The closer you get, the more you belong. It’s part of the magic of the Harbour Town Lighthouse. We welcome people from all over the world to the lighthouse. In fact, more than ever this year, and one thing we notice is how personal the experience is for our guests. Yes, engagements, weddings, and all kinds of life-changing experiences have been inspired by the view from here and by our gorgeous surroundings in the Harbour Town Yacht Basin. And, yet, even the most every day, incidental experiences seem to warm hearts and make memories when they take place here at the Harbour Town Lighthouse.
Because the connection is personal and the memory lasts, we recognize that a sense of belonging comes with the experience when you come closer than just the symbolic stature or the iconic view. As a result, we thought we might share here a little more inside information.
From Fraser’s Folly to a Worldwide Symbol
When Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser imagined the resort community you see around you here today, he thought it was vital to have a gathering place, where people could relax and socialize, surrounded by beauty. As Charles laid out his plans for Harbour Town, he realized it needed an exclamation point – a focus to make certain the sense of place. “This is it; you have arrived,” is what he wanted to add to the ambiance of Harbour Town.
Charles commissioned the architects at Sasaki and Associates of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to design the lighthouse. Admittedly, it was not to be a navigational beacon, nor to appear on nautical charts – although the Coast Guard did recently designate the Harbour Town Lighthouse as an official Coast Guard Museum. Rather, the lighthouse was intended from the first to add an element of interest and delight for those who visit here.
Some of Hilton Head Island’s early residents considered such a structure to be frivolous, even silly – a lighthouse just for looks. The local newspaper even referred to the Harbour Town Lighthouse, before completion, as “Fraser’s folly.” Once the construction was under way, some of Charles’s associates told him, it is said, that, “The stripes should go the other way.” Even a theory that the lighthouse should be painted with a mural of leaping dolphins and schools of tropical fish had to be nixed.
The Rewards of Persistence
Overcoming everything from frank opposition to well-intended advice, the Harbour Town Lighthouse has stood in a proud, yet friendly way for more than 50 years. When the first Heritage Classic was won here by Arnold Palmer, the frame of the lighthouse was already standing in the background. When first completed, the lighthouse was little more than a hollow, 93-foot tower with 114 steps leading up to an observation deck. Realizing that the lighthouse should be staffed for security and safety reasons, a talented area entrepreneur, Mark King, conceived the idea that the top floor of the lighthouse would make an excellent spot for an aerial gift shop.
With Stories to Tell
In mid-2007, Mark thought it would be fun for people to learn something as they made the climb to the top. Mark commissioned Porter Thompson, a local historian, to create interesting and informative displays on each of the nine landings of the Harbour Town Lighthouse. The exhibits have been growing and changing ever since, making the lighthouse an interesting and informative climb through the history of the Island, from pre-history and native peoples to the life and times of Sea Pines over the years.
There’s something fun to learn on every landing. And there is a state-of-the-art webcam on the top so you can call your friends and family wherever they are, have them link up to the lighthouse web site, and see you live on the observation deck.
This is just one of the ways we find people making the Harbour Town Lighthouse their own. The variations on this theme are as numerous as our guests, and they continue to grow and grow as more people get acquainted. We look forward to your visit to the Harbour Town Lighthouse, and we’ll do all we can to make it one of the stories of your life, too.