Where Friendship Turned to Love

Where Friendship Turned to Love

People from around the world choose the Harbour Town Lighthouse for events of every kind. The lighthouse has been the setting for engagements, weddings, even corporate celebrations and announcements. Whether it’s business or personal, strategic or romantic, there’s something about the Harbour Town Lighthouse that has the power to change the way things look. We see it happen time and again. Whether the event is planned or spontaneous, the setting that comes with the best view of the Lowcountry in all the sea islands steps in to play a role in the success of that event. It changes how we see.

One of the best stories about this power that we know is what happened for Martha and Glenn Miller. It’s not that they got engaged here, although many people do. It’s not that they got married here, although our wedding stories are unique and unforgettable. The reason Martha and Glenn bring such a good example of how magic takes place at the lighthouse is that this is where they knew. Here was the surprise event that changed it all. This is where they turned from friends into partners, and the love they discovered at the lighthouse has warmed their lives for 33 years – and counting.

What They Knew Already

Martha and Glenn met at home in Allentown, Pennsylvania. They knew each other and had friends in common. As a golfer, Glenn saw the Harbour Town Lighthouse every year on the global TV coverage of the Heritage Classic tournament. Even better, Glenn’s sister owned a condo near the 18th green of Harbour Town Golf Links, and one year she invited Glenn to condo-sit for a 10-day vacation around Thanksgiving. He drove down with his favorite foursome.

Meantime, unbeknownst to Glenn, Martha organized a surprise. Gathering friends, she flew to Hilton Head Island to surprise Glenn’s golf getaway. The surprise made it a party. Golfers and non-golfers had plenty of fun things to do, because a friend of Glenn’s sister was a bartender at CQ’s. They had an inside guide and social director built in for what to do day and night.

What They Discovered by Surprise

It was unseasonably warm for the end of November, around 1985, and the Harbour Town Lighthouse was not yet all of what we see today. The Shoppe at the Top was yet to be invented. The museum was yet to be installed. Even the Gift Galley on the ground floor was years in the future. Lighthouse Keeper Nadia Wagner and patron/proprietor Mark King had not yet worked their magic. The first official event had yet to be held here. The lighthouse was more than 10 years old, and yet it was still mainly a landmark and not yet abuzz with activity.

What there was, across the entrance, was a little chain on which hung a sign that said something about “no admission.” Maybe it was “no admittance.” It’s hard to remember whether they took the sign to mean “free” or “don’t come in,” but whatever the meaning, they decided to see what they could see from the top.

What they found at the top of the Harbour Town Lighthouse was their first kiss. “Something just happened,” Martha said. “It was sunset, and a full moon was up already.”

Glenn remembers, “I can still hear David Wingo. He was playing down at the Quarterdeck, and we could hear his music up there at the top of the lighthouse.”

“The wind was blowing through Glenn’s hair,” Martha said.

“I had hair then,” Glenn added. “Something just happened.”

How could we possibly put it better?

What We Celebrate Through the Years

“We went up with no expectations,” Glenn recalls. Martha suggested, “Be open and free. Give it a shot.”

Married on November 23, 1987, Martha and Glenn gave it a lot more than a shot. They make a point of revisiting the scene of that inspiration just about every year. “We like to come in the fall,” Martha said. “That’s the best time for romance.”

And Glenn’s daughter and son-in-law were married on Hilton Head Island, so it looks as if the inspiration can pass along through generations.

Landmarks in Life

Our founder’s vision of giving Hilton Head Island a landmark has come to life in more ways than even he might ever have imagined, when he conceived the lighthouse as part of Sea Pines’ original design for a world-class resort.

The Harbour Town Lighthouse stands tall not only in the Yacht Basin and across the sightlines of Calibogue Sound and the Intracoastal Waterway, but also in the memories of millions. People come here from all over the world, and when they leave, a great many of them see their lives in a new light. The lighthouse becomes a landmark that stays with them, a signal of where and how life changed.

Events held here continue to carry that power, whether in love or work. Turning points take place here with a special kind of energy and awareness. What makes it work spontaneously can be brought to life too with planning, as many who have held events here can testify.

As a result, with decades of experience in exactly that, the lighthouse stands willing and able to play a part in the changes we are all looking forward to welcoming, when the precautions of the pandemic have done their good work and the limits we’ve accepted on the lives we once knew are eased. When you’re ready to reconnect, we’ll be here.

One Thing Stays the Same

Seeing things in a different light is one of the gifts that the Harbour Town Lighthouse gives best. This gift has changed the lives of people and the course of corporations, because things look different after folks experience the feeling that comes with the beauty and majesty of this view. It opens hearts. It opens minds. And things turn out better as a result, sometimes in ways that are carefully planned events, and sometimes in moments of pure inspiration.

If anything stays the same, it’s the great pleasure of playing a part in these stories, and the satisfaction that comes with this role in the events of America’s favorite island. That’s one thing we never want to change. When we all “open up” again, the way Martha recalls, the beloved Lighthouse is sure to play a role in that reawakening for a lot of folks.