Its natural beauty led to the transformation of Hilton Head from an isolated backwater to a world-famous resort and recreational community during the second half of the twentieth century.
Located on the twenty-foot-high bluffs of the May River and facing the cool, southerly winds, it was an ideal summer refuge for planter families. The town, known first simply as May River and then later as Kirk’s Bluff, was officially named Bluffton in 1844. The development of Hilton Head as a major tourist destination in the early 1970s marked a revitalization of Bluffton. Annexations and the spread of Hilton Head’s resort and tourism economy led to a seventy-five percent increase in Bluffton’s population during the 1990s.
In the antebellum era, Beaufort became a summer retreat for rich Sea Island cotton planters and even richer mainland rice planters, who maintained a wealthy and cultivated society in the town.