History Of Sea Pines

Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and Calibogue Sound, Sea Pines occupies more than 5,000 acres of Hilton Head Island, with sweeping vistas of sea marshes, five miles of beach and maritime forests with palmettos, pines and live oak trees. It is home to 30 species of mammals, 133 types of birds, 11 fish, 37 reptiles, 20 amphibians and various other creatures.Whether or not all these creatures and foliage would still be in existence without the vision of Charles Fraser is hard to say. However, had it not been for the man who 50 years ago was able to see the forest for the trees, many of them might not be thriving as well as they are today.

Charles Fraser

Fraser was a man who clearly saw the forest for the trees. Realizing the land’s potential uses other than for timber and private hunting preserves, Fraser began his quest to figure out how to develop and improve the land for human enjoyment while preserving its natural beauty, without disturbing the delicate balance between the environment and its inhabitants. In order to accomplish this, Fraser spent months traveling the East Coast gathering information by observing communities and talking with citizens. He wanted to know what they would do differently in their communities and towns if they could start all over and begin with a clean, unspoiled slate. Fraser believed that his concept could only be implemented if the developer controlled every aspect of planning, from street locations to the design of individual houses. He founded the Sea Pines Company in 1956 with that thought in mind.

Landscape architect Hideo Sasaki created the master plan for Sea Pines and development began with extraordinary care, guarded by land-use covenants. Then as now, to build a home in Sea Pines required adherence to stringent Architectural Review Board standards that put a premium on environmental preservation and conformance. In other words, trees are more often built around then built over.

Live Oak Specimen Tree

Approximately one-fourth of the land was dedicated to open space, including the 605 acre Sea Pines Forest Preserve, a tract of land that was specifically set aside as part of the grand scheme to preserve and conserve the natural beauty and wildlife inhabitants of the Lowcountry area. Unlike other beach-side communities, there was to be no front row/second row situation. The trees were not to be felled and the land stripped before construction began for residential property. The main artery for traffic, which became Sea Pines Drive, was set back from the ocean and off it cul-de-sacs ran up toward the sea.

Residences placed into the natural landscape were expected to blend into it rather than dominate it. The colors were to add their contribution by being like the soft tones of the faded silver from the trunks of the old palmettos and the hues of tan from the pine needle floor and bark of the forest trees surrounding them. Earth tones were added and the palette was established and has since been maintained. This House Set The Pattern features one of the first homes built in Sea Pines. Between these ocean-side cul-de-sacs were easemensts of 20 and 30 feet, which separated each residential street and offered access to the beach for the residences located on the streets but not on the ocean. Sea Pines Drive and subsequent streets wind their way through the green forests, twisting and turning to avoid the necessity of removing specimen trees along their way. Aerial photographs were used to plan these roads. When grand specimen trees were spotted through this method, roadways and later golf fairways were redesigned to steer around them.

Parking areas, and even the world-famous Harbour Town Yacht Basin, were designed and redesigned to save such specimen trees, as evident by the great live oak that sits on the promontory in Harbour Town’s basin. Plans originally called for the basin to be round. The discovery of this live oak, its perfect size and shape, launched an internal lobbying effort in the company to save it. After a major and expensive redesign of the basin, the tree was saved. Today it is called the “Liberty Oak” and is one of the focal points in Harbour Town. It also happens to be the place where Fraser is buried, the one (and only, perhaps) concession the company made to its strict covenants. To this day, that area is still not zoned for cemetery purposes.

Great Blue Heron

As the resort has evolved and changed ownership over the years, Fraser’s vision continues to live on and celebrated it's 50th anniversary in 2006. It must be noted that this milestone represents only its modern development. Before the Sea Pines Company ever took root, its heritage and foundation had already been firmly planted. The Indian shell ring located in Sea Pines Forest Preserve dates back to the time when the great pyramids of Egypt were built. Shards of Indian pottery dug there have been judged to be of the sam vintage and some of the oldest pottery in North America. The old rice filed of the Calibogue Plantation owned by Joseph Lawton dates back to the 1840's. And the Stoney-Baynard Ruins were build in 1793 out of tabby. It was, and is, with great care and careful planning that these historic landmarks have been preserved.

Examples of how Fraser’s vision is being carried out today include ongoing environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, integrated pest management, water conservation, water-quality management, and outreach and education. In addition, the company employs both a wildlife biologist and a wildlife officer. Sea Pines also conducts ecotours, which have received the Charles Bundy award from the governor of South Carolina for providing outstanding programs that extend the full benefits of tourism and recreation to rural areas of the state.

The goal of these tours is to educate residents and visitors about the flora, fauna and history of the area while experiencing the uniqueness and beauty of Sea Pines. Sea Pines donates a portion of its revenue to the non-profic Sea Pines Museum and Forest Preserve Foundation. Taking a tour is the best way to enjoy and experience the history and beauty of the environment. Eco-tours include tours of the Stoney-Baynard Ruins, beach tours, bike tours, walking, boating and horseback tours of the forest preserve, wildlife education programs and numerous other acitivities.

Special thanks to Rob Bender for use of this article.

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Special thanks to Hilton Head Monthly for use of these articles.