On August 7, 1789, Congress approved an Act for the establishment and support of lighthouses, beacons, buoys and public piers. This is why August 7th is unofficially considered National Lighthouse Day.
At Palmetto Dunes, “National Lighthouse Day” holds special significance. Featured on the National Register of Historic Places and part of the Inventory of Historic Light Stations, the Rear Range Lighthouse occupies a unique place in Hilton Head Island history.
The Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse — overlooking the Arthur Hills Golf Course in the Leamington community of Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort was recently extensively restored for a second time since 1985.
One of only a handful of surviving lighthouses in South Carolina, the Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse is Hilton Head Island’s only historic lighthouse. The distinctive structure was built between 1879 and 1880 as part of a larger system of navigation lights guiding ships into Port Royal Sound. Congress authorized $40,000 for the construction of the complex. A cast-iron skeleton tower built about a mile inland on six concrete piers, the lighthouse stands 92 feet tall and was activated in 1880. Light from the structure was visible from 15 miles away.
In 1985, Greenwood Communities and Resorts, the parent company of Palmetto Dunes, refurbished the lighthouse, cistern and oil house — installing a decorative sodium vapor optic —and opened the grounds to the public. On December 12, 1985, the Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and has served as a popular Palmetto Dunes landmark and visitor destination ever since.
Now, the Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse has been renovated again, including the addition of a new cedar shingle roof, which was stained, replacement of 360-degree observation deck boards and structural wood areas, cleaning and treating of the interior, cleaning of the exterior, and the structure was painted with an oil-based, marine-grade paint. In addition, the windows and doors were replaced and painted in a “Charleston Green,” while overgrown foliage around the lighthouse was removed, and more.
Since its recent renovation, the lighthouse has garnered local, regional and industry-wide media coverage.
In addition, the Leamington Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) stands close to the Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse and provides a magnificent backdrop for the 15th green of the Arthur Hills Golf Course. The tree stands approximately 70 feet tall and has a canopy that spreads across 150 feet. With a diameter of about 9 feet, calculations estimate the age of the tree to be between 435 to 450 years old (from a 2019 survey report), recognizing it as one of Hilton Head Island’s oldest living trees.
Guests who wish to visit the lighthouse should enter Palmetto Dunes and proceed to the resort’s South Gate, where they can request a guest pass. Proceed to the Leamington Gate and turn left onto Leamington Lane to the lighthouse, then park along the roadside. Unfortunately, the lighthouse is not open for visitors to view inside or to climb to the top. The Lighthouse area is also one of numerous popular wedding venues in Palmetto Dunes and is available for private events for up to about 120 guests.
A number of interesting ghost stories and legends surround this historic lighthouse. In 1898, a major hurricane lashed the South Carolina coast. Determined to keep the light burning, lighthouse keeper Adam Fripp died of a heart attack during the storm. At Fripp’s urging, his 21-year-old daughter, Caroline, kept the navigational light burning. But she passed away a few weeks later from exhaustion and the loss of her father, inspiring haunted sightings of a female ghost in a long blue dress on dark, rainy nights.
The lighthouse, which originally included a wooden exterior, was deactivated in 1932. During World War II, however, the structure served as an important lookout tower for enemy ships and anchored Camp McDougal, a network of U.S. Marine temporary barracks and ammunition sheds. Gun emplacements and searchlights were established on the nearby beach. Marines were taught to use naval guns, called “Big Betsy,” as well as .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, and practiced firing these weapons into the Atlantic.
There’s a lot to love about the lighthouse in Palmetto Dunes Resort — particularly this National Lighthouse Day!