The History of the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, SC
The Isle of
Palms and Sullivan’s Island is approximately six miles of pristine
white, sandy beaches, natural inlets, and internationally renowned
golf courses and amenities. This area was originally called Hunting
Island and later Long Island, and was originally inhabited by the
Sewee Indian Tribe. English settlers were the first white men that
the Sewee had ever seen and they would swim out to the arriving
ships and direct the settlers to their camps. The Sewee were
reportedly inspired by the British explorers and some tried
unsuccessfully to travel to England in their canoes, but most who
dared never returned from the sea.
Holton, a settler from Barbados, was granted title to the island in
1696. Yet throughout the mid-18 century it was called Long Island.
Later, notorious pirates were said to have landed on the islands and
stories abound about the buried treasures that were hidden
throughout the islands, although none has ever been found.
Revolutionary War, on June 10, 1776, a British Army General Sir
Henry Clinton and his contingent of approximately 2500 troops
planned a surprise attack to raid the colonial army encampment on
Sullivan's Island. The surprise attack failed when many of the
British troops were drowned when they tried unsuccessfully to cross
the dangerous swirling waters of Breach Inlet, or were shot by a
barrage of musket fire from the colonial troops commanded by Colonel
William Thompson of the American Continental Army on the Sullivan’s
Islands side of the inlet. Due to Clinton's sound defeat and the
brave courage of the dedicated colonial patriots at Fort Moultrie,
the British forces were soundly defeated, which forced the retreat
of the British fleet from the coastal South Carolina area.
Civil War, the first naval submarine, the Confederate Army’s secret
weapon the CSS Hunley, sailed out of Breach Inlet to attack
and sink the US Frigate warship The Houstonic. It managed to
accomplish this feat, but unfortunately the Hunley sank and its crew
was lost at sea trying to return to their home port at Breach Inlet,
which separates The Isle of Palms from Sullivan’s Island. In 2000,
The Hunley was discovered intact off of Sullivan's Island and after
complete examination and restoration will be exhibited to the
in the 19th century the islands remained relatively unpopulated
without any permanent residents, but soon due to its gentle ocean
breezes and beautiful pristine beaches, the islands became
recognized by Charlestonians as an area of retreat and relaxation
from the hot summer heat, humidity and insects.
In 1899, the
area called Hunting Island or Long Island was purchased by J.S.
Lawrence, who renamed it the Isle of Palms. In 1906, a 50 room
resort hotel was constructed to offer the first permanent
accommodations for guests. The Hotel Seashore served dinner, with
the trolley bringing and returning visitors to the mainland. Another
popular attraction bringing visitors to the islands was automobile
racing on the beach, which was outlawed in 1953. Automobile
enthusiasts found the smooth and wide sandy beaches to be the
perfect racetrack for testing and racing the new "horseless
carriages," the automobile.
James Sottile built a large oceanfront beach pavilion and amusement
park with a Ferris wheel. His spacious beach pavilion featured
private dining rooms on the second floor, a 400-foot dance hall with
high ceilings, a spacious smooth dance floor and windows that opened
to the sea on three sides.
amusement park thrilled visitors with the "Steeple Chase" race and a
Merry-Go-Round. Its enormous Ferris wheel was visible, on a clear
day, from the south end of High Battery, over 15 miles away in
downtown Charleston. The Ferris wheel was originally built for the
Chicago World's Fair in 1892, and also used by the Cotton Congress
in Atlanta as well as Coney Island in New York before coming to The
Isle of Palms.
and 1928, a ferry was established to enable the residents of
Charleston to travel to Mt. Pleasant, and from there catch a rail
trolley to Sullivan's Island and the Isle of Palms. The trolleys
were horse-drawn carriages that crossed Sullivan's Island on wooden
rails in the sand.
War I, The Isle of Palms fell into financial difficulty; on February
20th 1924 the county sheriff seized the ferryboats in compliance
with a court order. In 1926, the trolley trestle over Breach Inlet
was converted into a bridge, to allow the first automobiles to cross
from Sullivan's Island to Isle of Palms. In 1929, the Grace Memorial
Bridge replaced the Charleston harbor ferry. A bridge connecting the
islands was constructed in 1946.
S. Lawrence, a prominent Charleston physician of the time dubbed the
area the "Isle of Palms" to attract tourists, and active development
took off. On August 5th 1913, the Isle of Palms Post Office was
opened in Hudson's Pavilion.
In 1938, the
Inlet Inn Restaurant at Breach Inlet was open for business. One of
only two island restaurants, it was owned and operated by Nell and
Griffin Bunch for two years. Later, the restaurant was purchased by
one of the island's future mayors, Carmen Bunch, and her husband,
12, 1944, J.C. Long, a prominent Charleston attorney and founder of
The Beach Company bought approximately 1,300 acres of the island
from Hardaway Contracting Company and began extensive local
improvements. Roads were built, water and trash collection were made
available and island construction began. Approximately five years
later, the small summer resort island of 100 homes had grown into a
community of 375 homes, with approximately 250 residents occupying
the island year-round. Originally a large portion of the Isle of
Palms that was purchased by Mr. Long was developed to provide
low-cost housing to soldiers returning from serving in World War II.
with the completion of the Ben Sawyer Bridge from Mount Pleasant to
Sullivan's Island was opened to automobiles. In 1946, the Surf Deck
opened on the front beach and offered dancing, bathhouses, beer and
refreshments. Sun bathing and night parties were also popular with
the tourists and locals alike.
1951, the South Carolina Aeronautical Commission completed the
construction of the Isle of Palms airport. The 135 foot by 1,800
foot long airstrip was located on the banks of the Inland Waterway,
and had a crushed oyster shell surface to extend the length of the
voters filed into the island's Exchange Club, and with 121 in favor
and 68 opposing, made the move to incorporate. The City of Isle of
Palms was born on January 13, and Walter I. Chapman, Jr. became its
real estate development grew and Finch Properties purchased a
1,600-acre site on the northeastern tip of the island. In 1975,
Charles Frazier, founder of The Sea Pines Co., one of the major
developers of Hilton Head Island, established a similar resort on
approximately 900 acres at the northeast end of the island. In 1985
the resort bought the island airstrip and converted it into a
fairway for its golf course. Originally called The Isle of Palms
Beach and Racquet Club, in 1984 it was renamed The Wild Dunes Beach
and Racquet Club and today is called Wild Dunes.
negotiation began to construct the new Isle of Palms Connector, when
local, federal and state agencies met to discuss improving traffic
service to the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island. It was completed
and opened to the public in 1993.
The Isle of
Palms soon became an excellent beach community of residential homes
and businesses which still cater to the tourist who visit and
vacation on the pristine sandy white beaches, miles of the
Intercoastal Waterway, natural inlets, excellent golf courses, a
marina and other island amenities.
22, 1989 Hurricane Hugo, a class 4 hurricane, slammed into
Charleston and the South Carolina coast. More than 95 percent of the
buildings and houses on the island were damaged or destroyed, and
the Charleston area sustained over $100 million in damages. The
island recovered from Hugo, has since rebuilt and today is more
beautiful than before the hurricane.
The Isle of
Palms and Sullivan’s Island has grown steadily since their early
days as hunting and fishing areas for the Sewee Indians. Today the
islands boast about their thriving community of over 4,500 full time
island residents that enjoy the islands all year round. With its
internationally acclaimed golf courses, hotels, condo’s,
restaurants, nightclubs, marina and excellent island resort
amenities, Wild Dunes and the Isle of Palms has become a major
vacation destination for people from all over the world.