Hilton Head, the largest barrier island off the coast of the U.S., was inhabited by Indians for centuries. The French claimed it in 1562 and built a fort on nearby Parris Island. The English arrived in 1629 and named the region “Carolina.” Then in 1663 Capt. William Hilton arrived to explore the region and the island was named Hilton Head in his honor. http://www.hiltonheadisland.org/
The first English settlement was in 1717 and many families came and began to farm the land. Primary crops were rice and indigo. After the Revolutionary War cotton was introduced, and at its peak of demand, there were 26 plantations on the island. African labor was brought to tend the crops and soon the island was populated mostly by slaves. This is when the Gullah culture came into being.
When the Civil War began, Union commanders set out to blockade all southern ports that could aid the Confederacy. Port Royal, at the north end of the island, was quickly captured and the battle for Hilton Head lasted just six hours. The wartime population swelled to 40,000 with troops, slaves, and prisoners. Following the war the population dropped to a few thousand and all the Southern states suffered a wave of poverty. The descendants of the slaves on the island took over about 20 percent of the land.
Finally in the mid-1950s, investors bought 20,000 acres on the island as a tree farm. One of them was General Joseph Fraser, whose son, Charles Fraser, had the vision to develop and promote the early growth of the island as a resort community. In 1966 the bridge was constructed and Fraser began development of Sea Pines Plantation. By 1975, the island population reached 6,500 and more than 250,000 visitors came to Hilton Head, and by 1982, these numbers had doubled. Today, there are over 34,000 residents, and more than two million people visit each year.
The Hilton Head is currently among the finest resort communities in America. It is mature, sophisticated, and very attractive. It consists largely of a honeycomb of gated communities, each tucked away in the midst of live oaks and palmetto palms, with lagoons, tidal estuaries, lots of wildlife, and many, many golf courses. All of nature remains remarkably little disturbed. It is very peaceful, and every piece of architecture is in harmony with the landscape. Once outside those communities, the pace is quite different. The same attention to architecture and preservation is very much in evidence, but the infrastructure is geared to support all those vacationers — wide roads, traffic circles, and of course, traffic.
The island’s amenities seem almost limitless! There are 12 miles of pristine beach, nearly 250 restaurants, a wide variety of shopping (including upscale clothing and expensive jewelry). There are dozens of boutiques and specialty stores, malls, shopping plazas, theaters, and car washes. There is a symphony, a youth symphony, live theater, jazz, and more. And helping to support all these amenities are the numerous resorts with thousands of rooms.
Arts & Culture
The island calendar of annual events is very extensive. Included are the Winter Carnival, with jazz concerts, wine tasting, a black-tie opera, big band concert, and art exhibit, beach tours, road races and kayaking tours. There is the Gullah Celebration showcasing arts, music, and lifestyle of the island people. There is also Springfest, which includes Winefest, Healthfest, Wingfest, and Sweet Tastes, plus arts demonstrations and music concerts. In addition, there is the Youth Arts Fest, the Art & Flowers Festival, the BRAVO Festival of the Arts, and HarbourFest — which runs through the summer months and features crafts, music, children’s activities, and more. There are simply too many to list them all. http://www.hiltonhead.com/calendar_index.cfm
The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina produces live theater — musicals, comedies, and dramas. It also hosts many visiting performers and artists. Its main stage is a 350-seat theater and it also has two smaller venues for youth and experimental theater. The center also features a gallery for the visual arts. http://artshhi.com/
The Hilton Head Jazz Society, founded in 1986, today claims over 500 members. Every month a different artist and format is featured at a hotel ballroom. http://jazzloversclub.com/history.htm
The Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra features a creative 10-concert Master Series. http://www.hhorchestra.org/
Hilton Head Island is well known for its world-class golf courses and facilities. There are 22 courses on Hilton Head, 25 more just off-island in Bluffton and Okatie, and four more just a 15-minute ferry ride away on Daufuskie Island. Virtually all courses are well-maintained and there are challenges for golfers of any skill level. A number of courses are among the finest in the country. http://www.hiltonheadisland.org/
Sports fans can attend The Heritage of Golf tournament, one of the premier PGA Tour events, on the Ocean Course at Harbour Town each April.
Tennis is a very popular sport, ranking second only to golf. There are 15 tennis clubs on the island, seven of which are open to the public. This does not include the many tennis facilities associated with the hotels, resorts, and residential communities. http://www.hhisleinfo.com/tennis.htm
The island has 12 miles of broad, relatively flat, beaches with very fine and firm sand — suitable for bicycling, long walks, or pushing a stroller (beach season is from April 1st until September 30th). There are 20 miles of bike paths on major roads and scenic paths in each residential community.
Pinckney Island National Wildlife Preserve, which is just across from the mainland, offers six miles of paths and roads for biking, walking, and bird watching. Audubon NewHall Preserve offers trails with native flowering plants and a lagoon that attracts migratory birds. http://www.fws.gov/pinckneyisland/
Several playgrounds are available on the island and there is an abundance of sports facilities. Included are lighted softball and baseball fields, a soccer field, a roller hockey arena, indoor basketball and volleyball, a heated pool, and more.
There are nine marinas in the area, including some that are world-class. Perhaps best known is Harbour Town Yacht Basin with its signature lighthouse, seen in the background at the final hole during the Heritage Golf Tournament. http://www.hhisleinfo.com/hilton_island_marinas.htm
The University of South Carolina at Beaufort offers Associate degrees in the arts and sciences and plans to transition to a four-year degree-granting institution. Its enrollment is about 1,200 with 500 as full-time students. http://www.sc.edu/beaufort/
The Creative Retirement Center is a member-led continuing education program, under the auspices of University of South Carolina at Beaufort. Curriculum committees of 12-15 members develop the course offerings for both its Hilton Head and Beaufort campuses. There are about 800 members. http://www.sc.edu/beaufort/offices/crc.shtml
Heritage Academy is the official school of Hilton Head Dance Theatre. http://www.heritageacademyhiltonhead.com/dance.htm
Seniors are offered either individual or group lessons at any of the island’s public or resort golf clubs, and nearly all tennis facilities offer daily clinics and lessons. Some even feature special “Senior Clinics.” There are also group or individual lessons available for seniors who want to learn to sail or take a guided kayak tour on the protected streams on the Island. http://www.hiltonheadisland.org/CC/PressKit-Seniors.htm
The Creative Retirement Center (CRC), which is an Elderhostel Affiliate, has a campus in Beaufort and Hilton Head under the auspices of the University of South Carolina. It offers its 800 members the opportunity for lifelong learning. Curriculum committees of 12-15 members develop its broad range of course offerings. http://www.uscb.edu/
“Coastal Senior” is a monthly publication with a circulation of about 30,000, targeted for “active seniors age 50-plus in South Carolina and coastal Georgia.” The publication includes information on seniors activities and opportunities for volunteering, travel, etc. http://coastalsenior.com/about.html
Hilton Head Regional Medical Center is a 93-bed acute care hospital. http://www.hiltonheadregional.com/en-US/Pages/default.aspx
Hilton Head Island Airport, located on the Island, is about 20 minutes from Harbour Town. It has a full-service terminal building and offers 8-14 flights commercial flights per day to and from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. http://www.hiltonheadairport.com/
Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport is 45 minutes from Hilton Head Island. http://www.savannahairport.com/
The weather at Hilton Head averages a high of 58 degrees and low of 48 degrees in January. July averages 88 degrees and 75 degrees. http://www.wunderground.com/US/SC/Hilton_Head.html
The Island Packet – http://www.islandpacket.com/
Chamber of Commerce
State Aging Agency
Beaufort – 34 miles
Savannah – 35 miles
Charleston – 98 miles
Brunswick – 110 miles
Jacksonville – 171 miles