Just over ten miles from the Atlantic (as the crow flies, or the heron, or the snowy egret), lies our 880-acre sea island with a unique “calling” to its history of caretakers. Sheltered by its barrier Hilton Head, it’s surrounded by waters of every nature – 5 miles of salt marsh waterfront on the Port Royal Sound Basin, 33 lagoons, and the confluence of Callawassie Creek with the Little Chechessee, Okatie, and Colleton Rivers. Our flourishing location is only the prologue of why the area’s first inhabitants named Callawassie for its “calm waters.”
Those residents – the Yemassee Indians – were themselves named for this serenity, from the Muskogean yvmvsē, meaning “tame, quiet.” Our area’s Native American ancestry dates back 4000 years, unearthed by archeological surveys that landed more than 100 Callawassie sites on the National Register of Historic Places. Our land is home to several historical exclusives, including South Carolina’s only sugar mill ruins. James Hamilton’s Callawassie Sugar Works is better known today as Sugar Mill Tabby Ruins, so-called for the primitive “tabby” style of concrete derived from oyster shells, water, sand, and ash. Constructed in 1815-18, it’s identified as a “historically significant industrial site” both for the commercial development and the architectural remains of tabby construction used by early Spanish settlers and designed to make the best use of the natural resources.
From the first recorded plot signed to James Cochran in 1711 to a sugar mill to an indigo plantation, and now to preserve, playground, and private island, Callawassie Island continues to forge new history with modern accolades. In 2006, Callawassie Island became South Carolina’s first Community Wildlife Habitat, named by the National Wildlife Federation. Now with over 200 residences classified as Certified Wildlife Habitats®, cultivation and preservation of this unique ecosystem is embraced as a responsibility and privilege shared by those who develop the land and those of us who call it “home.”
More recently, in 2017, Callawassie Island was designated a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary, one of only 23 in South Carolina. As described in the Audubon International Press Release, “To reach certification, a course must demonstrate that they are maintaining a high degree of environmental quality in several areas: Environmental Planning, Wildlife & Habitat Management, Outreach and Education, Chemical Use Reduction and Safety, Water Conservation, and Water Quality Management.” Director of Agronomy Billy Bagwell, who led the endeavor, was recognized by Audubon for Environmental Stewardship, adding what Communications and Membership Director Lindsey Cooler notes as “another environmentally-friendly milestone to our portfolio” – one of many that identify Callawassie Island as committed to an environmental stewardship way of life.
The ingredients of these achievements come with consistently invested effort, but those actively participating will tell you it’s motivated as much by passion as purpose. Take the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count, which draws a great deal of enthusiasm from its volunteer counters. Now in its 121st year as “the nation’s longest-running community bird science project,” 2019’s Callawassie-count alone recorded 1208 birds of 74 species.
The images through the years of Christmas Bird Count crews paint the picture of a larger legacy: Evolving populations who count it a privilege to shepherd the island’s ecology and wildlife preservation. This stewardship of the land is greater than job or hobby – it’s the heritage of those who have chosen Callawassie Island as home and purpose; a mantle passed to each generation. Following the influence and inspiration of past foundations – shell rings, tabby ruins, registered historic industrial and homesites – newer generations are working with intentionality to preserve and laud our community’s balance and beauty. Today’s residents carry this privilege with gravity. This is a Community of Stewards who share a reverence and responsibility for guarding this treasured island refuge – a devotion held steadfast for 4000 years and counting.
Learn more about the clubs and events at Callawassie Island here!