Sullivan’s Island

In a region where coastal living and American history are the hallmarks, Sullivan’s Island is easily the compelling of all the islands of Greater Charleston. For locals, there are no finer beaches than those on Sullivan’s (aka Sully’s or Sully’s I). The views and angles are spectacular, the sands are white and broad, and the sandbars and inlets offer the best wind-boarding and kite flying on the South Carolina coast. The sandbar at Station 28is an absolute Must See for anyone who loves a great beach. Its main sandbar can reach a quarter mile into the Atlantic, offering one of the coolest strolls in America. Having the closest beaches to downtown Charleston one would expect Sully to suffer large crowds, but not so. There are no public facilities for visitors, and beach access points are difficult to find, so Sullivan’s is primarily the favorite of locals and fans of beach wind sports. For these reasons, the Station 22 beachfront has been popular with College of Charleston Students for several generations.

Sullivan’s also has a perfect little town park, with cute children’s playgrounds and superb outdoor sporting facilities all tucked against a massive earthen bunker with views of the Intracoastal Waterway… just a couple blocks from the beach. Its homes are as interesting as its residents, as the architecture is as varied as the incredible history this tiny little island can boast. When the first explorers sailed into old world Charleston Harbor, the first land they passed was Sully’s. As the home of Fort Sullivan, which was renamedFort Moultrie after General William Moultrie who defeated Cornwallis in one of the decisive land-sea battles of the Revolutionary War. The flexible palmetto logs that Moultrie used to defend the fort from British Canon fire were the inspiration for the South Carolina state flag, widely admired among America’s most recognizable state flags. And in the mouth of the harbor just in front of Fort Moultrie is the most famous fort of them all, Fort Sumter, home of the “shot heard around the world” that started the Civil War. Fort Moultrie is so strategically positioned that it remained a legitimate US Military facility guarding the harbor until 1940. The views from the high dune beach head in front of Fort Moultrieare in our opinion the best offered by any other single location in the entire Greater Charleston area. With a direct view westward far across the harbor to the Charleston Battery and Charleston’s romantic skyline, it offers the best sunsets in the state.

To the Northeast is the iconic black and white Sullivan’s Island Lighthouse, a modern structure that is in direct contrast to the Morris Island Lighthouse (1876) to the South, just to the left of Fort Sumter. All the while ambling by are constant streams of leisure vessels and ocean going ships alike. Many completing their journey from the other side of the world.  And in the waters of the harbor you’re sure to see families of dolphins fishing and playing, often just a  few feet from the beach and walk-able jetties. And of course there are views of the Ravenel Bridge that are totally unique to that spot. All of this and you’ll be standing in front of one of the most important National Historic Museums in Fort Moultrie, and just off to its left is the beautiful little sanctuary that is the historic Stella Maris Church (1873), that was built to replace the war torn Church of St. John the Baptist, that was by no coincidence the only building on the entire island that was left standing after the Civil War. One cannot help but to be moved when visiting this overwhelmingly historic island.

At the northern end of the Island where the Bridge at Breach Inlet connects Sully’s to the Isle of Palms, the unrivaled history of the tiny island continues. Breach Inlet is the location of one of the most important ground battles of the Revolutionary War, the Battle in defense of Fort Sullivan from the North (which many historians point to as a trailblazer for modern combat tactics). If you remember from U.S. history class the battle where many of Lord Cornwallis’s men drowned in surprisingly swift waters while trying to cross a seemingly shallow creek, all while under intense fire from the local Patriots  (dubbed “Sandlappers”) who fired their weapons while laying prone in the sandy soil, Breach Inlet was that creek and Sully’s was that sand. The treacherous Inlet was also the launching point of the Civil War vessel CSS Hunley, the first submarine in world history to successfully sink an enemy ship, the USS Housatonic on February 17, 1864.  And with all this talk of the glory and tragedy of war, it cannot be overlooked that Sullivan’s Island is also the closest thing to an Ellis Island for the descendents of the slaves, as historians say the ancestors of nearly half the African American population entered North America through Sullivan’s Island. So with the sufferings and courage and inevitable prayers of the soldiers and the slaves of history, one can feel a truly holy presence on Sully’s that makes the island that much more beautiful.

While many tourists and locals alike hop over to the Isle of Palms to access the IOP Connector en route to the Mount Pleasant mainland at Towne Centre, most locals use the traditional causeway at Ben Sawyer Blvd that hops into the Old Village of Mount Pleasant at Coleman Blvd., for a scenic 15 minute ride to downtown Charleston across the Ravenel Bridge. Visitors may remember the draw bridge that was knocked off its axis by Hurricane Hugo. That’s the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway on the Ben Sawyer Causeway to Sullivan’s Island. When linked to a tour across the paralleled IOP Connector, visitors can expect one of the most spectacular touring drives in Greater Charleston. Literature fans will find it especially interesting that Edgar Allen Poe was stationed as a soldier at Fort Moultrie and used Sullivan’s Island as the setting for his novel The Gold Bug.

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