I'm a big believer in learning...all the time. On this beautiful Island I have been fortunate to meet a few very colorful characters that have resided here since the 1960's. They are a wealth of knowledge about the history of the island as well as some fantastic stories of times gone by.
By far, my favorite "original resident" is Miss Diann Wilkinson. A feature writer for the local newspaper decades ago, covering many of the social stories in the area, I find I can sit for hours as she tells stories that are so alive I feel like I can touch them.
I borrow from her blog frequently as it gives my buyers a great perspective of the island that a rare few people can offer today. Enjoy.
In December, Hilton Head Island's Forests are Decorated for Christmas by Diann Wilkinson
In Hilton Head Plantation at the Old Fort Pub, it is quiet in the evening along Skull Creek as dusk approaches. If you listen carefully, you might hear echoes of cannon fire from the historic Fort Mitchell Civil War shore battery site adjacent to the restaurant. The echoes linger over the marshes where diners, serious about creative cuisine, choose to go.
For one party in a private room, a fully decorated Christmas tree glittered, surrounded by fairy lights. Guests watched a spectacular sunset over Skull Creek as trays of hors d'oeuvres were passed. The menu included Butternut Squash Soup, Pan-seared Salmon Spoons with Saffron Risotto, Apple Cider Pork Medallions with Crispy Potato Galettes, Margret Duck Breast with Sugar Plum on Pumpkin Pancakes, Naked Roasted Brie with Apricot Chili Glaze and Beef Tenderloin Forks with Fois Gras Whipped Potatoes. Braised Peaches with Chambord accented with Vanilla Tapioca was featured for dessert.
When you live on Hilton Head, you live with history. Not far from Fort Mitchell, in Port Royal Plantation, Fort Walker was built during the Civil War. It was built by Confederate soldiers but was captured by Union troops and became a city of over 50,000 Union soldiers. The ruins of a large cannon site are still there, overlooking Port Royal Sound.
After the Civil War, Northern money poured into Southern land. Money has always found the Hilton Head area. Hilton Head Plantation and Honey Horn Plantation were bought by friends Landon Thorne and Alfred Loomis in 1931, consisting of eleven thousand acres. Adding to the acreage over time, they eventually owned some 20,000 acres or 80% of the island. The eighteen hundred acre Fort Walker site was part of this, purchased from the government for $12,500.00. They came to the island for a month or so each year to hunt, both families staying in the main house at Honey Horn after adding a number of rooms.
The grandeur of their shoots (duck, quail, venison and fresh oysters on the half-shell were favorites) and dinners have been well documented in various publications. Black men in livery, white linen tablecloths with china and silver place settings set the tone for the elaborate dinners.
Thorne and Loomis had permanent residences in New York state. Landon Thorne had Thornham, a 230-acre estate on the Great South Bay in Bay Shore, Long Island, purchased in 1928. There, a 30-room Tudor mansion was surrounded by masterpiece gardens, fields for pheasant hunting, a croquet court, indoor tennis court, indoor and outdoor swimming pools. In 1930, he bought a fifteen-room simplex at 740 Park in New York City which came to be known as the richest building in the world. There were a number of homes, yachts, Bentleys, even Romanov emeralds to wear to splendid parties they hosted. Loomis also had an apartment at 740 Park. They eventually sold their Hilton Head land in 1950 and 1951. The south end of eighty-four hundred acres sold to timbermen from Georgia for $450,000 in 1950. The buyers were Fred C. Hack, General Joseph B. Fraser and C.C. Stebbins. In 1951, Hack, Stebbins and Olin T. McIntosh purchased the remaining eleven thousand acres from Thorne and Loomis for $600,000. Several years ago, the Town of Hilton Head paid $7 million dollars for the Honey Horn property.
By the early 1950's, General Fraser's son Charles had Sea Pines Plantation on the drawing board, assisted by the finest land planner in the country, Hideo Sasaki, chairman of Harvard University's landscape architecture department. From these careful beginnings and great respect for the land, Charles Fraser developed one of the most notable resort communities in the United States.
In the nearby Ridgeland area, a twenty thousand acre parcel was the setting for one of many hunt clubs in the south, the Chelsea Plantation Club. Thirteen thousand acres of this land was sold to one of the richest men in the country, Marshall Field, of New York. His permanent residence was on Long Island, New York's North Shore. It was a $6 million dollar replica of a family home in England. There was a private hunting preserve, a golf course, an air strip, a polo field, a private beach, tennis courts and a staff of eighty-five. (In 1943, his grandson Marshall Field, III turned fifty and inherited the remainder of his grandfather's fortune, $75 million dollars).
Chelsea Plantation became known for its hunting parties. Before a quail shoot, the extensive lawns at the rear of the regency-designed faded white brick manse (a special silicone paint was used on the exterior to produce the "look") were seeded with winter rye and tons of white sand poured on meandering paths that led out to the nearby river. When houseguests arrived for a shoot, the quail were let out of cages and driven over a velvet lawn of green toward the rear of the house where the hunters stood, waiting.
Real estate sales have continued to be strong on Hilton Head Island, especially now as the end of the year approaches. There has been a scramble for properties with buyers wanting to close on a purchase before the end of the year in order to obtain a better price from a seller before a possible tax increase goes into effect. This has created many multiple offers, an increase in the sale of lots as well as many large home sales. A 2.5 acre estate lot that I mentioned in the November blog, is under contract, to close before the end of the year. The buyer doesn't plan to build for about four more years. Villa sales are up almost 20%; home sales prices are increasing. Home prices in many states rose 6.3 percent in October compared with a year ago, the largest yearly gain since July 2006. As inventory clears out, we expect more price increases. The Wall Street Journal has published three articles recently calling this the time to buy!
We've seen some serious money come to our shores through the years. Northern money continues to pour into Southern land, as does money from all over the country, Europe and other countries. People breathe the same soft, salty rarefied air that the very rich have breathed and enjoy a lot of the same things. Most of the dirt roads have been paved now and the island is a little more crowded but property owners and visitors alike share the same admiration for the natural beauty of the Lowcountry and the same respect for the land.
Make your holidays bright and plan a visit to beautiful Hilton Head Island and take a step back into history. Have a happy and healthy 2013!