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A history as rich as the land itself


From the beginning, it was clear that Palmetto Bluff was destined to be a place, not a project. The intrinsic value here lies in the natural beauty, vastness and richness of its sea island landscape. We have set out to preserve and protect one of America's treasured landscapes while creating a human settlement for those who will cherish this unique environment. By allowing the land to guide us rather than imposing a developer template, we have crafted a plan that respects its topography, wetlands and the miles of marsh and river edge. At the heart of this place, a village has been re-created. We connect with the island's colorful history and continue its centuries-old legacy of living well. The Lowcountry, and all it entails, is integral to Palmetto Bluff.

An early history

An early history

The oldest artifacts at Palmetto Bluff date back over 12,000 years. Those early Paleoindians were followed by generations of Indigenous people who came to the Bluff to fish in the estuaries and to hunt and gather in the forests. Today, archaeologists find shells, bones and fragments of clay pots and stone tools as evidence of their long-ago visits. The absence of any such artifacts dating later than 1450 CE is evidence that they abandoned the area. From then until the arrival of the first European colonists, the Bluff was uninhabited.


In 1730, the land was purchased by a British naval officer, Admiral George Lord Anson, who divided the land into tracts averaging 1000 acres each. The tracts would become plantations and were sold between 1757 and 1790.

The Antebellum Era

The Antebellum Era

The existence and success of the Bluff’s plantations depended on the brutal capture, import, and enslavement of people from Africa. They and their descendants toiled in sweltering fields and served in plantation owners’ households. They grew indigo, rice and Sea Island cotton for the markets in Savannah and corn, beans, and sweet potatoes to feed the plantation owners, their families, and the enslaved people themselves. Each plantation owner held in captivity between 15 and 75 children and adults, who were forced to endure relentless labor and physical and psychological abuse at the whim of plantation families and overseers.


In November 1861, the Civil War came to Beaufort County. Hilton Head Island fell to Union troops, and the escaping Confederate forces burned buildings and supplies as they fled. The white families at Palmetto Bluff also left, the men taking up arms against the United States, the women and children moving to safer locations. Enslaved people who were left at Palmetto Bluff also fled. They escaped to the Federal encampment on Hilton Head, where they would help found Mitchelville, a progressive community of freed people. Many of the formerly enslaved men joined the Union army to fight for freedom, and several of these veterans are buried at Palmetto Bluff.


Life after the Civil War was difficult. The economy of the South was devastated. Plantation owners struggled to make a profit in the new economy and some lost their land for nonpayment of taxes. Black families who returned to the Bluff rented or bought small tracts of land to farm, sometimes from their former enslavers.


In the 1880s John Estill, a Savannah businessman, began purchasing properties at the Bluff. He eventually held 10,000 acres.

The Wilson Era

The Wilson Era

In 1902, Richard T. Wilson, Jr., a wealthy New York banker, purchased Estill’s 10,000 acres and over the next 20 years, he doubled the size of his property and name it “Palmetto Bluff.” The Bluff was the Wilsons’ winter home and a place to relax, hunt, and ride. Because Mrs. Wilson loved to entertain, they began construction of a grand mansion in 1910. The four-story home that overlooked the May River included a ballroom, a library, servant's quarters, and numerous guest bedrooms. Visitors would arrive by steamship or railroad and stay for weeks at a time, enjoying Mrs. Wilson's lavish parties and all the amenities the land had to offer.

On March 26, 1926, the mansion caught fire, and the magnificent home was reduced to ashes. A distraught Wilson was unable to face rebuilding. Months later, the property was sold to J. E. Varn for a timber, turpentine and cattle business. Wilson, who returned to New York City, died three years later.

The Union Camp Era

The Union Camp Era

In 1937, Union Bag and Paper Company purchased the land from Varn for its significant timber reserves. Originally acquired for its 20,000 acres of pine and hardwood resources, company officials quickly realized that the 32 miles of riverfront and spectacular maritime forest offered much more than that. The company then created a conservation-based Land Use Plan to protect this pristine place, and to this day, Palmetto Bluff's beauty can be traced back to the stewardship of Union Bag. In the early 1970s, Union acquired the Camp Paper Company of Virginia and then became known as Union Camp. Union Camp used the property as a hunting retreat for clients, and today, more than half a century after its original inception, the memory of the Lodge and the "Union Camp Years" occupies a prominent place in the history of this fabled property.

Present Day

Present Day

In 2000, Palmetto Bluff was purchased by Crescent Communities, which later became known as the Palmetto Bluff Company, and planning began for the 20,000 acre-residential community that is evolving today. On September 27, 2001, Palmetto Bluff’s vision statement was penned ensuring that the land will always guide our evolution.

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