Almost every visitor to Hilton Head Island has passed the austere graveyard tucked among the trees at the busy intersection of William Hilton Parkway and Mathews Drive. Few, however, stop to discover that the Zion Chapel of Ease cemetery is home to the oldest structure on the island — a mausoleum built in 1846 by wealthy cotton planter William Edings Baynard.
The Revolutionary War cemetery is one of many neat little attractions often overlooked by visitors to the island. These hidden gems include historic landmarks, cultural vestiges and some incredibly beautiful secluded spots to observe nature.
Along with Baynard’s mausoleum, visitors can view the remains of his grand antebellum home located off Plantation Drive near the Sea Pines Resort. Built in 1793 by Captain Jack Stoney as part of Braddock’s Point Plantation, the 1,840-square-foot house went on to serve as the headquarters for Union forces during the Civil War. It burned down shortly after the war’s end.
All that remains of the estate today is the tabby foundation and a corner wall of the main house, along with remnants of several attendant slave quarters. Stories of the site being haunted have been circulating for years. Some visitors have even reported seeing the ghost of Baynard wandering the property after dark.
Sea Pines also lays claim to an Indian shell ring dating back to the time of the Great Pyramids. You’ll find the 4,000-year-old elliptical mound within the Sea Pines Forest Preserve. Measuring 150 feet in diameter, it was created by nomadic Indians who hunted and gathered seafood in the area’s salt marshes and then threw their discards — oyster, clam and mussel shells, animal bones and deer antlers outside their circular encampments.
Just outside Sea Pines Plantation is another nature refuge not to be missed. The Audubon-Newhall Preserve on Palmetto Bay Road offers visitors a glimpse at what the island looked like before it was developed. Trails through the 50-acre property take you past a rare plant community, a small wetland area known as a pocosin and a large pond frequented by a variety of wildlife.
Birders also will enjoy visiting Fish Haul Creek Park overlooking Port Royal Sound. One of the park’s trails leads to a boardwalk and observation deck that sits out in the salt marsh. Bring your own binoculars or use the one provided on the deck to observe egrets and herons feeding in the Spartina grass.
There’s also a trail that leads to the sound. This secluded stretch of seashore is a great spot to cast a shrimp net, look for clams, go surf fishing or walk your dog without having to dodge beach chairs and blankets.
If you’re interested in learning more about the native islander culture, check out the Gullah Sweetgrass Gallery at the Coastal Discovery Museum. Seventh-generation basket sewers Michael Smalls and Dino Badger teach classes and demonstrate the art form brought to the Lowcountry by enslaved African people. The gallery also features an assortment of their baskets for sale.
Just off the island is the Bluffton Oyster Company, the last hand shucking house in the state. The oyster house actually sits on reclaimed land, built up by more than a hundred years of discarded shells from former shucking operations.
During the oyster season, you can watch the day’s catch being unloaded from boats at the dock and women shucking oysters inside the factory. Along with the delicious mollusks, the company also sells fresh from the trawler shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, fish and those prized soft shell crabs; a delicious way to end any adventure.