The Town of Bluffton purchased the Sarah Riley Hooks Cottage and its surrounding property at 76 Bridge Street for $475,000 from private owners, Kehinde Thomas and Tavi Fields from Matthews, North Carolina in an effort to preserve historically significant structures in the Historic District.
The .896 acre-property is comprised of three parcels and was purchased December 31, 2019.
“Town Council members are thrilled to have a rare opportunity to purchase one of Bluffton’s contributing structures,” Mayor Lisa Sulka said. “The Sarah Riley Hooks Cottage is another historic asset which the Town can add to its public portfolio and together with the Bluffton community, we will take steps to preserve this structure and its stories for years to come.
“As we have experienced with The Garvey-Garvin House, these historic investments have a priceless rate of return in terms of the essence and energy they add to Bluffton’s culture and character.”
Town Council, along with stakeholders and staff, will discuss the stabilization, preservation and possible uses of the Sarah Riley Hooks Cottage and its property at future Town Council workshops and meetings.
“As with any historic rehabilitation plan, it takes years to stabilize, preserve and repurpose a property,” Sulka said.“We have accomplished an important first step by acquiring the property and now, the multi-year, multi-phase work of converting this house into a usable historic site begins.”
About the Sarah Riley Hooks Cottage:
The Sarah Riley Hooks Cottage, formerly known as the Michael C. Riley House, was built around 1940 by Riley, a prominent African American store owner and Bluffton resident. His daughter, Sarah Riley Hooks, was born on the property in 1922. Sarah lived in the family home her entire life and was one of the first home health care nurses in Bluffton. She died in 2002.
Sarah’s son, Tony Hooks, was the lead guitarist with Sly and the Family Stone, a popular band in the 1960s, which is listed in the Grammy Awards Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Michael C. Riley, who died in December 1966, was the first African American to be appointed a trustee to the Beaufort County Board of Education. The first Michael C. Riley elementary and high school was built on Goethe Road and was named in his honor. That school was demolished in 1990 and a new elementary school was built on Burnt Church Road, also named in his honor.
The original school site, now known as the M.C. Riley Sports Complex, has a South Carolina historical marker which reads:
“This is the site of two schools that served the black community of southern Beaufort County for most of the twentieth century. Bluffton Grade School, a small frame building constructed about 1900, was followed in 1954 by an elementary and high school named for Michael C. Riley (1873-1966), longtime trustee of Beaufort County School District, #2.
From 1954 to 1970, the elementary school educated Bluffton’s black students in grades 1-8 and the high school educated Bluffton’s and Hilton Head’s black students in grades 9-12. After county schools were desegregated in 1970, it was an elementary school for Bluffton’s black and white students until 1991. A new Michael C. Riley School opened nearby that same year.