BEAUFORT – The Grand Army of the Republic Hall was one of four sites recently added to the Reconstruction Era National Historic Network.

Located on Newcastle Street near the center of the Beaufort Historic District, the white clapboard building with distinctive green shutters and front door was once the meeting place for black veterans serving in Union forces during the Civil War.

“When we look at sites, this site was a pretty easy shot because of its direct connection to the stories of Reconstruction,” said Scott Teodorski, superintendent of the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park, which manages the network.

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Scott Teodorski, Superintendent of the Reconstruction Era National Historical Park, stands in front of the Grand Army of the Republic Hall on Newcastle Street in Beaufort. Tony Kukulich/Staff

With the four additions, the network includes 85 locations in western locations such as Washington, Idaho and Montana. South Carolina has the most locations. In Beaufort County, the network includes the Penn Center, the Mather School, Historic Mitchellville Freedom Park and the Robert Smalls House.

“It’s a really cool opportunity for people to discover the history of Reconstruction that goes beyond the national park boundaries here in Beaufort County,” Teodorski said. “It’s pretty strong stuff.”

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The GAR Hall begins

The Grand Army of the Republic was a fraternal organization of Union veterans formed shortly after the end of the Illinois Civil War. GAR sites, which were largely separate, were set up in cities and towns across the country.

“Post 9 was founded in 1888 by African-American veterans, many of whom were former slaves on some Sea Island plantations,” Ed Allen said during a Nov. 17 presentation at GAR Hall hosted by the University of South Carolina’s Beaufort Institute Study at the time of reconstruction.

Allen added that these veterans were from the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry, which was raised in Beaufort after Union troops occupied the area earlier in the war.

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Built in 1896, Beaufort’s David Hunter Post #9 is one of only two surviving posts whose members were predominantly black veterans. It is the only remaining building that looks as it did when the Post Office was active in the late 19th century.

The other surviving black GAR post, Charles Sumner Post #25 in Chestertown, Maryland, has undergone extensive renovations in recent years.

Black GAR posts were also active on Hilton Head Island and Charleston, while other GAR posts operated in Bluffton and Charleston.

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dr Elijah Washington, Commander of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, at the Grand Army of the Republic Hall on Newcastle Street in Beaufort on November 18, 2022. Tony Kukulich/Staff

As the ranks of surviving veterans thinned, the GAR faded and the building was given to three organizations: the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, the Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, and the Fred Washington Women’s Relief Corps. All three organizations continue to work from the building.

“Connecting to the network gives us another opportunity to let people know about us,” said Dr. Elijah Washington, commander of the Union Veterans Sons of Civil War Camp #21. “This will help us get the word out.”

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Renovations to the GAR Hall

The hall’s inclusion on the Reconstruction Era National Historic Network marks the second time the building has made headlines this year.

In June, a ribbon ceremony for the 126-year-old building marked the completion of major repairs to its structure.

The Second Founding of America, a non-profit organization founded by former Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling that often works with the national park, helped raise funds for the building’s long-needed repairs.

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Ed Allen discusses the history of the Grand Army of the Republic Hall during a presentation at the Second Founding of America Learning Center in Beaufort November 17, 2022. The hall, which was originally a gathering place for Black Civil War veterans who served in the armed forces of the Union, was recently added to the Reconstruction Era National Historic Network. Tony Kukulich/Staff

“Our commitment as Second Founding of America was to make sure the building stayed intact,” Keyserling told The Post and Courier. “We have applied for and received ATAX funds from Beaufort County to repair all of the foundation and infrastructure.”

Drainage improvements needed to prevent the building from subsidence are being approved.

“The money is there and the contractor is willing to do it,” Keyserling added.

Other locations have been added to the network

The Reconstruction Era National Historic Network continues to expand and includes 25 SC sites

Other recent additions to the network include the Gilmore Cabin at James Madison’s Montpelier in Orange County, Virginia, built by George Gilmore in the 1870s. Gilmore had been enslaved in Montpelier before the Civil War. The Gilmore Cabin teaches the legacies of slavery in America, including political status, land tenure, and economic production.

The Hamburg-Carrsville African American Heritage District in North Augusta, South Carolina interprets the history and legacy of the Hamburg community and was the site of the 1876 Hamburg Massacre.

The Aiken Center for African American History, Arts and Culture is housed in a building that once housed the Immanuel School, a Reconstruction era school built in the 1880s for black children in the Aiken community.

“We sit on so much history in this area,” said Valinda Littlefield, interim director of the University of South Carolina’s Beaufort Institute for the Study of the Reconstruction Era. “There is still so much to learn.”