1. In August of 1663, English Captain William Hilton spotted the Island and named it after himself, calling it “Hilton Head.” The word “Head” refers to the headlands visible while sailing the uncharted waters. Captain Hilton lingered several days, making note of the trees, crops, freshwater and sweet air.
2. The first English development in the Lowcountry began in 1698. In 1717, Col. John Barnwell was granted a thousand acres on the northwest corner of Hilton Head Island. He became the first white settler. By 1766, 25 families lived on the Island.
3. In the eighteeth century, Hilton Head was divided into working plantations growing a wide range of lucrative crops, including indigo, rice, sugar cane and cotton. Before the Civil War, slaves worked the land, which proved remarkably fertile and productive. Because this Sea Island—like many others along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia —was largely cut off from the mainland, many slaves retained West African dialects and traditions, developing an identity over the years that is today known as Gullah.
4. Electricity arrived on Hilton Head Island in 1951, and the first telephone was installed in 1960.
5. Modern-day Hilton Head took shape in the 1950s, when Charles Fraser began developing the land that eventually became Sea Pines, creating a groundbreaking style of real estate development, founded with a reverence and respect for the natural environment.
6. In the 1960s, Port Royal Plantation, Spanish Wells and Palmetto Dunes followed suit, becoming key players in the Island’s history. Long Cove, Wexford, Palmetto Hall and Windmill Harbour came on board in the 1980s. Indigo Run is the newest of the communities, which was developed and opened in the 1990s.
7. Today, strict restrictions on flashy development forbid neon signs and brightly colored facades. Instead, most of the buildings on the Island have an earthy feeling, imbued with moss, mud and sand-inspired hues.
8. The Town of Hilton Head Island has preserved much of the Island’s undeveloped land as green space for perpetuity, underscoring a larger commitment to the environment.