaters section. Finding out that Palmetto Bluff was now a residential community gave them a perfect reason to “ride out there and see what it is like.

”Like so many of us, Joe and Roberta started to fall in love with Palmetto Bluff on their first drive to Wilson Village. By the time they crossed the inland waterway, they were taken in by the beauty and Lowcountry atmosphere. Joe now wanted to know more about his family’s connection to the Bluff. A map in the History Center illustrated where the antebellum plantations had been located on the property. Near the entrance was one owned by Esther Box. Joe was stunned. He and his siblings had grown up thinking their grandparents’ house was called “Box” because it was small and rectangular and looked like a box. Now he knew it was named after the family who had owned it before and during the Civil War. The next step was to visit the site. Jay Walea, director of the Palmetto Bluff Conservancy, took Joe and Roberta out to where the little house once stood.

The house was gone, but with a sketch drawn by Joe’s great-uncle and a description by phone from another uncle, Jay was able to lead Joe and Roberta to the old family homestead.S

Standing where his great-grandparents had stood a century earlier, Joe started on a mission to uncover the details of his family’s life at the Bluff. (In the meantime, he and Roberta purchased a lot and built their own home there.) Joe learned that his great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents had lived at Palmetto Bluff. His great-grandfather Dan Crosby had worked for R.T. Wilson Jr., the wealthy New York banker who owned Palmetto Bluff from 1902 to 1926. Dan had started working for the Wilsons as a carpenter but eventually became general manager of the estate. He and his wife had nine children, several of whom were born at Palmetto Bluff in the house that Dan rented.

Dan Crosby’s oldest daughter, Bertha (Joe’s grandmother), was born in 1901. She began working for the Wilsons as a teenager, helping her father with the bookkeeping and housework in the mansion. Joe’s research has revealed the nature of the Crosbys’ relationship with the Wilsons. “It’s my understanding that the Crosbys took care of the place when the Wilsons were away, sometimes even staying in the house,” Joe says. “And I think they pretty much had the run of the place when the Wilsons were up north.” Eventually, Dan Crosby’s father-in-law (Joe’s great-great-grandfather) also began to work for R.T. Wilson, as a farmer.

Photos of Joe’s grandmother Bertha and her siblings at the Bluff are often whimsical—Bertha striking a model-like pose, her brother flirting with one of the maids working at the mansion, her sister sitting at the wheel of a Model T. But the photos belie the hardships the family faced. One of Bertha’s younger sisters died in 1920 at age four, and her father died the following year. Joe recounts that when Dan Crosby died, Mrs. Wilson stopped by the house and made it clear that she expected the family to relocate. While the Crosbys moved on to resettle in Savannah, Joe’s great-great-grandparents remained.

After Bertha had married and begun her own family, she started taking her children (Joe’s mother and siblings) to visit her grandparents (their great-grandparents) at Palmetto Bluff. Joe’s uncle tells about staying at Palmetto Bluff as a child. He recalls his grandmother taking him one morning to look at the vegetable garden and seeing deer there. She “…always had an apron on, and she would do it like this [wave it up and down] to scare the deer away.”

Visits to Palmetto Bluff stopped in 1935 when Joe’s great-great-grandfather died and his wife moved in with their daughter in Savannah. Nonetheless, the Bluff held a place in the hearts of those who had memories or family ties there. In 1985, while at a family reunion in Savannah, Joe’s great-uncle, two of his great-aunts (all of them Bertha’s siblings), and his mother stopped by Palmetto Bluff. They went out to the site of the family home with Charlie Bales, land manager for the paper company that owned Palmetto Bluff at that time. It was the first time since 1935 that any family had been back. Though the house was gone, the group easily recognized the place where they had grown up. Today, only a few people still have firsthand recollections of Palmetto Bluff in the 1930s. Joe has made it a priority to record and preserve his family’s history since he and Roberta moved here in 2014. Incidentally, many of the Crosby family photos had been graciously shared by Joe’s family and are included in the history book written by Patty Kennedy that once sat on Joe’s mom’s coffee table.

One of the Palmetto Bluff stories that Joe treasures is from an uncle. “In the fall, the creek [next to the house] produced some of the finest oysters . . . a fire would be built close to the house, and a steel plate placed on some rocks was used to roast the oysters. Everyone would stand close to the fire to keep warm and eat this delicacy.” Now Joe and Roberta host their own oyster roasts. Joe says he can’t help thinking about those past feasts and how his family savored not only the May River bounty but also their time together. Joe recently introduced another generation of his family to May River oysters. “This is what makes life at the Bluff so special, sharing experiences with family and friends that connect us to our past and to each other,” Joe explains. This is home.

Photography courtesy of the Brackin Family.


palmetto bluff

Real Estate / Behind the Bluff with Broker-in-Charge W. Bryan Byrne

Bryan’s Journey to Palmetto Bluff Real Estate In this edition of Behind the Bluff, W. Bryan Byrne, the Broker-in-Charge at Palmetto Bluff Real Estate Company, discusses his two-decade journey in the community. His experience has intricately molded the authent...

Jan 2024
real estate in bluffton sc

Real Estate / Lowcountry Housing Trends & Market Updates

Real Estate in Bluffton, SC: Trends, Updates, and Insights Bluffton, South Carolina, nestled within the scenic Lowcountry, is not just a picturesque haven but also a thriving real estate market. As the demand for homes in this charming town continues to grow,...

Jan 2024

Food & Wine / Mocktails from the Palmetto Bluff Club

Rosemary Spice Mocktail Recipe Introducing Buffalos' exquisite Rosemary Spice Mocktail—a meticulously crafted blend that awakens the taste buds with a perfect harmony of bold flavors. Fresh jalapenos are muddled for a subtle spicy kick, while luscious cra...

Jan 2024

Artist in Residence / Painting Wild

Story by Sandy Lang and Photographs by Lawson Builder In early May, The Arts Initiative hosted renowned Lowcountry painter West Fraser as our esteemed Artist In Residence. Throughout his stay, residents were treated to an array of events, including a painting...

Jan 2024
palmetto buff golf course

Sporting Life / Behind the Bluff with the Palmetto Bluff 9-Hole Golf Course Team

All About the New Palmetto Bluff Golf Course Nestled in the picturesque landscape of Palmetto Bluff, a new golfing adventure is taking shape—the Crossroads 9-Hole Golf Course. To delve into the intricacies of this project, we had the opportunity to sit down w...

Dec 2023

Conservation / Palmetto Bluff Buffalo Run 2023: A Celebration of Endurance, Nature, and Community

A Recap of the 2034 Buffalo Run The Palmetto Bluff Buffalo Run celebrated its 10th anniversary on Sunday, December 11, 2023, drawing in a record-breaking crowd of over 500 runners. The event, nestled in the heart of Palmetto Bluff's 20,000 acres of natural sp...

Dec 2023
places to eat near hilton head

Food & Wine / Ask the Locals: Our Favorite Restaurants Near Hilton Head

The 10 Best Places to Eat Near Hilton Head Island Nestled on the southernmost tip of South Carolina, Hilton Head Island beckons not only with its pristine beaches but also with a culinary scene that rivals its natural beauty. The Lowcountry, known for breatht...

Dec 2023

Artist in Residence / Journey through Creativity: Palmetto Bluff's 2023 Artist in Residence Highlights

As the sun sets over the picturesque landscape of Palmetto Bluff, we are grateful for the creativity that took center stage throughout the year. The 2023 Artist in Residence program has ended, leaving behind a trail of artistic marvels and inspiring stories. F...

Dec 2023

Real Estate / The Builders Behind the Bluff

Meet the Palmetto Bluff Builders Team A home is more than just bricks and mortar; it's where cherished memories are made, and dreams come to life. At Palmetto Bluff, the Palmetto Bluff Builders team designs homes based on your vision.  Allow us to introduc...

Dec 2023

Well Living at Montage Palmetto Bluff

Story by Meghan Lamb A life well lived is a life full of connection and rich experiences. It is about embracing the present moment, exploring new horizons, and nurturing the mind, body, and spirit. One such lifestyle can be found at Montage Palmetto Bluff, a ...

Dec 2023
Community Villages
Palmetto Bluff Club
On The Water
The Arts Initiative
About Us