HILTON HEAD ISLAND, South Carolina – The red and white lighthouse overlooking the 18th green at Harbour Town Golf Links here on will get its share of TV time this week at the RBC Heritage, but there’s another lighthouse on the island worth visit during Heritage week – or any time of year.
The Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse is located in the Leamington neighborhood of Palmetto Dunes Ocean Resort. Built between 1879 and 1880, the 94-foot lighthouse overlooks the resort’s Arthur Hills Golf Course. It was built as part of a larger system of navigation lights guiding ships into Port Royal Sound. Congress authorized $40,000 for the construction of the complex.
A cast-iron skeleton tower built about a mile inland on six concrete piers, the lighthouse was activated on Aug. 1, 1881. Light from the structure was visible from 15 miles away.
Featured on the National Register of Historic Places and part of the Inventory of Historic Light Stations, the lighthouse is one of only a handful of surviving lighthouses in South Carolina and is Hilton Head Island’s only historic lighthouse.
In 1985, Greenwood Communities and Resorts, the parent company of Palmetto Dunes, refurbished the lighthouse, cistern and oil house – installing a decorative sodium vapor optic – and opened the grounds to the public.
Now, the Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse has been renovated again, including the addition of a new cedar shingle roof, replacement of 360-degree observation deck boards and structural wood areas, cleaning and treating of the interior, cleaning of the exterior. The structure was painted with an oil-based, marine-grade paint. In addition, the windows and doors were replaced and painted in a “Charleston Green,” while overgrown foliage around the lighthouse was removed.
“We are pleased with the recent renovation and improvements to this historic Hilton Head Rear Range lighthouse and excited to welcome visitors to see the completed project,” said Palmetto Dunes Vice President of Resort Operations Brad Marra. “We’re also excited to share the recent tree survey information on one of the oldest oak trees on Hilton Head Island that is adjacent to the lighthouse.”
The Leamington Lighthouse Live Oak (Quercus virginiana) stands close to the Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse and provides a great backdrop for the 15th green of the Arthur Hills Golf Course. The tree stands approximately 70 feet tall and has a canopy that spreads across 150 feet. With a diameter of about 9 feet, calculations estimate the age of the tree to be between 435 to 450 years old (survey report 2019), recognizing it as one of Hilton Head Island’s oldest living trees.
Guests who want to visit the lighthouse should enter Palmetto Dunes and proceed to the resort’s South Gate, where they can request a guest pass. Proceed to the Leamington Gate and turn left onto Leamington Lane to the lighthouse, then park along the roadside. The lighthouse is not open for visitors to view inside or to climb to the top.
The original lighthouse complex included a keeper’s house and a shorter forward beacon that was mounted on a second keeper’s house near the beach. By positioning their ships so that the two beacons were vertically aligned, sailors entering Port Royal Sound would know that their vessels were in the proper channel.
Today, only the rear lighthouse survives, along with a vintage brick oil house and a water cistern located on site. Sheltered by towering pine trees, the main lighthouse structure, which is now inactive, includes a central cylindrical stair tower, a wooden watch room and a cypress lantern room. Lighthouse Keepers would climb 112 steps to reach the hexagonal watch room.