Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island
History of Hilton Head Island
Hilton Head Island is famous for its twelve-mile stretch of glistening sands. However, a visit here is much more than a day at the beach. There’s golf – perhaps more quality courses and programs than anywhere else on earth, including, of course, the RBC Heritage of Golf, one of the top events on the PGA Tour. And don’t forget tennis.
Then, too, there’s fishing, biking, boating, outlet shopping, rollerblading, horseback riding, nature watching, and a wealth of cultural and artistic activities to explore, and all that beach to enjoy.
History and nature are inextricably mixed on Hilton Head Island. The first islanders were Indians who lived here as early as 4000 B.C., supported by the rich bounty of earth and sea. In 1663, the fertile land of the New World drew English sea captain William Hilton to explore the Island on behalf of a syndicate of Barbadian planters. His report was enthusiastic, and in honor of his pioneering explorations, the Island was christened Hilton’s Head – a reference to the headlands that marked the way into Port Royal Sound. However, it was not until the threat of the Spaniards to the south and the Indians to the west was quelled in the closing years of the 17th century, that English colonists would settle permanently in the area.
As the 18th century dawned, the Island prospered with large indigo and, later, rice plantations. But it was sea island cotton – first successfully cultivated in the 1780s – that made the planters wealthy beyond their dreams. By the mid-1800s, at the height of the plantation era, more than a dozen large land-owning families divided the Island’s riches among themselves.
The onset of the Civil War brought an abrupt end to the cotton dynasties. The fine homes and fertile fields of the planters were destroyed by occupying Union troops after what would prove to be the largest naval engagement of the entire war: the Battle of Port Royal. A freedman’s village, Mitchelville, sprang up briefly, but its life was short, and when the Union troops left, the Island returned to a long period of bucolic quiet, with those who remained making a modest living farming, fishing and oystering.
Highly developed, yet in harmony with nature, Hilton Head has no billboards, neon signs, roller coasters or skyscrapers. In fact, no building can be higher than the trees. Signage ordinances keep signs low key and unobtrusive. Only 40,000 permanent residents live on the island, along with wildlife such as deer, osprey, pelicans, alligators, herons, and near-shore dolphins.
Be sure to visit the Coastal Discovery Museum located at 70 Honey Horn Drive. The museum features historical and ecological exhibits of Hilton Head Island’s colorful history and lush natural beauty and varied wildlife. Museum staff can tell you about upcoming environmental lectures and beach walks. Browse through the gift shop and make reservations for one of the historic or environmental tours hosted by the Museum.
The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina sponsors many ongoing activities and events. For information or a calendar of events, call the Center at 842-ARTS. The Coastal Discovery Museum sponsors nature walks, lectures and classes. For information call 689-6767.
The Hilton Head Art League sponsors ongoing exhibitions, lectures and workshops. For information call 843-681-5060.
Enjoy your visit to Hilton Head Island, an internationally known playground and family vacation spot.