Like any landmark, the Lighthouse in Harbour Town gives off a sense of permanence. That’s part of the job, you might say, one of the things it shares with the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and the Pyramids, those other spots where people say you haven’t been there til you’ve been there. That might be a funny way to say it, but the truth is certain symbols validate a visit, and until you’ve gone to those particular places, people say you just haven’t gone all the way. For many years people have told us that the Lighthouse is one of those places, for anyone who comes to visit Hilton Head Island.
It can be interesting sometimes to look back before the landmark and see the difference it has made. Certainly, the Lighthouse at Harbour Town brings with it this kind of story. Step back just to the first Heritage Classic golf tournament and you’ll see in the background of the trophy presentation picture – behind Arnold Palmer, the first champion, and Charles Fraser, the founder – there is the lighthouse, still under construction. Standing there in 1969, as a circular frame with no walls, and wearing its roof like a hat, the Lighthouse gives a very different impression indeed. Hard to describe, but “permanent” is probably not a word you’d use.
There was much to overcome for the Lighthouse just to come into being. As much as it looks now as if it belongs, Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser faced an uphill battle convincing people that the Lighthouse was needed at all. After all, navigation didn’t depend on lighthouses by then. And anyway, Tybee Island had one, and Daufuskie had two, that went all the way back to when they were functional. Yet it was not a literal beacon that Hilton Head needed, Charles maintained. What we needed was a sense of place, a center, a symbol that we’re here for good.
Skeptics – and even some of Charles’s own associates – called the Lighthouse idea “Fraser’s Folly.” To our unending good fortune, Charles prevailed. Even then, some of them thought the stripes should go in a different direction. Sometimes vision takes a while to catch on.
What Vision Left for Us
Now, of course, it’s hard to imagine Hilton Head Island without the Lighthouse. It provided exactly what Charles predicted, a focal point, a symbol, and that priceless feeling that artists, architects, planners, and presenters call a bond between people and places. When a town or city or settlement of any kind hasn’t got it, they’ll spend incredible sums attempting to achieve it from scratch. Why? Because without that sense of place, people feel as if “there’s no there, there.” Here on America’s favorite island, for most of us, it was already here when we arrived.
With this sense of place as an anchor, the richness of many, many other places to remember can come to light. We’ll share with you here, as we go along, some of the other particular places people remember when they come to Hilton Head Island. Thank you for spending this time with us. We are always glad to see you.