(Charleston County; 2000 pop. 4,583). For all but the last hundred years, Isle of Palms, the longest in a chain of islands between Charleston and Bulls Bay, was uninhabited. However, its palmetto jungles abounded in game and coastal aborigines used it as a larder. Its first recorded name was Hunting Island.
Pirates who prowled the Carolina coast called the deserted sand dunes “Long Island.” In June 1776, 2,500 British soldiers camped along its beaches while waiting for the fleet that would rescue them after their failed attack on the rebels at Charleston. Decades later, with Charleston under Union blockade during the Civil War, its waters knew the constant pounding of opposing naval forces. From Breach Inlet on the island’s southern end, in February 1864, the first submarine in history to sink an enemy vessel, the H. L. Hunley, was sent out against the doomed USS Housatonic.
In 1898 Long Island became Isle of Palms and began its modern transformation. Joseph S. Lawrence, a Charleston physician with money and an idea to make more, formed a company to construct a seaside resort with a boardwalk, amusement park, bathhouse, and dance pavilion to be connected to the city of Charleston by ferryboats and electric railways. Completed in 1899, the enterprise was an instant success. Thousands of Charlestonians enjoyed the carousel and cotton candy in the inaugural week. Visitors continued to arrive through World War I and into the 1920s, when new highways and bridges and automobiles replaced ferry and trolley. In the 1930s and 1940s, a succession of owners, including Charleston attorney J. C. Long, expanded development on Isle of Palms with roadway improvements and residential subdivisions. As they anticipated, the island became a summer resort for visitors as well as a bedroom community for Charleston. In 1972 after the year-round residents had attained the status of an incorporated town, the Sea Pines Company of Hilton Head Island developed land on the northern end to fashion Wild Dunes, an exclusive residential and tourist address built around a world-class golf and tennis club.
By the start of the twenty-first century, the Town of Isle of Palms had a budget of $4 million. New costs were paid by property owners and through accommodations taxes levied on the tourists, whose arrival at certain times each year swelled the population three-or fourfold. Though the wilderness had vanished, careful development left some of the natural environment of woods and marshes intact. The beach itself, a long stretch of firm, white sand, endured crowded humanity with a buoyant grace.
Clarke, Philip G. Isle of Palms. Paducah, Ky.: Image Graphics, 1998. Miles, Suzannah Smith. Time and Tides on the Long Island. Mount Pleasant, S.C.: Historic Views, 1994.
Petit, James Percival. Freedom’s Four Square Miles. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1964.