S. Carolina: Hilton Head Island, alligators, and Beaufort

March 24, 2014

Our plan for today was to spend the day in Savannah and take the Old Town Trolley historical tour. However, after meeting the resort’s concierge, Carl, we put it off for one day to save money! Carl told us that if we attended a presentation the next morning, about a new resort that has just been built on the island, we could get free tickets for the trolley tour. I normally hate attending such presentations because they always pressure you to buy into something you regret later, but Carl assured us that there was no pressure, it was strictly “soft sell”. Since the tickets would cost us $28 each, we decided it was worth it.

Hilton Head Island

Map of Hilton Head Island
Map of Hilton Head Island

We went to The Diner for breakfast because it was the first place we came to while driving toward the “toe” of the island and since it was after 10 by this time, we were very hungry. It was rather kitschy and the food mediocre. All the waitresses had black hair pinned up and wore Hawaiian shirts – meant to look Polynesian, I guess. There must have been a hiring requirement to have dark skin and black hair, and to have the body type (somewhat plump) of Polynesian women, because every single waitress looked like that! I had a spinach and feta omelet with hash brown potatoes and toast. Tam, who doesn’t normally eat breakfast, had yoghurt with granola, and of course, her requisite caffeine of choice, Diet Coke. Dale had pancakes and eggs, and he ordered coffee which was weak American style. I ordered a small orange juice and understood that I would probably have to forgo coffee today.

Afterward, we headed to Harbour Town on the “toe” of the island, because there is a well-known golf course there, where they often hold tournaments. We had to pay $5.00 at a security gate for the ‘privilege’ of entering that somewhat exclusive part of the island, consisting of Harbour Town and Sea Pines Plantation. It was hard to find a parking space in the area near the lighthouse, but Dale managed to squeeze into a tight angled spot between two other cars that weren’t parked very carefully.

The lighthouse had seemed really interesting, but it in fact turned out to be rather small compared to the ones we were used to and imagined, the large lighthouses that dot the Northeast and the Great Lakes. There was a museum inside, which you could see as you ascended the 100 stairs to the top of the lighthouse, but it cost money to get in, and a lighthouse ‘historical’ museum didn’t attract me, seeing as it was built in 1969. (That was during my lifetime – that’s not history!!)

View of lighthouse and circular marina, Harbor Town, HHI
View of lighthouse and circular marina, Harbor Town, HHI

Instead we went out onto the marina, a semi-circular walkway flanked by restaurants and shops. On the marina were several yachts, but it is still early in the year and it’s been rather cool, so there were still many empty spaces.

yachts in Harbour Town, Hilton Head Island
yachts in Harbour Town, Hilton Head Island

There was one huge yacht with a heliport on top, as well as a  motorboat stored on the upper deck and a pair of Jetskis.

This yacht is fully equipped with water sports equipment: a small motor/fishing boat, Jetskis, also a heliport!
This yacht is fully equipped with water sports equipment: a small motor/fishing boat, Jetskis, also a heliport!
This sculpture of a boy was very lifelike.
This sculpture of a boy was very lifelike.

We walked all the way around the marina until we reached the golf course. Harbour Town Golf Course is preparing for a professional golf tournament in late April. They had already erected bleachers for spectators. A golf cart was sitting there, and Dale saw that there were several score cards stashed in it, so he took a couple as souvenirs.

We walked onto the 18th green, where Dale posed for pictures next to the hole. There was a scenic marshy beach bordering the golf course.

Dale at the 18th hole!
Dale at the 18th hole!

?????????????????????????????We were told by a group of men who were talking about the tournament, how to get to the Pro Shop, temporarily housed in a trailer. So we wandered into the Sea Pines resort area, where we saw something quite unexpected: an African-American Gullah cemetery!

Braddock's Point African-American Cemetery is located among the condo buildings at Sea Pines resort!
Braddock’s Point African-American Cemetery is located among the condo buildings at Sea Pines resort!

We walked among the graves of the small cemetery and read some of the gravestones. Many had been lettered by hand.

Some of the gravestones were hand carved like this one.I'm not sure why the plate was inset in this gravestone.

Gullah cemetery

DSCN8423

Finally we found the pro shop where Dale bought a cap with the golf course’s name on it. He frequently does this when we visit golf courses. From there, we circled around until we found the road into the resort again, and our car.

Alligators!

On our way to Beaufort, as we were driving past swamps and marshes, our daughter said, “I just saw an alligator!”

“Where?” I asked.

“Right along the bank,” she said.

I craned my neck but it was too late.

A few minutes later she announced that she saw another one. I whined in frustration for having missed it. She contended that it was because she was looking out the window, instead of having her head buried in a book, as I was. Perhaps, but I’m notoriously bad at observing things quickly anyway, so I doubt if I would have seen them. However, after that, I stopped reading and looked out the window, scanning dry land for alligators as the scenery whizzed by us.

View from car window as we drove across intracoastal waters.
View from car window as we drove across intracoastal waters.

Alligators, our daughter told us, are very different from their cousins, the crocodiles. While crocodiles can be aggressive and dangerous, alligators are actually rather mellow creatures who would much rather sun themselves on an outcrop of their marshland home than to wrestle with humans – which is why it is possible to see people wrestling with alligators! Have you ever seen crocodile wrestling? The point is that alligators pose little or no threat to humans.

Beaufort, SC

Beaufort is the second oldest city in South Carolina, located in the “Lowcountry” along the Intracoastal Waterway north of Hilton Head Island. The official visitors’ guide we received includes in their description, “Antebellum mansions stand proudly like the wealthy cotton barons who once called them home.” There is also evidence of Gullah culture, if you are looking for it. (The Gullah people were escaped or freed slaves who made their way onto the islands off the South Carolina coast, where they established their own communities. Being fairly isolated, they developed their own culture, still alive today, including cuisine and crafts that common to find in this area.)

Using the map in the center of our guidebook, we mostly looked at several of the beautiful historic homes. None of them offer tours – at least none that I knew of – but are interesting nonetheless.

The first home we saw was on Bay Street which runs along the waterfront. It was the Maxcy-Rhett house, or the “Secession House,” for it was here that pro-secession talks were held in the late 1850s.DSCN8430

Also along Bay Street, we looked at:

John A. Cuthbert House, c. 1810; Victorian elements added later. Now a Bed & Breakfast, Cuthbert House Inn.
John A. Cuthbert House, c. 1810; Victorian elements added later. Now a Bed & Breakfast, Cuthbert House Inn.
Thomas Fuller House (c. 1805)
Thomas Fuller House (c. 1805) “Tabby Manse” used as a boarding house for more than 100 years.
Thomas Fuller House (c. 1805) "Tabby Manse" used as a boarding house for more than 100 years.
Thomas Fuller House (c. 1805) “Tabby Manse” used as a boarding house for more than 100 years.

I looked up “Tabby” on an online dictionary, because the only definition I knew for tabby is a type of cat! The online dictionary gave a more fitting definition: a southeastern term “referring to a building material composed of ground oyster shells, lime, and sand, mixed with salt water.”

We walked along Waterfront Park’s shore, away from the parking lot and crowds, and admired the view of marshy waters and trees draped with Spanish moss. The ground was covered with little fallen leaves. I wondered about that. We would see that everywhere we went.DSCN8438

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????As I was staring out onto the water, looking for any outcrop or solid ground where alligators might be, Dale called out, “Look!”
He was pointing upward.

Was it an eagle? No, probably a hawk. It landed in a nearby tree; Dale and I soon had our camera lenses pointing up into the tree.

There's a hawk in this tree, almost camouflaged by the Spanish moss! He's sitting on the branch halfway up on the right.
There’s a hawk in this tree, almost camouflaged by the Spanish moss! He’s sitting on the branch halfway up on the right.

Looking at the map, the other houses of interest to us were a few blocks away – a great walk, for me, but Tam didn’t want to walk it in the shoes she was wearing. So we drove to one of the locations in order to park on the street.
We stopped at the First African Baptist Church and parked across the street. I tried the door, but it was locked and I could barely see anything when I peeked in a side window. The church was built by local Baptists for its African American members and has been in continuous use since 1865. Its most prominent member was Robert Smalls, Civil War hero, statesman and U.S. Congressman. He was born, in 1839, into slavery, but as a young man, learned the skills to pilot a ship and became a sea captain. In 1862 he commandeered the Confederate ship Planter to freedom beyond Federal lines north of Ft. Sumter, freeing himself, his family and the families of three other slaves who worked on the ship, during the night when the white crew was ashore asleep.

First African Baptist Church (c. 1865). Built by the Baptists of Beautfort for its African American members and in continuous use since the 1860s.
First African Baptist Church (c. 1865). Built by the Baptists of Beautfort for its African American members and in continuous use since the 1860s.

From there we walked east on King Street. Just down the street from the church was the William Wigg Barnwell House, which was moved to its current location in 1963. It was restored by Jim Williams, whose story is told in the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. This was of interest to both Tam and me because we had read the book. In fact, she’d given me the book to read about a month before, because it is about Savannah and some of the interesting and eccentric people that live there.

DSCN8446

On the lawn of one of the houses, we saw a calico cat and called to her. She came right over, jumped onto a low brick wall, and enjoyed us petting her. We saw her again later on our way back, and she purred as we petted her some more!

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Other historical houses of interest:

The Berners Barnwell Sams House (c. 1852), with only remaining slave dependencies (second picture), which are now apartments.

Berners Barnwell Sams House (c. 1852)

Elixabeth Hext House (c. 1805-1825) "Riverview" boasts varied flower gardens and a large kumquat tree (at left)
Elixabeth Hext House (c. 1805-1825) “Riverview” boasts varied flower gardens and a large kumquat tree (at left)

Our guidebook said that this was the James Robert Verdier House (c. 1814) on Pinckney Street.

(1850) Dr. John Johnson and his wife, Claudia Talbird, are thought to have built this three-story house in the 1850s. The house was still owned by Dr. Johnson at the opening of the Civil War and was used during the war as a part of Union Hospital #3.
(1850) Dr. John Johnson and his wife, Claudia Talbird, are thought to have built this three-story house in the 1850s. The house was still owned by Dr. Johnson at the opening of the Civil War and was used during the war as a part of Union Hospital #3.

However, my picture is a perfect match for another house that I looked up via Google. According to the web site it is the John Archibald Johnson House at 804 Pinckney St., and says that Dr. John Johnson and his wife, Claudia Talbird, are thought to have built this three-story house in the 1850s. The house was still owned by Dr. Johnson at the opening of the Civil War and was used during the war as a part of Union Hospital #3.

However, when I took the picture above, I thought it was “Tidalholm” – The Edgar Fripp House (c. 1853), which was featured in the movies The Big Chill and The Great Santini. It doesn’t really matter though – I never saw Santini and I saw The Big Chill so long ago that I don’t remember much about it.

After leaving Beaufort, we headed to Savannah for the evening, continued in another post.

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