Daufuskie Island, SC
(Jan. 7, 2014) – Jo Hill and her husband Jack relocated to the private community of Haig Point on Daufuskie Island from Atlanta because of the quiet lifestyle and the beauty of the natural surroundings. But once they settled in as full-time residents in 2005, it was what they didn’t know that got them hooked.
Together, they explored outside of the Community gates and learned more about their surroundings.
“We rode our bicycles all over the small island and we got to meet people outside our gates,” said Hill. “We began to understand that this was a historical district. I had an interest in history, but never got that involved in anything like this.”
But, times have changed for Jo Hill. She now is president of the Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation, and more than two-thirds of the residents of Haig Point are dues-paying members of the organization that was formed in 2001 to preserve and protect the rich history of the island that stretches just 12 square miles. Additionally, about 30 Haig Point members volunteer at the Museum that was wonderfully restored through private donations from the Haig Point community.
Many Haig Point members also serve on the Foundation Board, including noted historian Nancy Ludtke, a long-time member at Haig Point, who serves as executive director and secretary of the Daufuskie Island Historical Foundation.
“This island is unique,” continued Hill. “Without a bridge to the mainland, many people know nothing about Daufuskie Island. And being here, we have a sense of responsibility to protect and preserve the past culture. We have a responsibility to learn from it and hold on to it.”
History tells of nomadic tribes on Daufuskie Island thousands of years ago. And in the 1800s, there were 11 working plantations on the Island, with harvests of rice, indigo and cotton. Slaves from West Africa worked the plantations in large numbers until after the Civil War when freed slaves, better known regionally as Gullah, established their own identity on the Island and forged their simple lives through fishing and crabbing. In the 1890s, the Island was home to a large oyster canning factory and Island oysters were sold around the world.
But with a change in the economy and new opportunities off the Island, the Gullah population diminished from nearly 2,000 to 13 today. The Gullah people and culture are dying.
In another generation, the Gullah lifestyle will only be known through its history. So, the Historical Foundation is doing its part to keep that history alive.
“We are at a crossroads,” says board member Paul Vogel, a Haig Point resident of more than 20 years. “We have a limited time to save and record this history and culture or we will lose it.”
Members are recording oral histories with a few of the Island’s life-long residents, some of whom are descendents of Plantation slaves. They have historical artifacts on display at the Museum, and even have restored other significant historical buildings in the local district.
Today, the Museum welcomes about 5,000 visitors a year who mainly come to the Island through the one-day “Discover Daufuskie” tours from Hilton Head. The Museum is open from 12:30-3:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information, visit the organization’s Website at www.daufuskieislandhistoricalfoundation.org.
Among the artifacts the visitors enjoy is a broken pottery piece dating back 5,000 years! There is also a collection of tools and coins from the indigenous population of about 1,000 AD.
There is also a self-guided historical tour of the island named for Rob Kennedy, the first president of the Foundation. Kennedy was a long-time Haig Point member who passed away in 2009.
“It has been fascinating to learn of the history of this place,” said Vogel, who oversees the upkeep of the Museum. “In fact, our grandchildren have even found Indian pottery pieces and Civil War items.”
Private donations from Haig Point members were used to restore an old pump organ from the turn of the century that is part of the Museum collection. And their funding helped restore the Brothers and Sisters Oyster Hall that was used as a meeting place for workers in oyster harvesting industry until its demise in the late 1950s.
A joint future project of the Historical Foundation and Haig Point Club will stabilize the Tabby ruins of slave cabins from the 1830s that stand inside the Club gates.
“I always tell people when they come here to find something they love doing,” says Hill. “For me, it is important to give back and make a difference.”
Most of the residents at Haig Point Club, clearly feel the same.
About Haig Point
Haig Point is a charming sea island community just off the coast of South Carolina, between Hilton Head and Savannah, Ga. There is no bridge, so the island is accessible only by a private ferry system originating from Hilton Head Island.
Residents and guests drive electric carts to the points of interest in and around the community, including the historic Haig Point Lighthouse (built in 1873), Strachan Mansion and the tabby ruins of 19th century slave quarters. The community is also home to a stunning Rees Jones Signature golf course. Amenities at Haig Point Club also include a full-service tennis center, equestrian center, two restaurants and a community park. For more information about the island or real estate opportunities, call (800) 686-3441.
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