Isle of Palms - Tracing Its Fascinating History

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Isle of Palms - Tracing Its Fascinating History

Isle of Palms, nestled along the coast of South Carolina and just a short drive from downtown Charleston, is a place where history lies as the undercurrent to the sounds of the ocean waves. Its story spans centuries, from its indigenous inhabitants to today’s bustling vacation destination. As we welcome you to your IOP Escapes vacation rental property for your getaway, it is with that long history of hospitality that we greet you! It is our pleasure to share a brief overview of the history of Isle of Palms as well as our local business, IOP Escapes. 

Early Inhabitants, Exploration, and Historical Events

The island is thought to be over 25,000 years old. Before the arrival of European settlers, the Sewee tribe, part of the Sioux nation, called this land home. They lived along the coast, harmonizing with nature's bounty to survive and thrive.  Some residents tell stories of pirates who once buried treasure in deserted dunes and woods on the island, although none has been discovered so far!In 1666, Captain Florentia O'Sullivan, an Irishman in service to the English crown, was granted the land that would later become Isle of Palms. Decades later, neighboring Sullivan’s Island was the location of several significant events in our nation’s history. During the Revolutionary War in late June of 1776, the British sent a broad fleet of ships led by Sir Henry Clinton to attack Charleston. This group of over 2,500 men attempted a raid on the colonials, however, many drowned when attempting to cross Breach Inlet (a small body of water between Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms). Thus, the islands facilitated the American's victory at the Battle of Fort Sullivan. 


During the Civil War, the CSS Hunley submarine departed from Sullivan’s Island.  After sinking the Union Ship, the USS Housatonic, the Hunley was lost at sea, and despite valiant efforts, would not be located until 1995. This began a recovery effort of lifting and excavating the submarine - and its eight-man crew. By 2004, all eight men had been identified and were honored with a memorial service led by a processional march through downtown Charleston, ending at Magnolia Cemetery. The recovery of the USS Hunley and its crew and their burial became a celebration of our nation’s history.

Visionaries: J.C. Long and J.S. Lawrence

By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the island had become known as a place for Charleston locals to take refuge from the summer heat, humidity, and hustle of town. The island was purchased in 1899 by J.S. Lawrence, who named it the Isle of Palms, despite it being previously known as Hunting Island. In 1906, a 50-room resort hotel was built. In 1912, James Sottile built a large beach pavilion and amusement park, complete with a Ferris wheel!  

Travel to Isle of Palms also improved around this time. Charleston residents could take a ferry to Mt. Pleasant, a rail trolley car to Sullivan’s Island, and then Isle of Palms. In 1929, the ferry was replaced by the Grace Memorial Bridge, and in 1946, a bridge link was built, making travel to the island even simpler.  It was at that time that J.C. Long of The Beach Company purchased the majority of the island, which set the stage for the island's transformation. Long provided low-cost housing to veterans returning from World War II and Isle of Palms slowly developed into a suburb of the greater Charleston area.


Development and Evolution

The real estate boom of the 20th century brought rapid development to Isle of Palms. A dramatic increase in tourism and residential expansion lead to more hotels, restaurants, and vacation homes. The influx of visitors seeking solace in the islands's pristine beaches and tranquil atmosphere grew the physical and economic development of the island dramatically.  

However, like many places, Isle of Palms experienced setbacks, including the devastation caused by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Despite the considerable damage, the community rallied together to rebuild and revitalize the island. 

Sullivan's Island Connector bridge post Hurricane Hugo in 1989


Today, Isle of Palms remains a haven for beach enthusiasts, offering a perfect blend of relaxation, recreational opportunities, and modern conveniences. Its breathtaking shoreline draws sun-seekers, while activities like surfing, kayaking, and fishing cater to adventure-seekers.  The ease of travel to and around Isle of Palms, the vast food and restaurant scene, and the entertainment options make your getaway to a historical place still a seamless vacation.

The preservation of natural beauty remains a top priority, with efforts to protect the island's dunes, wildlife, and maritime forest. Sullivan's Island, adjacent to Isle of Palms, also contributes to the area's historical significance, boasting sites like Fort Moultrie, a key defensive structure during various conflicts, including the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island

About IOP Escapes History 

IOP Escapes is owned and managed by local residents who have a deep love for Isle of Palms. Our first rental property was Twin Palms, located at 914 Carolina Boulevard, and our portfolio of properties has now grown to a vast array of vacation rentals that accommodate all kinds of travelers, families, and vacationers. We take great pride in welcoming visitors and providing excellence in all stages of the rental process. 

For our homeowners, we are proud to care for these homes as if they are our own, and proud to facilitate a premier property investment company that is growing and thriving year after year and creating a legacy of distinction.

Front entrance of Home.  Covered porch and beautiful staircase.
Twin Palms, Our First Vacation Rental Property
Waterway Oasis

Conclusion: A Timeless Escape

Isle of Palms stands as a testament to the union and continuity of history and modernity. Its journey from indigenous lands to a sought-after resort destination mirrors the ebb and flow of time. The island continues to evolve while cherishing its rich heritage, inviting visitors to revel in its natural splendor and embrace a sense of tranquility amidst the chaos of the world.

Whether it's the swaying palmettos, the golden sands, or the warm hospitality of its residents, Isle of Palms is a captivating oasis beckoning travelers to step into its embrace and create timeless memories.  Isle of Palms - where our heritage and preservation of this island - our home - is our legacy.

On behalf of IOP Escapes and the homeowners who have trusted us for years with the stewardship of their vacation rental homes, we look forward to welcoming you for your first - or 50th -  visit to this treasured, special place!