Harbour Town Lighthouse

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina - 1970 (1970**)

Photo of the Harbour Town Lighthouse.

History of the Harbour Town Lighthouse

Posted/Updated by Bryan Penberthy on 2014-06-04.

Hilton Head Island gets its name from Captain William Hilton, an English explorer commissioned by several Boston area merchants in 1662 to map the Carolina Coast. Aboard his ship Adventure, he investigated the area around Cape Fear, North Carolina and reported his findings.

The following year, a group comprised of businessmen from London, New England, and Barbados commissioned Captain Hilton for a second exploratory trip along the Carolina Coast. On this trip, he ended up at the entrance to Port Royal Sound.

Just inside the sound, he spotted a headland which is a prominent feature typically used by mariners as a reference point. This headland, would become known as Hilton's Head after Captain William Hilton. Soon thereafter, the whole island would be named Hilton Head Island.

Hilton Head Island, and nearby Beaufort, would become one of the largest shipbuilding areas in the 13 colonies during the 1700s. The presence of many deep-water creeks and an abundance of hardwoods would ensure adequate resources for the industry.

By the late 1700s through the mid-1800s, there were more than 20 working plantations on the island. Most of the population of the island was made up of slaves and the plantation overseers as the owners did not typically live on the island.

Slavery, which ended with the Civil War, brought an end to the plantation era. After the removal of Union troops, the island's population was only a few thousand residents. In 1931, a Wall Street tycoon named Alfred Lee Loomis and his partner, Landon K. Thorne, purchased 17,000 acres on the island to be used as a private game reserve.

In 1949, a group of lumber associates made up of General Joseph B. Fraser, Fred C. Hack, Olin T. McIntosh, and C.C. Stebbins, purchased 20,000 acres of pine forest on the island's southern tip and formed The Hilton Head Company.

Logging operations took place over the next few years until 1956. That year, the James F. Bynes Bridge was constructed opening the island to automobile traffic. That same year, Charles E. Fraser purchased his father's interest in the Hilton Head Company and set about to develop the Sea Pines Plantation.

Development started right away and within two years, the first deed to a lot was signed. By 1962, Lots at the Sea Pines Plantation had nearly doubled in price. At that time, there were several other developments in the works by the other members of the Hilton Head Company.

Within the Sea Pines Resort sits the Harbour Town village, complete with marina for yachts, which was constructed in 1969. To mark the marina on Port Royal Sound, a 90-foot-tall lighthouse was erected.

Construction of the $68,000 tower started in 1969 and was completed one year later. To help it withstand salt water and corrosion, a unique construction method was employed. The exterior is a combination of layers including stucco over metal lath, attached to furring strips which are in turn attached to plywood sheathing.

The lighthouse was initially dubbed "Fraser's Folly," as there was little reason to build a lighthouse in the small community. Critics called it "excessive," however, it would later become the most widely recognizable symbol of Hilton Head Island and the Sea Pines Resort.

The Harbour Town Golf Links located at the Sea Pines Plantation, was established in 1969 by Charles E. Fraser. Annually, the course hosts the Heritage Classic PGA golf tournament, now known as the RBC Heritage. The 18th hole, one of the most feared in all of golf, is a par-4 overlooking Calibogue Sound with the red and white candy cane-striped lighthouse as the backdrop.

Harbour Town Golf Links isn't the only golf course to contain a lighthouse. Some of the others include the Highland Links Golf Course on Cape Cod, which features the Highland Lighthouse sitting on the 9th hole, the Sankaty Head Golf Club on Nantucket, which features the Sankaty Head Lighthouse sitting next to the 5th hole, and the Ailsa Course at the Turnberry Resort in Scotland, which features the Turnberry Lighthouse.

Inside the tower, each of the nine landings contains educational lessons related to the island. Some of the topics of the lessons include Native Americans, Georgia and South Carolina, Plantations and the Civil War, Charles Fraser and the Sea Pines Plantation, and Harbour Town, Daufuskie, and several other nearby lighthouses.

Once at the top of the lighthouse, visitors will enter the Top of the Lighthouse Shoppe and be treated to remarkable views of the Harbour Town Golf Links and Calibogue Sound. The flashing light that emanates from the lantern is visible for nearly 15 miles.

While not an original lighthouse in the sense as it wasn't constructed by the Federal Government, the Harbour Town Lighthouse was the first privately financed lighthouse in South Carolina since 1817. Although many lighthouse aficionados might consider this lighthouse a facsimile, it is a private aid to navigation that appears on Coast Guard navigation charts.


  1. Lighthouses of the Carolinas - A Short History and Guide, Terrance Zepke, 1998.
  2. Wikipedia website.
  3. Harbour Town Lighthouse website.
  4. Town of Hilton Head Island website.

Directions: From the center of Hilton Head Island, take Greenwood Drive west to Frazier Circle. From here, you will need to get a guest pass to get onto The Sea Pines Plantation. From the gate, you can follow Lighthouse Road to the marina.

Access: The lighthouse is owned by the Sea Pines Plantation. The tower and grounds are open.

View more Harbour Town Lighthouse pictures
Tower Information
Tower Height: 90.00'
Focal Plane: Unknown
Active Aid to Navigation: Yes
*Latitude: 32.13900 N
*Longitude: -80.81100 W
See this lighthouse on Google Maps.


* Please note that all GPS coordinates are approximated and are meant to put you in the vicinity of the lighthouse, not for navigation purposes.

** This year denotes a station date. This is the year that a lighthouse was first reported in the vicinity or at that location.

All photographs and information on this site is copyright © 2016 Bryan Penberthy unless otherwise specified. No content may be used without written permission. Any questions or comments, please email me.