Margaret Greer: A First Person Account of Hilton Head’s History

The Sands of Time Kids Beach (IPhone)

A photograph of Marsh Tacky horses from Greer's book "Hilton Head: A Certain Place"

When Margaret Greer first arrived on Hilton Head in 1960 there were more Marsh Tacky horses, buggies and wagons than there were vehicles. “We had one deputy sheriff and he knew everyone’s car,” began Greer. “If you bought a new car you needed to let him know or he would give you a citation. He was this big ole guy and pretty imaginative probably because we didn’t have any crime and there wasn’t anything to do.” Greer continued, “In fact, one of my favorite quotes from that time was, ‘We could have parked a wagon load of gold at the crossroads and no one would have touched it.’”

Greer has several notable quotes and dates stored in her brilliant mind and many revere her as Hilton Head’s first historian. From her first book The Sands of Time: A history of Hilton Head Island published in 1989, to her latest book Making Music: The First 25 Years of the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra published in 2012, Greer has captured the true essence of our Island with wit, words and images.

As I sat down with her at her Seabrook home and asked her about the pioneering days when Charles Fraser brought in some of the most intrepid entrepreneurs of that time, she dazzled me with her charm and stories. From seemingly simple mainstays like groceries, to critical necessities like modern medicine, below you will see some highlights from our conversation.

“Everyone had a big freezer and we would take turns making runs to the big cities to get provisions. You could also buy local produce from some of the vegetable stands and if anyone was going to visit you from out of town you always asked them to bring salad ingredients.”

“Of course our children needed to be educated so we had to send them to a school in Bluffton. There were about fifteen students in each class and the teachers were great. We couldn’t send them to the big brick school on the Island because we still had segregation rules then and we were white. Jim (as in the very successful J.R. Richardson) started running a school bus from Sea Pines. The drive was one hour. He was only 18 and already so industrious—he did 1000 other things life lifeguarding for birthday parties.”

A photograph of Marsh Tacky horses from Greer's book "Hilton Head: A Certain Place"

Cultural Arts
“We realized we didn’t just want to be a sports Mecca. We needed to support the cultural arts and 1982 the Hilton Head Symphony Orchestra was founded.”

“The natives that were here when I got here were amazing. These people had been surviving on the Island on their own since the Civil War without doctors. They delivered babies with mid wives… So the biggest turning point came when Jim Chaffin—who was a real estate genius—talked Dr. Peter LaMotte into building the hospital in 1975.”

“We finally talked someone from the Bank of Beaufort to come down and open the bank here for 15 minutes a week. The bank also had a bulletin board and people could leave messages asking if anyone was going to Savannah or Beaufort and if they could pick up this or that. We all had to work together.”

“We were originally attracted to the Island because of its focus on nature and sustainability. When we talk about the Island then verses now, I don’t like to use the word change. I say growth and more to the point, ecologically speaking, growth in the right sense. In the late 1960’s BASF (Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik) tried to build a chemical plant by what’s now Moss creek. Everyone, blacks and whites alike, we came together and stopped them. The backbone of Hilton Head is the people—from the natives to the young people moving here today—coming and working together to build a community.”

Becca Edwards is the eco-wellness blogger for the Hilton Head Chamber and owner of b.e.WELL+b.e.CREATIVE.