Isle of Palms History

Explore the past and the present

Isle of Palms History


The Jewel of South Carolina's Lowcountry.



Originally named Hunting Island and then Long Island, it's thought to be at least 25,000 years old, and first inhabited by the indigenous Seewee Indians. The Seewees were said to have greeted the first English settlers to the area by swimming to the ships and carrying the travelers to shore. Whatever contributions the English made to the Seewees reportedly inspired some of them to try and reach England in their canoes-all lost at sea in storms.

Legend has it that the only other occupants of the island were the pirates who buried their treasures for safekeeping in the deserted dunes and woods, although none has been found so far.

During the Revolutionary War a British Army contingent of 2,500 men attempted to raid a colonial encampment on adjacent Sullivan's Island. Many men drowned and the attack failed when the force attempted to cross the treacherous waters of the Breach Inlet between the two islands. The area was of significance again during the Civil War, as a point of departure for the CSS Hunley, the first submarine to sink an enemy vessel. After successfully sinking the USS Housatonic, the Hunley and her crew were lost at sea, probably as a result of the encounter with the Union ship. Amazingly, the wreck of the Hunley was recently discovered offshore of Sullivan's Island, and will soon be recovered for posterity.

The island remained without permanent inhabitants until the late 19th century when the island became recognized by locals of the area as a refuge from the summer heat and tempo of Charleston. The island was purchased in 1899 by J.S. Lawrence, who renamed it the Isle of Palms. In 1906 a 50 room resort hotel was built to offer the first permanent accommodations. By 1912, James Sottile constructed a spacious beach pavilion and an amusement park with Ferris wheel. Accompanying transportation developments enabled residents of Charleston to catch a ferry to Mt. Pleasant, and from there catch a rail trolley car to Sullivan's Island and the Isle of Palms. Access became even easier in 1929 when the ferry across the Charleston harbor was replaced by the Grace Memorial Bridge. A bridge link to the islands was established in 1946, and at that time most of the Isle of Palms was purchased by developer J.C. Long of The Beach Company.

As he began development, J.C. Long provided low-cost housing to veterans returning from World War II. The Isle of Palms slowly developed into a residential bedroom community of greater Charleston while still maintaining its charm, natural beauty, and desirability as a summertime getaway destination.

In the 1970's the rest of the world discovered the joys of the Isle of Palms, and real estate development blossomed. In 1975, the Sea Pines Co., one of the major developers of now renown Hilton Head Island, established a similar resort enterprise on 900 acres of land at the northeast end of the island. Originally named The Isle of Palms Beach and Racquet Club it was renamed The Wild Dunes Beach and Racquet Club in 1984 and today is simply called Wild Dunes. With nationally recognized golf courses and other resort amenities, Wild Dunes has become a major vacation locale on the South Carolina coast.

In spite of the changes wrought over the last 20 years, with its six miles of white, sandy beaches, the Isle of Palms remains as much a place of beautiful serenity for residents and visitors today, as it was for the Seewee Indians and the colonists who followed.
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Historical Places of Interest

United States Coast Guard Historic District

1815 Ion Ave, Sullivan's Island, SC 29482

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site

1254 Long Point Rd, Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
(843) 881-5516
Remnants of a 1700s plantation, with indoor & outdoor exhibits on Charles Pinckney's life & times.

Fort Sumter National Monument

South Carolina 29412
(843) 883-3123
Accessed by boat, this fort with ruins, gun emplacements & a museum saw the Civil War's first shots.

Mount Pleasant Historic District

Mt Pleasant, SC 29464

Castle Pinckney

Mt Pleasant, SC 29464
Set on an overgrown island, these ruins represent a small 1810 fortification used in the Civil War.

Secessionville Historic District

Charleston, SC 29412
Set on an overgrown island, these ruins represent a small 1810 fortification used in the Civil War.

Nathaniel Russell House

51 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 724-8481
Ornate, circa-1808 home known for its "free-flying" 3-story spiral staircase, with guided tours.

Governor Thomas Bennett House

69 Barre St, Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 789-1780
Historical home with period antiques and guided tours.

Middleton Place

4300 Ashley River Rd, Charleston, SC 29414
(843) 556-6020
Sprawling Ashley River rice plantation dating to the 1730s, with gardens and refined lodging.

Farmers' and Exchange Bank

141 E Bay St, Charleston, SC 29401

Simmons-Edwards House

14 Legare St, Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 577-9985

Old Marine Hospital (Charleston)

20 Franklin St, Charleston, SC 29401

Miles Brewton House

27 King St, Charleston, SC 29401

Battery Logan

Fort Moultrie, Poe Ave, Sullivan's Island, SC 29482

Morris Island Lighthouse

Folly Beach, SC 20412
(843) 270-4464
Towering, red-&-white offshore lighthouse, rebuilt in the 19th century and accessible by boat.

South Carolina Historical Society

100 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 723-3225
Private library housing historical state photos & documents, with a Colonial & antebellum focus.

Historic Charleston City Market

188 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401
(843) 937-0920
4-block city market over 200 years old, with vendors of food, art & crafts like sweetgrass baskets.

McLeod Plantation Historic Site

325 Country Club Dr, Charleston, SC 29412
(843) 762-9514
Preserved historical plantation with a Georgian-style mansion, slave cabins & interpretive tours.

Fort Moultrie

1214 Middle St, Sullivan's Island, SC 29482
(843) 883-3123
This historic military site, in use from 1776–1947, has artifacts & harbor and Fort Sumter views.

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Isle of Palms and Coastal SC Golf Courses and Online Tee Times

Book Your Isle of Palms & Coastal SC Golf Tee Times Online

You can now save money and easily book your tee times at local Isle of Palms & Coastal SC golf courses right here on IsleofPalmsExplorer.com. Featuring golf courses on Isle of Palms, Charleston, and Coastal SC golf courses and country clubs.
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Kayaking & Canoeing on Isle of Palms

Kayaking & Canoeing on Isle of Palms

Exploring the natural splendor and marsh wetlands of Isle of Palms is the best way to take in all the unspoiled beauty that South Carolina's lowcountry has to offer. Take a guided kayak tour of the local salt marsh and inland waterways. Rent a canoe or pedalboat and enjoy fishing or a relaxing paddle. Learn about SC's coastal ecosystems and wildlife as you explore the Isle of Palms beaches and marshlands. View Isle of Palms Outfitters »



Isle of Palms Restaurants

Isle of Palms Restaurants

We've compiled this comprehensive directory to help you find the right restaurant to whet your appetite, including options for casual dining, local seafood, Southern Cuisine, Asian, French & Mediterranean and everything in between.
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Map of Isle of Palms & Charleston Historical Places of Interest