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Off the Beaten Path on Hilton Head Island

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For locals and visitors alike, Hilton Head offers all kinds of great activities. Biking, seeing live music, attending fundraisers, eating out, playing tennis, shopping and much more. One activity that is often overlooked is exploring Hilton Head’s historical and culturally significant places.Many different peoples and culture, all of which left their mark here, have historically inhabited the island. Most of these sites are off the regular circuit of attractions, but take the time to seek them out, a visit will be well worth it!

On the north end of the island, off of Squire Pope Road, sits Green’s Shell Enclosure. At first it is not much to look at, a hill on the land, which is dotted with forest. This hill is in fact a circular ring of shells and other materials. An archeologist have dated this site to the mid 1300’s and is evidence of continual habitation in one spot of Native Americans on Hilton Head. Green’s is only 1 of roughly 20 such sites on Hilton Head, and other such structures have been found throughout the coastal regions of Florida and Georgia as well.

Native Americans set up a little town at this site, evidenced by post holes from homes no longer in existence. The ring was developed around the town as the result of collected kitchen refuse being essentially dumped there.This makes shell enclosures a fantastic resource for understanding how these civilizations sustained themselves. In the shell enclosures archeologists have found remains of oysters, clams, shrimp, fish, sharks, rays, and raccoons.

Native Americans had established towns on Hilton Head, systems for hunting, foraging and growing food, and routes for traveling by dugout canoe from island to island.About 200 years after the Green’s Shell Enclosure settlement began, Europeans found there way to our island.Explorers from Spain, France and England all visited the island before the first continual habitation by settlers in 1663. The next half a century was rife with Indian wars and extremely tough life for settlers battling snakes, bugs and heat. By the late 1700’s, Hilton Head had entered the Plantation Era and cotton, indigo, rice were all grown, thanks in large part to slaves from West Africa.

One such plantation was what is now called the Stoney/Baynard Plantation, the site of which still holds many fascinating historical highlights.The Baynard Ruins are located in Sea Pines on the South End of Hilton Head.You will definitely want to get directions and a map to this site, because it is rather hidden in the woods.At the site you will find remnants of the main house, slave quarters, overseers house and the chimney from kitchen building.These structures are made out of tabby, which is a type of building material made up of oyster shells and only found in parts of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.

Also on the Baynard site is evidence of the next phase of Hilton Head history, Union occupation during the Civil War. After the battle of Port Royal in 1861, Union troops set up camps on several sites on Hilton Head, including Stoney/Baynard plantation.Today, you can see remains of tent bases that were constructed to keep the troops’ tents off of the wet ground.

After the Civil War, Hilton Head entered a most fascinating period generally referred to as Reconstruction.Former slaves that did not abandon the island, established the town of Mitchelville and formed a social system of cooperative economics undergirded by tight-knit, religious-oriented, extended families.This community had strong values, and at the top of the list was religion followed closely by education.Young people were in fact educated in the St. James Baptist Church, until 1937 when the Cherry Hill School House was built. This building is the only one-room schoolhouse to exist on the island and still stands today at the corner of Dillon and Beach City roads.

The Cherry Hill School House was built with cooperation of the Beaufort County, only after the community members banded together to purchase the land for it to be built on. Fittingly, this land is directly across the street from the St. James.The schoolhouse is built of wood fell on the mainland and brought over by boat. The school was used as a public elementary school from 1937 to 1954, when modern development began to creep in and later boomed with the opening of the first bridge to Hilton Head in 1956.A few remaining students of this school still live on the island and are referred to as “The Gullah Elders.” It is through them, and rich sites like Cherry Hill, that we can begin to recreate in our minds this unique period of Hilton Head history.

To understand the history of Hilton Head it is imperative to seek the subtle places that reveal themselves gradually through their rich artifacts.Whether you are a long time resident or fist time visitors, get out and explore these amazing places!

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