A thousand years before the Pyramids, people were shucking oysters along the lagoons of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Archaeologists and scholars concur. The Sea Pines Shell Ring is a living reminder that here is a spot where people have found fellowship, communed with nature, with family, with community, and with their most treasured beliefs for longer than most of us can even imagine.
What makes the Shell Ring a living thing? Few such finds are as undisturbed as this one, and none is this nearby. People who study ancient civilizations and societies must travel to remote islands, difficult to reach, for a shell ring that shares its secrets the way this one does. Short of outright expeditions, other shell rings have been damaged by erosion, rising sea levels, or development. The one that lies within the Sea Pines Forest Preserve speaks readily to those who know the study. And yet here, too, there is a measure of mystery.
About 150 feet across, and still rising one to two feet tall, the Sea Pines Shell Ring encloses a wide “plaza” where no shells are found. Scholars seek there to discover what form of feasts or religious gatherings took place within the circle. Old ideas that shell rings were perhaps fish traps, or the remains of defensive perimeters have largely been discredited, thanks in part to the study that the Sea Pines Shell Ring makes possible. Research that continues here seeks to discover what kinds of feasts or community functions or religious gatherings took place.
Whatever the answer, it appears that the people who originated it extend back even farther in time than the Catawba, Guale, Timucua, Sewee, or Edisto cultures that preceded us on our beautiful sea islands and coastal Carolina plain.
When Emotions Leave their Traces
Some things are built by necessity. Shelter, defense, warmth, and security are certainly convincing imperatives. More subtle are the motives behind temples, cathedrals, theatres, stadiums, and auditoriums. In places such as these, people gather to share the feelings or goals they may have in common, or the knowledge they wish to spread and advance.
Some such structures are purely for enjoyment. And lest we consider that purpose optional, just look at the importance of it left behind by the generations who came before us. If the necessities teach us the How of life, it might be the Why that people cultivate when they gather in places such as this one. The Sea Pines Shell Ring whispers from the far-distant past, suggesting that enjoyment, and a place to gather for it, are in fact deep within us.
The Right Idea to Start With
The reason the Sea Pines Shell Ring is still around to speak to scholars who know how to interpret it, is that our recent forbears here on Hilton Head Island, the visionaries who set the foundation that became America’s favorite vacation island started out with an uncommonly good idea. Blending a world-class resort with nature might seem to us to be just what you do nowadays. But then it was revolutionary.
Setting out to do it differently, Sea Pines founder Charles Fraser studied a wide array of places where people went to feel good. All up and down the East Coast, and beyond to Europe, Charles looked carefully at the places where people gathered, relaxed, had fun, and came back again and again. Where others saw boats and beaches, Charles saw boats and beaches – and trees. Where others saw village squares, Charles saw the windows of Portofino on the Italian Riviera. Where others saw exclusive shops, Charles saw a marriage of luxury and convenience. His voice is here, still, in the way these visions became real.
So the unique character of the Harbour Town Golf Links, the friendly embrace of the Yacht Basin, the meandering pace of the walking and bike trails – and the convenience of The Shops at Sea Pines Center – came from inspiration so considered, so fitting, that we often take it for granted. It’s just the world as we know it, here in Sea Pines.
A couple of millennia after the Shell Ring, and just one year after our first Heritage Classic here in Sea Pines, these 600 acres were set aside to stay undeveloped, to become our
Sea Pines Forest Preserve. It remains the largest tract of undeveloped land on Hilton Head Island. The wisdom and courage it took to claim it for nature, to dedicate it to quiet enjoyment, is staggering, particularly in light of the value it might represent for other uses, now that the Island that surrounds it has been named “America’s Favorite” for several years, and by more than one publication.
The trails that weave through the Sea Pines Forest Preserve take the form of dirt roads, natural surfaces, and boardwalks, such as the ones alongside Old Lawton Rice Field and through the Vanishing Swamp. The special character of maritime forest and marshland, the backdrop of towering pines and wise, old oaks, festooned with Spanish moss, the shade and glade that occurs so uniquely here – this is a setting to be enjoyed as you take your time, and to be returned to, again and again.
The serenade of beautiful birds is among the voices of the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. A meadow of wildflowers awaits, along with freshwater lakes. Though undisturbed, drinking water, restrooms, and a picnic area can be found on Fish Island. Hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing are just a few of the possibilities. Guided tours can be arranged on boat, horseback, or by wagon.
Sharing a Sense of Place with the Sea Pines Forest Preserve
What do The Shops at Sea Pines Center have in common with the Sea Pines Forest Preserve? Well, we share the same origin, the vision of Sea Pines’ founders. And, more especially, we share their taste for a sense of place – the feeling that some things belong here, that they were placed right where they should be. For the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, that meant right in the heart of Nature.
For The Shops at Sea Pines Center, that sense of place put us right in the middle of the Miracle Mile. Midway from Harbour Town Yacht Basin to South Beach is an uncommon spot to set up shop. The vision and wisdom of putting us here has pleased generations of Sea Pines visitors and residents alike. The characteristic combination of convenience and privilege, the feeling of relaxed luxury that people enjoy here, is partly a product of that sense of place.