It is pretty safe to say that there would be no Hilton Head Island as we know it today if there had never been a Sea Pines Plantation. Charles Fraser set the standard for Planned Unit Developments (PUD’s) that would be followed for years and decades to come. He first learned about the new concept of PUD’s while at Yale Law School, and he dreamed of one day putting these concepts to the test.
First, Charles needed the land to put his ideas to work.
Sea Pines’ first settlers
That land would come from a fairly unknown 48-square-mile island off the South Carolina coast not far from Savannah, GA.
First chartered in 1663 by a young Capt. William Hilton sailing the coastline on his ship Adventure in search of new land for English planters from Barbados. Of course, with English exploration of the area pretty much guaranteed that this land belonged to England and King Charles. Soon the lands of Carolina (North and South) were established, with ownership being bequeathed to 8 Lords Proprietors. These Lords Proprietors can be recognized to this day in county and area names such as Colleton, Clarendon, Berkeley, Carteret, Ashley, and Craven.
Settlements soon followed, and in 1717 the first documented land owner on Hilton Head was John Barnwell who was granted 500 acres on the NW corner of the island. Over the years, more lands were acquired. Mostly from wealthy plantation owners from Savannah, Beaufort, and Charleston. One new land owner did not fit that same mold.
In 1776 Capt. John Stoney purchased the 1100 acre parcel known as Braddocks Point Plantation on the southern tip of the island. Capt. Stoney and his ship “Saucy Jack” was part of the newly formed Colonial Navy that was to fight in the Revolutionary War. Naval Captain, or privateer, Capt. Stoney acquired a great deal of wealth that allowed him to become a successful land owner. After the war, Capt. Stoney went on to construct a great house on his new plantation. Over time, his lands were acquired by a neighboring land owner, William Baynard. To this day, the ruins of the plantation house can still be viewed. These lands are what were to become Sea Pines Plantation.
Creating the country’s first green community
Fast forward to 1950 when a group of lumbermen from Hinesville, GA formed what would become the Hilton Head Company and purchased the southern part of Hilton Head Island. One of these lumbermen was General J. B. Fraser, father of Charles Fraser. Charles now had the land to make his development dreams come true. Over the years, Charles had been studying, interviewing, and making notes of how his dream development would take shape.
Sea Pines Plantation would become that development.
Strict land use and architectural covenants would be the basis of his development. Trees could not be cut down unnecessarily. Homes had to be built with either a wood or stucco siding and using natural earth tone colors. Mailboxes would all be the same style and would all be green. Even “Stop” signs were green and white. In other words, Charles Fraser was “green” before the term ever became common years later.
Innovative ideas created by Fraser for future developments were the famous “T” street cul de sacs along the ocean, building golf courses to sell the real estate around them, and of course the natural green open space environment surrounding it all. What other developers would leave a 650-acre forest preserve untouched to keep and maintain for its natural beauty?
The template for future island growth
While it’s true that Hilton Head Island would not be what it is today without Sea Pines Plantation, it’s also true that Sea Pines would not be what it is today without the help of one other man besides Charles Fraser. That man is Arnold Palmer, the winner of the first Heritage Golf Tournament in 1969. Arnold Palmer was the “King” of the professional golf world, and when he won that first tournament Hilton Head Island made the headlines of every major news publication nationwide.
You couldn’t have written a better script.
I’ve watched the island grow for more than 50 years. The newer island gated communities have followed the same guidelines as Sea Pines with similar strict covenants. Even the Town of Hilton Head Island, first incorporated in 1983, used the original Sea Pines covenants to help in formulating the Land Management Ordinance that has been used to this day to make Hilton Head what it is today.
A great place to visit, and an even better place to call home.