By Blanche T. Sullivan, Contributor (@hhieditor)
Hilton Head Island, named the No. 1 Island in the Continental U.S. by Travel+Leisure, has long attracted golfers, tennis players and beachgoers, and has become increasingly popular among outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers and foodies in more recent years. However, what many visitors may not know is that Hilton Head also has a rich history and is home to a number of historic sites. One of the most fascinating is the Indian Shell Ring.
Situated within the 605-acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve, the largest tract of undeveloped land on Hilton Head, the Indian Shell Ring is considered a “late Archaic” shell ring and estimated to be more than 4,000 years old. Experts believe that the shell ring, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is likely a remnant of an Indian village or ceremonial gathering place. A team of researchers from Binghamton University in New York, along with local volunteers, uncovered artifacts during an excavation of the shell ring in June 2016.
In addition to the shell ring, the preserve features the Warner W. Plahs Wildflower Field, which is breathtaking in the spring. The preserve also offers serene walking trails, bridle paths, wetland boardwalks, fishing docks, acres of native flora, picturesque lakes known for their fisheries and diverse birdlife, picnic areas and more. Visitors can walk along the nature trails or ride their bicycles on the designated bike paths. Either way, the idyllic Sea Pines Forest Preserve is definitely worth a visit. Additional information and a map, including vehicular trails, are available by visiting SeaPinesLiving.com.
Hilton Head Island is also home to the Heritage Library History & Ancestry Research Center. Originally established as the Heritage Library Foundation, this organization’s role in history education and preservation expanded significantly when it acquired the assets and responsibilities of the Hilton Head Island Historical Society in 2005.
The foundation’s responsibilities include preservation and maintenance of two historic sites: Fort Mitchel and the Zion Chapel-of-Ease Cemetery.
The Fort Mitchel site, located in Hilton Head Plantation and one of several forts established on Hilton Head, features remnants of a coastal defense battery. Erected in 1862, the battery was designed to protect the southern approaches to Port Royal Sound from attacks by Confederate gunboats.
The Zion Chapel-of-Ease Cemetery, situated at the intersection of Mathews Drive, William Hilton Parkway and Folly Field Road (across from the Adventure Cove Family Fun Center), is home to the Island’s first Episcopal Church, which was built there circa 1786 to accommodate island planters and their families during the peak of the sea island cotton boom.
The foundation is also dedicated to maintaining the Heritage Library, a history and genealogy center, and supporting activities that encourage enjoyment and study of history and genealogy. For library hours, events, family history research assistance and more, visit HeritageLib.org.
The Coastal Discovery Museum, located on the 68-acre Honey Horn property, makes learning about the Lowcountry’s natural history and cultural heritage fun and interesting for all ages. In addition to its historic buildings, including the Discovery House, which dates back to 1859, the museum offers gardens, trails, Marsh Tacky horses, a butterfly enclosure, interpretive tours and many other unique experiences. It is also home to a variety of noteworthy specimen trees, including a Southern Red Cedar that is considered one of South Carolina’s largest and has an estimated germination date of 1595. Learn more by visiting CoastalDiscovery.org.
New to the Lowcountry’s historical offerings is the Santa Elena History Center & Museum Store, which is located in Beaufort, South Carolina, and managed by the Santa Elena Foundation. The foundation’s mission is “…the discovery, preservation and promotion of the ‘Lost Century’ of European colonization through the international story of Santa Elena…,” a 16th century Spanish town established on what is known today as Parris Island. Beaufort, an easy drive from Hilton Head, offers unique shops and restaurants and is perfect for those interested in a day trip. Visit Santa-Elena.org for details regarding this National Historic Site.
You can find additional information regarding Hilton Head’s historic sites and heritage, by visiting HiltonHeadIsland.org and DiscoverSouthCarolina.com.