One of our favorite screenwriters in a long-running TV series set in our nation’s capital had his characters again and again trying to get just a weekend away from the White House to go to Hilton Head Island. Somebody counted six times in seven seasons we were mentioned. Here at the Harbour Town Lighthouse, it was a reminder that most folks imagine we’re south of New York and DC – and we are. Yet, the fact that we are more directly south of Cleveland comes as a surprise to many.
Thanks to the gradual westward tilt, as the East Coast makes its way south, Hilton Head Island is closer to towns and cities that think of themselves as Midwestern than many are aware. On the other hand, there are whole states that are in on the secret. Ohio figures prominently among these places that consider Hilton Head Island their very own.
The Sea Pines Circle Survey
Every state in the Union is represented at some point during the day, or at least during the week, as the summer progresses. Still, a glance through the license plates on view around the Sea Pines Circle on any given day is enough to convince most people that Hilton Head Island is practically a vacation suburb of Ohio. A bumper sticker we’ve seen for years is simply the name, OHIO, with our Harbour Town Lighthouse substituting for the I.
Stories abound as to why Ohio in particular became so enamored of Hilton Head Island. One legend was that Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser had only enough advertising budget in the early days to cover one city, and that he chose Cleveland. The story was so widespread that it amounted practically to conventional wisdom.
The First-Hand Account
While it is true that early ad budgets focused on Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, Pittsburgh, and Detroit – partly because of proximity and partly for the sizable executive management populations that industries fostered there at the time – the Ohio story begins before there was an ad budget. We got the inside scoop from the late John Curry, a Disney executive who grew up at Yosemite and whom Charles Fraser picked as the early-days Sea Pines marketing director.
“The truth is,” John recalled, “Charles and I loaded flipcharts and posters into the back of a station wagon and drove north. We’d stop and make a presentation at any Rotary or Lions Club that needed a speaker or a program.” The direct route north on what was becoming Interstate 77, lead straight to the heart of Ohio. The next body of water, after Calibogue sound, here at the foot of the Lighthouse, was Lake Erie, on the shores of downtown Cleveland.
Tradition and Practicality
And so, the longtime link between Hilton Head Island and the Midwest is like a lot of other things that make Hilton Head Island special – like the Harbour Town Lighthouse itself, in fact. It is partly a matter of practicality and partly an enduring tradition. We’re grateful for our guests, no matter where they hail from. We knew that many have wondered why Hilton Head Island is such a particular favorite of the Midwest, and we wanted to share the original story while we can still recall a firsthand account.