Then and Now: Palmetto Bluff

Then and Now

BLUFFTON, S.C. (WSAV) – The Coastal Empire and the Lowcountry look much different now than they did decades ago. WSAV is taking a closer look at some of our area’s most iconic locations and how they’ve changed over time.

Palmetto Bluff is one of the most notable developments in South Carolina, not for what they’re building, but for what they’re leaving untouched.

Richard Wilson, a wealthy New York banker, and his family purchased Palmetto Bluff in the early 1900’s. During that time period, paparazzi followed the wealthy, so the Wilsons were looking for an escape.

Palmetto Bluff is 20,000 acres, which is 1.5 times the size of Manhattan, and the Wilson’s home was a true Southern mansion.

“His wife is a huge socialite and entertainer in New York City, so to be able to convince her to come to Palmetto Bluff, she needed the same here,” Courtney Hampson, Vice President of Marketing at Palmetto Bluff, said.

Hampson says Palmetto Bluff archaeologists have actually found newspaper clippings from the New York Times that speak of people boarding steamships in New York City to travel to Palmetto Bluff, South Carolina to visit the Wilsons.

Unfortunately, the mansion burned down in 1926. It burned for three days.

“When the mansion burned, the story goes that Mr. Wilson kept going in, and his secretary had to keep pulling him out,” Hampson said. “He was trying to save all these first editions of his library. Mrs. Wilson only went in once to throw her shoes out the window.”

The property promptly ended up in the hands of Union Camp in the 1950’s.

“They made the decision once they got here, ‘we’re not going to timber it, we’re not going to ruin this,’ so we really have a paper company to thank for saving Palmetto Bluff and conserving the resources and giving us what we see here today,” Hampson said.

Union Camp built a lodge on the property. Every week, they would host new guests.

“These were their top clients and customers, dignitaries,” Hampson said. “Again, it was about fishing and hunting, but at the end of the day, everybody coming together, sitting at a table and sharing a meal.”

Hampson says that Union Camp and the Wilsons hosted and entertained for centuries, so now Palmetto Bluff is trying to carry that legacy forward.

“There’s a reason that this is a public park today and not private real estate, because part of what we’re also trying to do to promote that community connection is take the best spots here and make them parks where anybody can enjoy these views,” Hampson said.

When development is complete, the property will have no more than 4,000 homes to protect Palmetto Bluff’s core values, Hampson says.

“The Palmetto Bluff Conservancy exists to manage the land and the wildlife, and part of our work together with them is to conserve as much of the land as possible,” Hampson said. “So, our goal when we are done is that 10,000 acres, or half of this, will be protected and will never be developed.”

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