Following the Civil War, Bluffton emerged from the ashes of a summer cottage community to that of a thriving commercial center and later became known as a sleepy "pass thru" on the road to Hilton Head. Today the Town of Bluffton is known as a charming and vibrant residential, tourist and business community.
After the Civil War ended in 1865, many planters and their families did not return to the Lowcountry. Their plantations had either been confiscated by the federal government or lay in ruins. Their homes in Bluffton were burned to ashes. Those few who did return were joined by newcomers from adjacent counties, some Northerners and freed slaves as well. New homes were built and churches expanded.
Without slavery, the entire Lowcountry economy changed – plantation-style farming was no longer possible or profitable. Merchants replaced planters and Bluffton became a commercial hub for the area. Oysters, timber and turpentine replaced rice and cotton. Stores multiplied on Calhoun Street as people continued to come to Bluffton to be close to the May River with its cooling breezes. Riverboats brought nearly everything and everybody to and from Bluffton. Ferry service to Savannah made the Calhoun Street dock a lively and bustling transportation center. Bluffton was again a prosperous place to live or visit.
Over the next hundred years, Bluffton’s economy changed once again. The invention of the automobile had a profound effect on the lifestyle and economy of the town. Cars replaced horses and boats. A bridge was built over the Savannah River so people could drive to Savannah to shop and work. Freight arrived by truck rather than steamship. Bluffton -the bustling trade center vanished- to be replaced by a sleepy little Southern town that time forgot.
However, one more change was in store for Bluffton. In the 1950s, a bridge was built to connect Hilton Head Island with the mainland. Hilton Head became a popular tourist destination, bringing jobs, opportunities and increasing numbers of people to the area. Many vacationers were charmed by Bluffton’s beauty, history and Southern hospitality.
In the 1990’s, developers opened Sun City Hilton Head, a planned community for retirees, not on Hilton Head Island itself, but on the mainland about ten miles west of here. Other large gated communities soon followed and town leaders annexed 50 square miles surrounding the original one-square mile of Old Town Bluffton. The town’s population has tripled in the last 10 years.