Hilton Head Island, South Carolina is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the entire world, and is also an area rich in history. Before your next trip to the island, why not take a few minutes to learn more about its beginnings and historical significance.
For centuries, the area was populated by indigenous Native Americans and it was not until 1521 that the first recorded expedition, led by Francisco Cordillo, took place in the area. In 1663, Captain William Hilton encountered the island during a return expedition from Barbados and named it after himself, but the island did not really gain prominence until the beginning of the Sea Island Cotton Trade that was established between Europe and the United States.
During the Civil War, the island became an important operations base for the Union blockade of southern ports and a large Union hospital, which became the most prominent in the area, was built during this time. After the war, when the island came under Northern control, a large population of former slaves settled on Hilton Head and served in the First Regiment of South Carolina Volunteers, which promised enlistees the chance to own their own land, attend school, and live in Mitchellville, a government housing community built on the island. The descendants of these freed slaves are now known as native islanders or the Gullah.
In 1931, physicist and Wall Street tycoon Alfred Lee Loomis purchased over 63% of the total landmass on the island to use as a private game reserve, and this land remained largely undeveloped until the 1950’s when, as a result of the lumber boom on the island, three mills were built and the James F. Byrnes bridge, which allowed for easier access to the island from the mainland, was erected. It was this bridge that is responsible for the Hilton Head Island that we know today, since for the first time, land developers and homeowners alike began to view the area with greater interest. Soon after this, the Sea Pines Resort and Harbour Town were both developed by architect Charles Frasier, and rapid area expansion, including the development of housing, resorts, hotels, and many golf courses, as well as other commercial developments, soon followed.
Today, visitors to the island can explore its history further by visiting the many museums and historical landmarks in the area. Be sure to explore them yourself during your next vacation.
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