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Bricks from old pavement visible in holes on North Street, Beaufort
Old brick pavement showing through
North Street, Downtown Beaufort

The Gold EagleTavern:
Gone, But Not Forgotten

by
Dennis Adams
Information Services Coordinator (2007);

Additions made by Grace Cordial,
Beaufort District Collection Manager (2012)

 

The three-story Gold Eagle Tavern depicted with bright yellow walls. At right is a turret-like structure
Painting of the Gold Eagle Tavern by William Halsey, in the 1950
Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places

(Use approved by S. A. Nicholls, Ford Motor Co.)

Only some parts of the tabby foundation remain, but the Gold Eagle Tavern lives on in name and reputation. Its name derives from the profession of Henry William De Saussure, director of the United States Mint. Under De Saussure’s directorship, the first "gold eagle" dollars were minted. Beaufort-born Henry De Saussure acquired the property (along the river at New and Bay Streets) from his father, Daniel De Saussure (born of Huguenot immigrants, near Pocotaligo in 1736, the elder De Saussure served in the South Carolina State Senate). The original owner had been Miles Brewton, from whose grandson, Robert, the De Saussures obtained the land.

The oldest section of the tavern dated from 1795, and later construction was in the "Beaufort Style". But perhaps the most distinctive feature was added by owner Kate Gleason in the 1920s. This landmark was a dense, cylindrical tower built of concrete, with conical roofing, dividing the river side of the building into equal halves (the December 30, 1965 Beaufort Gazette said that its style was "reminiscent of a Norman castle"). Its simplicty is said to typify Gleason’s design concepts for low-coast suburban housing (she had a number of such houses built in Beaufort).  
Lady's Island visible across the Beaufort River and marshes, as seen from the Gold Eagle site
The City of Beaufort now preserves the marsh view
that captivated guests at the Gold Eagle Tavern.
Photograph by Dennis Adams

(August 7, 2002)

When the Gold Eagle Tavern opened in March 1930, it was under the management of Mr. and Mrs. L. E. Wilder. The Marine Band from Parris Island played for the first-night guests.

The Gold Eagle was also a hotel, and its fame spread far by the word of mouth of its guests. Northerners who spent the winter in Beaufort and visitors from overseas signed its guest book. Artists, writers, actors and newlyweds came often to the Gold Eagle, as well as Beaufortonians who stepped carefully down a narrow stairway to take their Sunday meals in the basement dining room. The fare blended the best of Lowcountry seafood and Continental specialties -- and there was that breathtaking view of the river and marshes! In a sketch entitled "Beaufort's Queen of the Night in Blue", Gilbert Augustus Selby described a "beautiful phenomenon" that he and friends had watched from the Gold Eagle terrace "just after sunset on September the seventeenth" (of 1934):


"With the heavens for a canvas, from zenith to the southwest horizon, the greatest of Artists, Nature, had painted another glorious masterpiece, the motif being continuous areas of variable size and contour, in a soft medium tone of ultramarine or lapis lazuli blue, each framed in clouds of brilliant silver, copper and gold, while the restless waters of Beaufort Bay were mirrored in exquisite
pastel shades.

"On a pale pearl azure background, Luna, the Queen of Night, appears in luminous splendor, wearing, in honor of the Harvest Month, a royal robe of turquoise blue beneath a shimmering
gossamer veil of silvery grey.

"The radiant picture now in its entirety presents an entrancing ensembleof color and beauty, suggesting in its enchantment an approach to the celestial Gates of Paradise --
and adds another glory to the Carolina Coast."

 


Selby wrote his sketch just two days after the "beautiful phenomenon", when the impression was still vivid in his memory.

Lucille Hasell Culp, a local photographer, snapped images of the interior and gardens of the Gold Eagle Tavern during the 1940s.  Four of these images are available for online viewing in the digital Lucille Hasell Culp Collection: A Celebration of Beaufort, South Carolina: Interior of Guest Bedroom; Dining Room; The Garden; and Sitting Area of a Guest Room. (The Lucille Hasell Culp Collection images were posted with the assistance of the Lowcountry Digital Library).

The 1950 Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places recommended the Gold Eagle among only three restaurants in the state (the others were located in Charleston and Greenville). The Treasury printed the following recipe to represent the Gold Eagle’s bill of fare:

Banana Meat Rolls

 

Ingredients:

2 bananas, sliced
1 cup ground cold meat
1 ˝ small onions, chopped
1 celery heart, chopped
Butter
Biscuit dough
Cream sauce
Chopped parsley

 

Instructions:

Sauté the onion and celery in butter and combine with cold meat and sliced bananas. Roll biscuit dough thin and spread the mixture over it. Roll dough jelly-roll fashion and slice pieces off the completed roll. Bake in a greased pan until browned. Serve with cream sauce and chopped parsley.


The Ford Treasury reported that (in 1950, at least) the inn was closed for the Summer Season from July to 31 to October 31, and that reservations were requested.

Among the distinguished guests of the Gold Eagle was Countess Mary Annette Beauchamp Russell (1866-1941). The Countess was the sister-in-law of the controversial philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell. She was an author in her own right, and under the nom-de-plume of "Elizabeth" the Countess wrote Mr. Skeffington (1940) and an autobiography, All the Dogs of My Life (1936). Twentieth Century Authors named her "one of the first wits of her time". It was "Elizabeth's" custom to leave the Gold Eagle each morning at 7:00 for a walk around Beaufort with her cocker spaniel, Billy. She died at the Riverside Infirmary in Charleston.

Edison Marshall (1894-1967) was another author to frequent the Gold Eagle Tavern. An American novelist, short-story writer and explorer, Marshall wrote The Heart of Little Shikala, and Other Stories (1922) and The Viking (1951), among other works. The author of Love Stories of India (1950) also gave the propietors the curry recipe for which the Gold Eagle's restaurant was famous.

Other celebrated guests were: Dorothy Canfield, Clark Gable, Sir Winfred and Lady Grenfeld, Francis Griswold (author of the Beaufort novel, A Sea Island Lady), Frances Parkinson Keyes, David Lawrence, Ravenel Sass, poet Archibald Rutledge, Kathryn Drayton Mayrant Simons, and Adlai Stevenson. Famous South Carolina politicians James F. Byrnes, Olin Johnston and L. Mendel Rivers were frequent visitors to the Gold Eagle.

The modern house on the site of the demolished Gold Eagle Tavern retains the style of older houses in the historic Point neighborhood of Beaufort
A recently-built private residence now occupies the Gold Eagle Tavern site.
Photograph by Dennis Adams

(August 7, 2002)
  The tavern closed for the duration of World War II. The owners died soon after the war, and the Gold Eagle did not survive them for very long: the last guest checked out on February 6, 1961.The Beaufort Gazette of December 30, 1965 reported that E. B. Mitchell of Lobeco (Beaufort County, SC) was purchasing the property from the present owner, Mrs. A. E. Samuel (daughter of L. E. Wilder, the original owner.) "for an undisclosed sum". Mitchell had no immediate plans for the building (which the Elks Club had been using for a meeting place for the previous two years), but planned to demolish it. The Gold Eagle was torn down in the late 1960s, and a private residence now occupies the site.

Local historian Gerhard Spieler said that the tavern was "one of the most picturesque, even if not beautiful, of Beaufort’s homes."

SOURCES:

  • Bailey, N. Louise et al. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776-1985. University of South Carolina Press, 1986.

  • "'Elizabeth', of German Garden Fame, Is the Countess Russell" (Undated photocopy of magazine article in vertical file; magazine title unknown).

  • Federal Writers’ Project, Works Progress Administration, South Carolina. Beaufort and the Sea Islands. American Guide Series. Sponsored and Published by the Clover Club. Review Printing Company, 1936.

  • The Ford Treasury of Favorite Recipes from Famous Eating Places. Simon and Schuster, 1950.

  • "Gold Eagle Hotel to Be Purchased". The Beaufort Gazette, December 30, 1965; p. 1.

  • Kunitz, Stanley and Haycraft, Howard (Editors). Twentieth Century Authors. H. W. Wilson, 1942.

  • Selby, Gilbert Augustus. "Sketch: Beaufort's Queen of the Night in Blue", in Glories of the Carolina Coast by James Henry Rice Jr. Second Edition. The R. L. Bryan Company. 1936.

  • Spieler, Gerhard. "The ‘Kate Gleason Touch’: Her Influence Here Continues to Live On". The Beaufort Gazette. Undated copy in Library’s Vertical File.

  • Spieler, Gerhard. "Remembering the Gold Eagle Tavern". Sea Island Scene, July 1997.

 
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