Group works to shine a beacon on needs of old Hilton Head lighthouse

-Larry Green, holding Leamington Lilly, and Kathy Brennan are part of a group of neighborhood residents hoping to raise money — estimated at $100,000 — to restore the decaying Leamington Lighthouse.
-Larry Green, holding Leamington Lilly, and Kathy Brennan are part of a group of neighborhood residents hoping to raise money — estimated at $100,000 — to restore the decaying Leamington Lighthouse.

Palmetto Dunes resident Larry Green has heard the ghost stories.

Tales of Hilton Head Range Lighthouse keeper Adam Fripp who died of a heart attack trying to keep the light burning during a hurricane in 1898.

In his last moments, he urged his 21-year-old daughter, Caroline, to keep the light aglow.

She succeeded, but the stress of the ordeal was too much, according to some accounts. She died three weeks later.

The story is told to this day of a hazy apparition in a long blue dress that appears on rainy nights.

It wasn't until a few moths ago, though, that Green saw something truly ghastly -- the condition of the lighthouse.

"It is in disarray. It's in dire need of paint, scraping of the metal, new wood," Green said. "It's going to be $100,000 or more to restore that baby."

Tree-cutting within the past year has revealed the poor state of the hexagonal watch room at Hilton Head Island's only historic lighthouse and one of only a handful left in South Carolina.

The cast-iron foundation is rusted. Shingles are missing from the roof, glass is absent from windows, and the wood siding and observation deck are weathered.

Alarmed by the deterioration, Green and fellow Palmetto Dunes resident Kathleen Brennan are trying to enlist others in their drive to preserve the lighthouse.

"I would like it to be here for generations to come," Brennan said.

The Hilton Head Rear Range Lighthouse -- also known as the Leamington Lighthouse -- overlooks the 15th hole of the Arthur Hills Golf Course at Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort, within the gated community's Leamington neighborhood.

Greenwood Communities and Resorts, the parent company of Palmetto Dunes, owns the lighthouse and restored it in 1985, opening its grounds to the public. Nothing, though, has been done since, Green said.

Green was told by a Greenwood official that the company had no money set aside for lighthouse maintenance, but would be willing to help financially if someone else led the effort. Attempts to reach company officials were not immediately returned.

Green said it's doubtful the Leamington Property Owners' Association would accept such a financial burden, considering Greenwood owns the property.

Instead, he and Brennan are reaching out to the community to share the lighthouse's history to gain support for its restoration.

The historic lighthouse is featured on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of the Inventory of Historic Light Stations.

Built between 1879 and 1880, it was part of a larger system of navigation lights guiding ships into Port Royal Sound, according to information from Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort and the Heritage Library Foundation.

The original lighthouse complex included a keeper's house, forward beacon and rear lighthouse. Today, only the 94-foot rear lighthouse survives, along with a vintage brick oil house and a water cistern.

Sheltered by towering pine trees, the main structure consists of a cast-iron skeleton, a cylindrical stair tower, a wooden watch room and a cypress lantern room.

The lighthouse was deactivated in 1932. During World War II, however, the structure served as a lookout tower in the hunt for German ships and U-boats. Marines set up Camp McDougal, a network of temporary barracks and ammunition sheds, around the lighthouse.

Like the Harbour Town lighthouse, Green said the Leamington Lighthouse could attract tourists, if properly maintained.

"When people come to Hilton Head, one of the big tourist attractions is the (Harbour Town) lighthouse. I think Greenwood is missing the boat not to promote and advertise the (Leamington) lighthouse and draw people to their property," Green said. "Our purpose is to get a draw to our area for people to look at something that is an asset, instead of something that is deteriorating."