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A virtual tour of Hilton Head’s best historic sites, fun, free and inspirational family things to do

Posted By ShoutCarolina,Date: 03.01.2010

We love spending our summer vacation in Hilton Head. For the last 3 years, my little daughter and I, traveled all over the island “looking for adventures”. We discovered a place rich in history, fascinating life stories, world-changing inventions, Civil War battles, people struggles, and of course, the perennial Sea Islands ghost legends!

Below is a tour of our favorite places to visit. Enjoy!

Hilton Head: The Beginnings…
Who first inhabited the island?
Who discovered it?
Why Hilton Head ?

The wonderful Sea Pines Forest Preserve is home to a 4,000 years old Indian Shell Ring, one of only 20 still remaining in the country, 4000 years old Native Americans archaeological site Hilton Heada national treasure listed on the National Register of Historic Places (free admission once inside Sea Pines).

Semi-nomadic Indians lived here about 3,800 years ago. When the shell ring was built (about the same time as the Pyramids in Egypt!), these hunters-gatherers had established temporary villages on the coast.

It is believed the ring was used for harvest celebrations, life events ceremonies and initiations.

Most likely, they were the first in North America to built “fire-tempered” pots for cooking and food storage.

Artifacts show the pottery was very similar to that found on the Yucatan Peninsula.
No one knows what happened to these first archaic Indian tribes. Where did they go and why? They just seem to have vanished…

In the 16th century the European invasion began and by 1662, most Native Americans succumbed to European abuse and disease.

First came the Spaniards in 1526. They left us lots of fancy names, like “La Florida” and later on and established the Santa Elena fort on Parris Island.
Port Royal Beaufort Carolina early settlements In 1562, French Hugenot Captain Jean Ribaut, built the Port Royal near the present day Beaufort.

In 1663, hungry to expand the British Empire, King Charles II granted the coastal area to the Lord Proprietors.

They named the territory “The Province of Carolina” and encouraged English settlers to come in. With that South Carolina was born.

The name “Hilton Head” was given by English Captain William Hilton when he discovered the island during its famous 1663 expedition.

“Head” refers to how the headlands were visible from Port Royal Sound.

In 1717, Col. John Barnwell became the island first white settler after he was granted 1000 acres on the northwest corner of the island. By 1766, 25 families lived on Hilton Head.

Hilton Head: The Golden Age…
What happened during American Revolution
What is Sea Island cotton?
What about the ghost at Baynard Ruins?

During Revolutionary War, Hilton Head Island sided with the Patriots, while Daufuskie Island with the Tories. The British responded by burning plantations and capturing slaves, who were later sold in the West Indies. After the war, the island made a healthy recovery, known as the “Golden Age”, as cotton, indigo, and rice crops flourished.

In 1792, local Myrtle Bank plantation owner William Elliot produced the state first successful crop of Sea Island Cotton. The long, smooth, silvery fiber was well-suited for making fine laces and muslin, and became a worldwide sensation. In 1828, these quality fibers commanded a top price of $2 per pound. Legend has it Hilton Head and the Sea Island area had the world’s most millionaires per square feet!

1700s Hilton Heah plantation ruins home to Baynard ghost Listed on the National Register of Historic Sites, the Stoney Baynard ruins are a truly historic and antebellum architectural gem (free admission once inside Sea Pines Plantation).

The mansion house, built in 1790s out of timber and tabby, boasts a colorful history: First it was lost at a poker game, then soon thereafter, the new owner William Baynard died from yellow fever.

During Civil War, the house was abandoned and later burned down. Some say it was a raiding Confederates party, others blame opportunistic Union soldiers, in search for rumored gold, jewelry and untold riches.

It took the Baynard family 15 years to regain Braddock’s Point plantation by paying $500 in back taxes to the federal government. However, they never lived there again.

Ever since, on rainy days and full moon nights, Baynard’s pale grieving image may be seen haunting the ruins and the island…

Hilton Head: The Civil War, the first Gullah town and the Reconstruction…

What happened at the Battle of Port Royal?
What happened to the freed slaves?
What life was like during Reconstruction?

Largest naval battle in US waters Fort Walker Beauregard A great way to see Fort Walker at Port Royal Plantation and learn about Civil War is to take the “Forts at Port Royal” guided tour provided by the Coastal Discovery Museum
($12 adults, $7 children 4-12 years).

The Battle of Port Royal was the largest naval engagement to take place on US waters.

General Thomas F. Drayton, a very prominent local plantation and C & S Railroad owner, lead the Confederates, while his brother Colonel Percival Drayton lead the Union USS Pocahontas, credited to have inflicted the most damage during the 4 hours battle!

Soon after Fort Walker and Fort Beauregard were conquered, Hilton Head became the headquarters for the South Atlantic Coast blockade.

The original Gullah town of the first free slaves Hilton Head Civil War In 1862 the town of Mitchelville was built between Fort Walker and Fort Howell to house the newly freed slaves, who came to Hilton Head by the hundreds.

In 1890, there were about 3,000 African-Americans living on Hilton Head Island. However, by 1930, once the Union troops left and the Federal money supporting Mitchelville ran out, there were only about 300 people living on the island.

Small Gullah communities sprang up on the island. There were farmers, fishermen, basket weavers and fishnet makers. Summer was for farming, winter was for harvesting oysters, and in the fall, “blue crab” was caught.

The only way to reach Hilton Head was by boat, and local navigators piloted small boats between Savannah and the island.

Hilton Head: World War II and modern times…

What about the Skeleton Tower ghost?
What was Hilton Head’s role during WWII?
How did Sea Pines Resort get started?

In 1881, Leamington Lighthouse was erected to guide vessels into Port Royal Sound. The front light stood 35 feet high right above the keeper’s house while the rear light was served by the 95 feet high skeleton-like tower. The cypress wood lantern and watch room were reached by climbing 112 steps.
Site of legendary Lady in Blue Ghost sighting
In 1898 a powerful hurricane washed over the island. Keeper Adam Fripp rushed to protect the lights. The strain of the steep 112 steps ascent, coupled with the shock of exploding glass, was more than Fripp’s heart could handle.

Daughter Caroline climbed the tower searching for her missing father. Fripp implored his daughter to “keep the light burning no matter how dangerous the storm.”

Several days passed before anyone made it to the island. Caroline had managed to tend the light throughout the storm, but her sorrow and exhaustion proved too much, as she died shortly thereafter.

People say that on dark rainy nights a girl in a blue dress may be seen on the beach signaling with her arms to “go back… to go back”. The lighthouse is now located on a pristine golf course inside Palmetto Dunes Resort and you can see it for free.

During World War II, Camp McDougal was built on Hilton Head island, as a training facility for U.S. Marines men, dogs and horses. The Marines built the first paved road on the island.

In 1959 the Fraser family set aside 572 acres for the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. First trails were built in the early 1970s, followed by four lakes – Joe, Thomas, Mary and Chapin. Did you know? Fifty years ago, an oceanfront lot in Sea Pines could be purchased for $7,500. Today it will go for millions!

The Sea Pines Resort’s jewel is the 90 feet tall, candy striped Harbour Town Lighthouse. Admission is $3 (free for kids under 5).

Nature cruise dolphine watching tours Hilton Head

Enjoy the fascinating Sea Islands history on your next Hilton Head vacation!

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    3 Responses to “A virtual tour of Hilton Head’s best historic sites, fun, free and inspirational family things to do”

    1. wpf Says:

      I’ve been going here for years, just enjoying the beach. Didn’t realize it had so much history!

    2. Life is good at Sea Pines! Hilton Head free fun things to do with kids « Shout About South Carolina Travel, Family Attractions and Free Things to Do Says:

      [...] is a virtual tour of our favorite historic sites you can visit on Hilton Head [...]

    3. All roads lead to Fort Walker? The Port Royal Battle, the Blockade, the Charleston Siege, and the first Gullah town (Hilton Head historic tour) « Shout About South Carolina Travel, Family Attractions and Free Things to Do Says:

      [...] Hilton Head Island history is rich and powerful, with the Civil War period as its most fascinating and nation-impacting act. We were [...]

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