The first streaking rays of the rising sun dance along the sparkling surf and illuminate the white sand throughout the twelve-mile length of the broad beaches at Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Only the intrusion of an occasional jogger or shell seeker brings this natural setting into the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, the awesome beauty of this southernmost of South Carolina’s barrier islands is still as much a magnet to people today as it has been throughout recorded history!
Hilton Head’s first inhabitants were Indians who came to this island paradise as early as 4000 B.C. to experience the great hunting and fishing, but it wasn’t until 1664 that the first white man set foot on this 42 square mile island. He was English sea captain William Hilton, who was sent to explore the region on behalf of a syndicate of Barbadian planters. His report was enthusiastic, and in honor of his explorations, the island was named Hilton’s Head, which is a reference to the headlands that marked the way into Port Royal Sound. Despite Hilton’s discovery, due to threats from the Spanish to the south and Indians to the west, it wasn’t until the closing days of the 17th century that the first English colonists began to settle in the area.
During the early to mid 18th century, Hilton Head prospered from indigo and rice plantations, but it was sea island cotton that made the island plantation owners wealthy. The War Between the States, however, ended the great cotton dynasties. In fact, after the largest naval battle of the war at Port Royal, the fine homes and fertile fields were destroyed by occupying Union troops. Post-war Hilton Head became home to family farmers, commercial fishermen and oysterers until wealthy entrepreneurs began building homes on the island after World War II.
Though Hilton Head Island has been highly developed during modern times, an extreme effort has been made to blend human expansion with the beauty of nature. Therefore, this island has no billboards, neon signs, roller coasters or skyscrapers. The permanent residents on Hilton Head live in harmony with an abundance of deer, rabbits, squirrels, raccoons, alligators, ospreys, pelicans, herons and a multitude of other land and water birds. When using any of the miles of nature walks, horseback riding trails or bike paths, one may observe any or all of the aforementioned species.
The island has long been known for hosting world-class golf and tennis championships, and probably boasts more venues for these two sports than any other resort in the world. If all of these offerings aren’t enough to keep one busy, Hilton Head also has a wealth of cultural and artistic activities as well as great fishing, boating, shopping and dining.
Accommodations at Hilton Head vary from very expensive private villas to reasonable motel rooms. Dining options are also available for any taste or pocketbook, and the nightlife seems to mix the gamut of humanity into a happy throng of cohesive revelers with the fading of the sun in the west each evening.
The turn to the south on Highway 278 toward Hilton Head Island is only a few exits north of Savannah on I-95, and one is within 30 miles of this gorgeous paradise. An excellent first stop, however, is the Hilton Head Island Welcome Center and the Coastal Discovery Museum of Hilton Head. Both of these are located on the right soon after crossing the bridge onto the island, and have experts on hand to answer any question one might have. To be prepared ahead of time for any visit to Hilton Head, however, one should go to their web site at: www.hiltonheadisland.org
Few summer destinations combine and preserve natural beauty and the cornucopia of fun and excitement that awaits vacationers at Hilton Head. It is truly a nearby magical summer place for everyone!