By Luana M. Graves Sellars

Coming to Hilton Head Island has been a tradition in my family for at least thirty years. As a child, while my father would drive at high speeds, I would try to read the road signs that flew by. Street names in New York never seemed as fascinating there as they were in the South. The more I came to Hilton Head, the more that my fascination with these names increased. I was determined to one day learn the histories behind the names of some of the streets and communities that make Hilton Head so unique.

Most people don’t think twice about the street names that we travel every day. As a matter of fact, today we tend to put an address into the GPS and let it guide us to where we have to go instead of getting out maps to plot a course to our destination. It’s actually a shame that we don’t think about our surroundings more, because this area is steeped in a rich history that begs to be told.  As you drive around the Hilton Head area, you run into beaches called Singleton, Burkes and Bradley, and streets called Burnt Church or Skull Creek, Robbers Row and Squire Pope. They spark ones imagination and curiosity: Is that a person’s name, or what does that mean, and what happened here? Did all of the churches built on this road burn down? Are there skulls in the creek? And, if so, whose skull? Did all of the robbers live on this row?

Well, I’ve done a little digging and plan to share some of the hidden meanings behind the interesting names and places that we sometimes take for granted as we drive around the island every day.

Interesting Places

Photo Credit : Linda Peterson

Back in the early 1900s, the island was divided up into areas that represented who owned the majority of the land. On the north end of the island, we pass by Squire Pope Road or Spanish Wells Road which are now remnants of areas of the island that were part of large plantations. Squire Pope, Stoney, Spanish Wells, Jonesville, Chaplin, Marshland, Baygall, Big Hill, and Grassland are the names of the various areas that made up how the island was divided into neighborhoods long before the developers came and created the residential communities and plantations that exist today.

According to previous maps of the island, you can see how the neighborhoods and population was concentrated in the heel and ankle sections.

Skull Creek

Skull Creek at Sunset

Skull Creek is actually a tidal creek which flows between the Port Royal and Calibogue Sounds, and is a part of the Intercoastal Waterway, which is the body of water between Hilton Head Island and Pickney Island. The creek, however, has also been referred to as Skulk Creek, because the creek was used by Indians to ‘skulk’ in its protected waters.

Robbers Row

This is actually a street name in Port Royal Plantation which dates back to the time when Mitchelville was a thriving community. The street gets its name from the soldiers who, with little retail options, felt that the local Gullah merchants were taking advantage of them by inflating their prices.  As a result, they called the shopping strip ‘Robbers Row.’

Spanish Wells

Originally called Mongin Bluff, this plantation was purchased by Thomas Baynard II prior to 1790 when the name was changed to the Spanish Wells Plantation because of the old Spanish fresh-water wells that are on the property.

The Beaches

Burkes Beach at Sunrise
Photo Credit: Linda Peterson

Most of the island’s beaches, Singleton, Driessen, Burkes, Collier and Bradley can be traced back to a specific person or family that owned the property at one time or another. Some area names that we are all so familiar with can be traced back to family members that still live on the island. Each has their own unique story to tell.

Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the Burkes, Singleton and Collier Beaches were popular with blacks looking for a good time on the waterfront for being a favorite spot for relaxation and entertainment. The families that owned the properties built beachside pavilions where food and performances sometimes took place; it has been told that even Tina Turner performed at Burkes’ Hideaway, which is where the Marriott Surf Watch stands today.    

These are just a few of the many stories that are hidden within even footprint that we make every day on this island. We might never know what all of the inspirations were for the colorful names behind the areas that we call home. Some of us were born here, some of us have made this our second home and some of us are just passing through. Regardless of how you got to Hilton Head Island, next time you see a street sign, pause for a second and take the time to realize that there’s always a story behind the name.

Click here for more about Hilton Head Island, Bluffton or Lowcountry Living | Paradise Found | Lowcountry People and Places | Bradley Beach – The Story Behind the Name | Burkes Beach – The Family Behind the Name

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