Posted on 8/6/2018


Iconography can be powerful. One glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, and you know where you are. If a movie’s opening credits show streetcars making their way down steep roads with Victorian-style homes on either side, you know right away you’re in San Francisco.

There are similar icons for Hilton Head Island, this once-sleepy barrier island that now boasts a wonderland of vacation amenities that have placed it at the very top of Travel +Leisure’s list of best islands in the U.S. And much like those icons of world famous cities, Hilton Head Island’s icons carry their own secrets known only to local tour guides. Local tour guides and, of course, anyone who reads our rundown on the secret stories behind Hilton Head Island icons.

The Harbour Town Lighthouse: Fraser’s Folly

What could be a more iconic representation of Hilton Head Island than the red-and-white striped lighthouse that towers above the Mediterranean-inspired splendor of Harbour Town? Every year, the eyes of the world turn to this man-made basin bristling with luxurious yachts and encircled by fairways and greens that inspire and challenge during the RBC Heritage.

And the first thing those eyes see, broadcast around the world by CBS cameras, is the Harbour Town Lighthouse.

It’s so synonymous with the island, in fact, that the resort home of the lighthouse, Sea Pines, has become very protective of the lighthouse’s very image. Any souvenir, T-Shirt or tchotchke brought home from the island by visitors bearing the lighthouse, you’ll notice, will bear an often subtle change to the color scheme of the lighthouse.

It’s an ironic piece of iconography, given that the lighthouse was originally known as “Fraser’s Folly.” When he was still building Sea Pines, founder Charles Fraser knew he’d need something eye-catching. What he came up with was the lighthouse, one of the first to be built for purely decorative reasons, as by that point marine navigation technology had rendered them largely obsolete. It was such a monumental task that it wasn’t even completed by the time the first Heritage tournament was held. In photos of first champion Arnold Palmer accepting his plaque, you can see its framework rising up in the background.

It may have been considered “Fraser’s Folly” at the time, but it has since become one of the island’s most enduring landmarks.

The Statue of Neptune at Shelter Cove

Generations of tourists have taken their photos at the base of his mighty trident, some children seeing how high they could climb before being shooed down by concerned parents. It’s the statue of Neptune at Shelter Cove, one of the most photographed spots on the island.

But despite the many photos taken of it, it still manages to hold onto a few secrets. One, which may be only a secret to those who haven’t looked to closely, is its second function beyond selfies. This 12-foot statue is a working sundial, with the time of day easily observed based on the position of his trident’s shadow.

The second is the statue’s connection to Bluffton’s tallest potter. When he was tasked with creating the statue, sculptor Wayne Edwards didn’t need to look too far for a model. Sharing a studio with him was potter Jacob Preston, who now famously resides in Bluffton as the town’s resident philosopher potter. He may not be as tall as his counterpart in Shelter Cove, but one look at Preston confirms that his face was used as the model for the famous statue.

Want to see these icons for yourself?

Now is the perfect time for a quick getaway to see some of the island’s icons as wells as some of its cultural hotspots. And Vacation Company has you covered, with four-day availability for a quick jaunt to the island to spend a few days in paradise, from Sea Pines to Shelter Cove and beyond. Spend a few days taking in the sights and, fully armed with the information you’ve just been given, ready to impress the locals with your Hilton Head Island insight.


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