Hilton Head Island residents and visitors will get the chance to time warp through centuries of history during a weeklong festival beginning Sept. 30 when the town celebrates the 350th anniversary of the island's sighting and its 30th year of incorporation.
The festival begins with a bike ride along all 57 miles of the town's paths. Bikers will hand off a flag bearing the 350/30 logo "like the Olympic torch," said event organizer Leslie Richardson.
The relay ride finishes at Town Hall, which will then hold an open house for the public.
Other events throughout the week include historical and cultural tours on the island, a showcase of island clubs and organizations in Pineland Station, a 5K race and "Tot-trot" on the beach near the Coligny area.
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The week concludes with a party on Coligny Beach with live music, food, shag dancing, a sandcastle-building contest and a group photo of all residents who have lived on Hilton Head for at least 30 years. A family descendant of island namesake Capt. William Hilton will also fire the cannon used to kick off the RBC Heritage Presented by Boeing, Richardson said.
The highlight of the week, though, will be three separate island history bus tours being offered Oct. 1 free of charge.
"For the first time, residents and visitors will have free, comprehensive access to sites where generations of residents witnessed and participated in monumental events that shaped and altered the fabric of this island to make it what it is today," said Linda Piekut, co-chairman of the event and executive director of the Heritage Library on the island. "From pre-colonial times, to the days of ante-bellum slavery, to the routing of Confederates from the island, to the establishment of the first self-governing settlement for freed and escaped slaves, to the early days of the island's modern development."
It was nearly 350 years ago when Capt. William Hilton, sailing from Port Royal Sound toward the sea, spotted something to his starboard he thought was worth jotting down -- a bluff near the heel of a barrier island that would serve as a guide for future sailing expeditions.
Three hundred and twenty years later, Hilton Head was in many ways still a frontier. The island was divided into plantation neighborhoods. There still was land to claim and develop.
On May 18, 1983, the Town of Hilton Head Island was formed -- largely to help control the land grab and manage the remaining undeveloped acreage.
"If you just moved here or are a visitor, it's an opportunity to discover and explore the island's rich history," Richardson said. "If you've been here for decades, it's an opportunity to celebrate, remember and honor the many people who worked so hard over the decades to make this island what it is today" -- a scenic, luxurious, environmentally sensitive community steeped in Gullah culture and American history.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom.