Like any landmark, the Harbour Town Lighthouse in Harbour Town gives off a sense of permanence. That’s part of the job, you might say, one of the things we share 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.
Looking Back Before Forever
It can be interesting sometimes to look back before the landmark and see the difference it has made. Certainly, the lighthouse 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.
Fraser faced an uphill battle convincing people that the lighthouse was needed at all. Navigation didn’t depend on lighthouses by the 1960s. 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 said we needed 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. Now, about 200,000 people annually walk the 114 steps to the top.
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. As the people who are fortunate to welcome so many of the visitors to America’s favorite island, we are always glad to see you. For our fellow residents who count the lighthouse as part of their own sense of place, we are honored. To all who are called to this symbol of vision and enterprise and enjoyment – we welcome you.