A tour through Civil War era bakery: Restoration of the Cuthbert-Scheper-Simmer House

The Cuthbert-Scheper-Simmer House at 915 Port Republic Street.

You can almost smell bread baking in the basement kitchen of the Cuthbert-Scheper-Simmer House at the corner of Charles and Port Republic streets.

When the Union soldiers took over Beaufort in 1861, Lucius Cuthbert and family evacuated to Aiken, leaving the family house to become a bakery for the hungry soldiers. Lucius Cuthbert came from the wealthy, rice-planting lineage of Richfield Plantation (now Auldbrass), and he raised seven children in this residence.

Local tales claim that Harriet Tubman used this fireplace for baking.

The Civil War did not permanently derail the family’s success however. James, the oldest son, who had attended the Beaufort College to become a minister, attained his status as the first Baptist clergy in Aiken.  Another son became a lawyer in Colorado to later serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The blue tape indicates the possible flood level during the Sea Island Hurricane of 1893.

F.W. Scheper bought the house in 1875 and opened a warehouse from which he sold goods to the merchant ships (dry goods business), but in 1893, the Sea Island Hurricane came in with the high tide and 120 mph winds. Blue tape on the oak tree in the front yard indicates the level of the storm surge. When the storm changed direction, debris was slammed into the back of the house. Scheper doggedly repaired the house and his business on Bay Street, only to lose the business completely in 1907 when two young boys started a fire in his barn (The Great Bonfire)! Despite these natural and manmade disasters, the Scheper family in Beaufort is about 6 generations deep.

Mike Sutton describes the unseen work done so far to restore the integrity of the house.

Restoration of the house is being done by Beaufort City Councilman Mike Sutton of Sutton Construction for Edward and Peggy Simmer. So far, they have put on a brand new roof, repaired the foundation, made the infrastructure strong and safe again, and rebuilt the porches. Though the house is still a work in progress, the Historic Beaufort Foundation asked the Simmers to participate in the tour of homes this year to encourage others to adopt and restore houses in Beaufort.

A wooden prop supportes an oak branch.

The first time they walked into the house, water was running down the stairs because the old metal roof had failed, the ceilings were down, and termites had eaten into the wood floor. The Simmers prefer to restore rather than buy a finished house because they appreciate the discoveries along the way. For example, the Scheper family crest was stowed in a closet when it broke off the wrought iron fence- it dates back to 1875.

The basement, which was the original kitchen, holds some wonderful reminders of Beaufort’s past. As previously mentioned, bread was baked here in the fireplace for Union soldiers. The basement also houses a working cistern, which the Simmers will use to collect rain water and use for irrigation. In times gone by, this cistern gave the Cuthberts and the Schepers cool drinking water from 12 feet underground.  Old clapboard in the basement shows evidence of a reading and writing lesson, complete with a drawing of an alligator. Also dating back to 1875 is the garden’s design and brick work and the handsome wrought iron fence.

The Beaufort Gazette announced the plan for restoring the house in December of 2011.

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