Home. Sweet. (Hilton Head) Home.

hilton head great community bruce tuttle

What’s so great about Hilton Head Island?
It’s more than just a world renowned vacation destination!

I’ve watched Hilton Head grow now for over 50 years, and it never ceases to amaze me how little visitors vacationing here know about the island. Well, for the most part they at least know it’s an island. Rarely do they realize how big the island is at 40 square miles and a year round population of 40,000 residents. They know there’s a beach (12 miles of Atlantic Ocean shoreline) maybe a few golf courses (21 on island) and of course a few places to eat (over 250 restaurants). So, it’s just like any other beach vacation destination.

Well, that is not that case at all. Hilton Head Island is a thriving community that many people call home. They raise their families here, they work here, they go to church here, they retire here, they have memories here. One of the things I love so much about the island is there is always something to do. The best way to describe Hilton Head is that it is a “Big” little town, or a “Little” big town. There is so much more going on here then your typical town of 40,000 residents. Let’s look at the ways:

Town of Hilton Head Island

Town of Hilton Head Island SCHilton Head Island was incorporated into a township in 1983 and elected their first Mayor and Town Council. They then enacted a strict land management ordinance which prohibited billboard advertising, neon lights, buildings taller than the treelines, strict building codes and commercial setbacks with natural vegetation buffers. I joke with first time residents that they’ll drive by WalMart before they even see it. No golden arches in front of McDonald’s, no “Sleep Cheap” on the Red Roof Inn sign. The term for the aesthetics that surrounds our neighborhoods is “the island look”.

Public & Private Schools

Hilton Head Island SC High SchoolAs Hilton Head grew during the ’60s and ’70s, young families moved to the island to fill positions needed for the new resort developments. With young families come young children. What to do? With only one small public elementary school on the island, the closest middle school and high school was in Bluffton.

Charles Fraser, founder of Sea Pines Plantation, stepped forward and created the Sea Pines Academy. By 1972, they offered grades 1-12 and were located on a 15 acre campus 2 blocks from the ocean. Being a private school, the enrollment was limited.

By the 1980’s, it was time Beaufort County to step forward and build public schools on the island. Today, you have a wonderful mid island campus offering an elementary school, middle school, and high school. Back in the 1980s, Sea Pines Academy merged with the May River Academy in Bluffton to form Hilton Head Prep. The island is growing up!

Hospital & Medical Services

Hilton Head Hospital 1975

Hilton Head has come a long way since the early years. It was a long drive to Savannah or Beaufort for any type of severe medical emergency, let alone a mother having a baby. The first walk in medical care facility opened on Pope Avenue from a group of retired doctors who got together to fill the need. Then, after years in the planning along with the drive and inspiration of Dr. Peter LaMotte, the first 40 bed hospital opened on the island in 1975. Numerous benefits, charities, and auctions were needed to fund this facility.

My grandmother donated her old antique hickory shafted golf clubs that auctioned off for $1200 that went to this first hospital. Today, Hilton Head Regional Healthcare is a thriving medical complex servicing Hardeeville, Bluffton, Okatie, as well as the island. You also have numerous emergency out patient health care clinics located island wide. Whether you are down on vacation or a full time island resident, your health and well being is a priority here.

Cultural Arts & Local Events

Arts Center of Coastal Carolina Hilton Head Island SCYou could almost describe Sea Pines as an art colony in the early years as many young artists moved to the island to hone their craft. Names like Walter Greer, Ray Ellis, Joe Bowler, Walter Palmer and Coby Whitmore to name a few, as well as an historical novelist by the name of John Jakes who would see some of his best writings completed on the island.

Soon thereafter, again through a groundswell of local support, the first Community Playhouse opened on the island. My grandmother was a founding angel who contributed to help open the playhouse. Thus, she always had season tickets. I remember escorting her to local plays and musicals like “Oklahoma”, “The Music Man”, and “Wait until dark”. Over time, and as the island grew, a larger venue was called for and through this came the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.

What about outdoor events?

There is never a week that goes by that there is not something going on somewhere on the island. Outdoor concert here, PGA golf tournament there, even fund raisers are can be big attractions. And I do mean “big.”

When the Hilton Head High School built their football stadium back in the late 80s, to help pay for the facility they had outdoor concerts before the first kickoff. Not just any old concert, we’re talking Beach Boys and Jimmy Buffett.

It didn’t used to be that way. Life was pretty quiet on the island, usually from September through March. The local Chamber of Commerce came up with an idea in 1982, and out of this evolved the first Hilton Head Island Springfest. Local food fairs, concerts, and events to attract tourists to the island to help kick off the season.

As years went by, the term “fest” was added on to any event that was looking to attract patrons. Some of these being “Wingfest”, “Ribfest”, “Winefest”, “Seafoodfest”, and so on. One of the great benefactors of these local “fests” has been the Island Recreation Center, a fabulous state-of-the-art facility that offers a broad spectrum of events and activities catering to all ages.

There is so much happening here on Hilton Head Island that there isn’t enough time or space to cover everything. What best describes our little piece of paradise the best is the Island Recreation Center’s slogan: “We Build Community.”

Yes, they do, as do all the others who work hard to make Hilton Head a better place to live.