DescriptionHilton Head Island, off the southern coast of South Carolina, is bordered by one of the last major unpolluted marine estuaries on the East Coast. The largest island between New Jersey and Florida, it is 12 miles long and up to 5 miles wide. Hilton Head was named for Capt. William Hilton, an Englishman who sailed into Port Royal Sound in 1663 and wrote about the green headlands of the island.
People lived on the island about 3,800 years ago. Beginning in 1526, Spanish, French and English colonists attempted to settle in the territory but were troubled by Native American raids and pirates. By the mid-18th century English plantations were established. They prospered, growing indigo, rice and sea island cotton until the Civil War, when Union troops used the island as a base to block Confederate ports.
After the war the island was left to nature and the freed-slave, or Gullah, population, which developed a culture based on hunting, fishing and farming. Ruins of historic plantations and forts, including Baynard Ruins, a once prosperous sea island cotton plantation, still can be seen. The tomb of Thomas Heyward Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence, is visible from the intersection of SRs 336 and 462. Some historical information is displayed near the tomb. The ruins of his Old House Plantation, burned by Union soldiers in 1864, are nearby but are on private property and are not accessible to the public.
In 1956 the bridge to the mainland was completed, and the island developed into an all-year resort. Recreational facilities include some 30 golf courses, more than 500 public and private tennis courts, riding stables, bicycle trails and marinas. Harbour Town Links is the site of the RBC Heritage golf tournament in April.
Wildlife and waterfowl habitats include the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, the Audubon Newhall Preserve and the Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge. Daily sightseeing cruises are available on Calibogue Sound, around the island and to Daufuskie Island, where many old Gullah traditions still are observed.
Loggerheads (sea turtles) nest on local beaches during the summer; females come ashore to lay their eggs, and the hatchlings emerge and make their way to the ocean about two months later. The process depends on their capability to detect the difference between natural light and dark, so in an attempt to keep the area dark at night, Hilton Head Island streets and some commercial signage are conservatively lit, if at all. Artificial light sources can disorient the turtles. If you're unfamiliar with the area, it may be a good idea to get a feel for the street layout before driving in the dark. Besides helping to preserve the sea turtles, another advantage of the extreme nighttime darkness is that stargazing is greatly enhanced.
Visitor InfoHilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce and Visitor & Convention Bureau 1 Chamber of Commerce Dr. HILTON HEAD ISLAND, SC 29928. Phone:(843)785-3673 or (800)523-3373
ShoppingColigny Plaza (1 N. Forest Beach Dr.) features some 60 specialty stores and restaurants. Main Street Village (1500 Main St.), Sea Turtle Marketplace (430 William Hilton Pkwy.) and Shelter Cove Harbour Shops (1 Harbourside Ln.) all have nearly a dozen boutiques and shops. Anchored by Belk, Shelter Cove Towne Centre (40 Shelter Cove Ln.) is a mixed-use development featuring specialty retailers, restaurants and residential properties. The beautiful waterside site also offers a park with a concert pavilion and a playground.
Things to SeeAdventure Cruises