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City of Isle of Palms

Island History

City Hall 1955Originally 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.

Playground AuxilliaryThe 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.

MarshIn 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.