A visit to Hilton Head Island without a visit to the Harbour Town Lighthouse is like going to Paris without visiting the Eiffel Tower. The lighthouse is not just a landmark – although it is all of that – the lighthouse is the single strongest symbol of Hilton Head Island. It is the image that says it all. Everyone from visitors to publishers to moviemakers picture the Lighthouse, when Hilton Head Island is the topic. There are a host of good reasons for that.
There’s meaning behind this iconic image, and that meaning is authentic and genuine.
Imagining his innovative, nature-friendly approach to a resort community, Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser thought it was critical that there be a central gathering place, where people could go and socialize in pleasant surroundings. This idea stemmed from his own research, where he found example after example of towns, beginning with the Greeks and the Romans, designed around open plazas.
As Fraser fashioned Harbour Town after the best ideas he gleaned from an extensive trip through the Mediterranean, he saw that it needed an exclamation point – a significant structure that would symbolize the idea, magnetize the location, and add some drama to the site.
He imagined there should be a lighthouse located at the entrance to the harbor, shining over Calibogue Sound.
The Birth of an Icon
Fraser commissioned his architects at Sasaki and Associates of Cambridge Massachusetts to design the lighthouse. Some of the early residents in Sea Pines and old-time Hilton Head Islanders considered it to be a rather silly idea. “Fraser’s Folly,” the called it. Now, more than a half century after its completion, the 93-foot tall, hexagonal, candy-striped lighthouse has become an internationally recognized symbol of the Sea Pines resort community, an icon of excellence and quality.
The lighthouse was completed in 1970. The frame was up just in time to overlook the final putt of the first Heritage Classic on the 18th green of Harbour Town Golf Links in 1969. That final putt was sunk by America’s favorite golfer, Arnold Palmer, making Palmer the first Heritage Classic PGA champion. Each spring, the commanding presence of the Harbour Town Lighthouse is broadcast nationwide and across the globe during the tournament.
Bringing the Lighthouse to Life
At first, the lighthouse was simply an imposing tower with 114 steps leading up to an observation deck, offering spectacular views of the surrounding Calibogue Sound, the harbor, and the famous 18th hole of the Harbour Town Golf Links. 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.
The Shoppe at the Top became reality because of an extraordinary woman who is known as the lighthouse keeper, Nadia Wagner. Nadia is hard to miss. She has a smile that could serve as the lighthouse beacon itself, an infectious laugh, and a delightful, welcoming manner. As if that weren’t enough, consider that for several years Nadia was solely responsible for stocking and restocking the gift shop – 114 steps each way – with armloads of boxes and supplies.
Nadia and Club Group founder Mark King have since opened The Maritime Gift Galley on the ground floor, to offer books, nautical artifacts, and memorabilia to visitors. The Maritime Gift Galley is a place where captains of industry and technology mingle with visitors and guests, and where children and grandparents mix with yachtsmen and connoisseurs. It is quintessential Hilton Head Island.
Moments to Remember
Visits to the Harbour Town Lighthouse have inspired life-changing moments. Proposals of marriage, rededications to a new course in life – even wedding ceremonies themselves – take place here with a natural regularity reminiscent of the tides over which we watch.
We invite you, as always, to make this place your own, to take the Harbour Town Lighthouse from your “bucket list” and install it among the treasured moments and memories of your life. You will be joining legions of people from all over the world who recall their visit here as unique, rewarding, and unforgettable.