Hilton Head’s beauty is preserved, but what about the island’s slave and Gullah history?
Fred Hack leaned his tall and thin body into a whipping wind on Hilton Head Island, timing the waves and estimating their height.
He would leave that spot at Folly Field to do that same thing at the hunt club land, which is now Palmetto Dunes Oceanfront Resort.
Then he would step out onto the public dock at Jenkins Island, which on that October day in 1954 was the only way to get off the island as Hurricane Hazel approached.
There was no bridge. Electricity was still new to the island. So were paved roads. Through some type of mobile radio he could talk to ferryman Mose Hudson on the mainland. “Hazel’s heading our way,” he said. “It’s time to evacuate.”
Fred Hack’s daughter, Avary Hack Doubleday, describes that scene in her new book.
She was 5 in June 1950 when Fred C. and Billie Stebbins Hack moved from Hinesville, Georgia, to Honey Horn Plantation on the island’s north end. She and her young brother, Frederick, were too small to think they’d been marooned. In fact, they loved it.
But there were no doctors, no hospital, no supermarket, library, playhouse or drug store.
Avary looks back on it now and asks, “What in the world were they thinking?”
‘Daddy’ and ‘Mother’
Avary’s father and grandfather, C.C. Stebbins, had just joined with Gen. Joseph B. Fraser of Hinesville to buy thousands of acres on the quiet island dotted with Gullah communities.
Along with Savannah’s Olin T. McIntosh family, the Hacks and Frasers bought the land for its timber. They ended up building a community.
That’s why Avary calls her book “Daughter of the Dawn: A Child of Hilton Head Island, 1950-1956.”
Her book is not about the business wheeling and dealing, or the struggles of her father to lobby for electricity and a bridge. Her focus is not on later years, long after she’d left for Agnes Scott College, when Fred and his brother, Orion Hack, led a successful fight to ward off a BASF petrochemical plant on Bluffton’s Victoria Bluff.
No, her book is the much rarer stories of “Daddy” and “Mother.”
Daddy would light the wood stove before they got up in the morning. Mother would read aloud to them as they ate dinner, usually before Daddy got home from work.
It’s fun to read about the one-room school for the half-dozen or so white children on the island. We are introduced to its creepy outhouse, but also its creative new teacher, Aileen McGinty. She was a spunky Stanford University graduate, whose husband, Pete McGinty, set the “Hilton Head look” as its first architect. Aileen quickly had the children producing “Mary Poppins” and taking trips to the Savannah public library.
It’s a treat to get to know locals like Charles “Fuskie” Simmons and his wife, Delphine “Dellie” Simmons of the island’s Cohen family. We can see their importance to the dawn of a new era for Hilton Head.
We see the post office when islanders came by horse to get their mail. We see cows on the beach. We see how the Hacks were driven by faith, family, education, nature and giving.
Avary does a great job with meticulous detail on aspects of island life long forgotten. The book started with a course she took, almost a decade ago, on how to write a memoir. The book flowed from a beautiful poem she wrote, and includes in the book, called “I Am.”
Modern Hilton Head
The book has a greater value, though, as a key piece of the puzzle that is Hilton Head.
Recently, others have written about life before the bridge, or right after it. Emory S. Campbell wrote “Gullah Cultural Legacies,” Kay Moore wrote “Before the Bridge,” Dr. Phil Jones wrote “Cocktails and Prayers” and Nelle and Ora Smith wrote “Paradise: Memories of Hilton Head in the Early Days.”
Now we have a personal look into the lives of Fred, Billie and Orion Hack, unassuming people by nature, but pillars of modern Hilton Head.
“Mother and Daddy were in the right place at the right time and had a unique opportunity to help shape the development and character of an area,” Avary writes. She says that Hilton Head “to this day reflects their values: their commitment to faith, the natural environment, and service to the community.”
First Presbyterian Church was founded in a chapel at Honey Horn. Billie Hack and two other women founded the Bargain Box thrift store, which has now returned $15 million to community charities. The family and their business associates gave land for The Children’s Center, the library, the airport, churches and the first fire department.
The Hacks were known as the developers of Port Royal, Shipyard, Forest Beach and commercial areas along Mathews Drive.
But they also were known as careful observers of nature. Orion created the arboretum at the Hack family’s development high point, Port Royal Plantation. He was the heart and soul of the BASF fight. He was the Town of Hilton Head Island’s first Planning Commission chair. Billie Hack was the island’s official weather observer for more than 25 years.
Avary recalls how Daddy would say, “Let’s go see what’s in the field” and lead them outside at night to discover wildlife.
Fred and Billie Hack never left Honey Horn. I was in the Packet composing room the night in 1978 that Fred Hack died and the editor said, “Rip up the front page.” He was only 63. Billie died 20 years later, in 1998.
Some of their Honey Horn land was taken to build the Cross Island Parkway. The rest was sold to the Town of Hilton Head Island and is open to the public as home to the Coastal Discovery Museum.
Avary’s book is sold there, but she lives in Highlands, North Carolina, and Greenwood in the Upstate. Her baby brother, Byron, left the island after his mother’s passing. Frederick and his wife, Carol, live on the island, and reared their two daughters here.
Avary prefers the island of her childhood. But she can still see the influence of her parents on the community. That can be hard because they were not flashy people.
“Wherever Mother saw a need, she filled it — quietly,” Avary wrote.
Her parents were definitely leaning into the wind when they went all-in for Hilton Head. They are both now in the Hilton Head Island Hall of Fame, with plaques, appropriately, at Honey Horn.
Avary concludes: “Modern Hilton Head Island began to emerge the day Daddy and Mother moved their young family to the island and committed the rest of their lives to the island community.”