The first Beaufort Water Festival was held in July 1956.
John Bigbee served as the first President. Gladys Thompson in charge of the visiting queens who participated in the Beauty Pageant. In the early days of the Festival, it cost fifty cents to attend the Beauty Pageant. One dollar got a couple tickets to attend the Water Festival Ball (which was later changed to the Commodore’s Ball) and two dollars to attend the Regatta Ball.
The Lions Club took the job of putting on the first parade and has been doing so every year since. The first weekend featured two days of sailboat races and the Regatta Ball. The following weekend began with the Beauty Pageant on Friday where the Queen of the Carolina Sea Islands was crowned. The parade and ski show, put on by the Beaufort Water Ski Club, and an air show highlighted the second weekend, in addition to the Water Festival Ball.
As the years went by, the Festival began to draw more and more people to Beaufort.
Folks started attending from other parts of the state and even on a national level. With more attendees came more diverse activities for the spectators. Events such as fishing and golf tournaments as well as a craft market and Sponsors’ and Community Non-Profit expos were added to the lineup so the Festival had something to offer for every age and interest.
All events were held on or adjacent to the municipal parking lot and in case of inclement weather. The word “rain” is never used during the Festival. If any of the wet stuff did appear, the pageant would move indoors to the Beaufort Elementary School. The Balls would be held in the Community Club if the weather became inclement.
The Festival continues to add new events and drop some events to keep current with the interests of festival-goers. Over 400 volunteers work long hours to bring the events to the Festival. The Festival is able to offer first class entertainment at reasonable prices because of the generosity of our loyal sponsors.