Bluffton got its name from its position on a picturesque bluff overlooking the May River. Early in the 19th century, the town was a vacation destination for wealthy southern families in the rice and cotton industry. In those days, the most efficient mode of transportation between coastal cities was by boat, and as the export business became more locally important, Bluffton evolved into an important center for distribution, exchanging goods between nearby towns Savannah, Charleston and Beaufort.
The city's downtown region that centered on the main street leading to the wharf grew to accommodate the area's subsequent travelers. Many of the buildings then used for boarding and small general stores are still functional today. By the mid 1800's there were several permanent residents building the town of Bluffton. Around that time, local plantation owners formed the "Bluffton Movement" in an effort to prohibit federal tariffs that were increasing the cost of importing from overseas. Their meetings centered on a tree that became known as the "Secession Oak," and this small group is said to have begun the secession movement. Fifteen years later, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union. Several historic buildings and landmarks were destroyed during the Civil War, but Bluffton remained in tact with all its antebellum charm, which can still be seen today.
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