In 1706, Spring Island was deeded by Lord Colleton to John Cochran, an infamous Indian trader. Cochran chose the high bluffs of the island for the site of his trading post because of its prominent location and visual contact with several neighboring Indian villages. Fourteen years later John Cochran added Callawassie Island to his trading post. After three generations of the Cochran family’s ownership, Spring Island was passed to George Barksdale through his marriage to Mary Ash, John Cochran’s granddaughter. In 1801, George Edwards (1777-1859) acquired Spring Island through his marriage to Elizabeth Barksdale.
Edwards cleared fields and began cultivation of what became world-famous Sea Island Cotton. By 1850, the Edwards family lived in a huge tabby mansion on Spring Island’s eastern shore. The plantation was composed of 1,000 improved acres and hundreds of unimproved acres valued at fifty thousand dollars. Under Edwards’ care, Spring Island produced over 3,000 bushels of vegetables and a cotton crop worth $100,000 annually. Although the Edwards mansion was abandoned after the Civil War, the ruins remain to this day as a tribute to the Island’s heritage. An architectural model and a history of this era can be found at the end of Old House Road, the site of the Edwards mansion.
In the 1920’s, Spring Island was acquired by Colonel William Copp, who raised livestock and numerous crops on the Island. Copp built a magnificent home in the area known as Bonny Shore.
The most recent individual owner of Spring Island was Elisha Walker, Jr., a successful investor who lived in New York City. With the skilled help of his General Manager, Gordon Mobley, Walker set about creating one of the South’s legendary quail hunting plantations complete with mule drawn wagons, Tennessee Walking Horses and fabulous hunting dogs, while leaving the island’s spectacular natural beauty largely untouched. Elisha Walker died in 1972, his wife Lucile in 1982 and Gordon Mobley in 1995.
In February 1990, the island was purchased from the Walker Trust by a group consisting of Jim and Betsy Chaffin, Jim and Dianne Light and Peter and Beryl LaMotte. The non-profit Spring Island Trust was chartered by the developers in that same year with a three-fold mission: protection and management of the island’s natural environment, ongoing documentation of its history and promotion of its availability as an inspiration for the arts.
Immediately after the purchase of the land, the new owners embarked on the risky course of a low-density development plan, which would leave the Island unspoiled. To accomplish this, they reduced the existing county permit, which was for 5,000 dwelling units, to a new permit for a maximum of 500 homes on the Island’s 3,000 acres. They also created a 1,000-acre Nature Preserve to be managed by the Spring Island Trust and protected in perpetuity.
Working with the late Robert Marvin, the world-renowned Lowcountry land planner and landscape architect who created the plans for Callaway Gardens near Atlanta and the par-3 course at Augusta National, a plan was created to preserve irreplaceable natural treasures such as the Live Oak Forest and the Great Salt Pond. This plan permitted only 500 homes on the 3,000-acre island, one of the lowest densities of any community on the South Carolina coast. Subsequently, in 1998, following discussions with the developer and the property owners, a decision was reached to reduce the density to 410 homesites.
The final Master Plan allowed for moderate density in the areas of Walker Landing and Bonny Shore, as well as Old Tabby Links Neighborhood. The remainder of the property was planned to permit larger homes on very large and private land parcels. Marvin’s creation of a ‘Nature Curtain’ shielded many of these large homes from view, even from the Island’s roads. The result was a series of very low-impact neighborhoods with total privacy and the protection of indigenous trees. The framework was in place for an environmentally-friendly community of unsurpassed beauty and distinction. Located in the pristine Lowcountry, Spring Island is unrivaled in its lifestyle, bio-diversity, comfort, and real-life experiences that combine local flavor with global sophistication. Although secluded from urban sprawl, Spring Island is conveniently connected to the nearby town of Beaufort, South Carolina and Hilton Head Island.
In 1989, Jim Chaffin of Chaffin/Light Associates and his wife, Betsy, visited Spring Island and fell in love with its intoxicating natural beauty. Their commitment to preserve this beauty was made in an early shared sentiment, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could share Spring Island with just a few friends?” This simple but sincere thought thus became the cornerstone of the development philosophy; the footprint would be light on the land.
First, a plan approved by Beaufort Country in 1985 for 5,000 units was reduced by over ninety percent to 410, resulting in a gross density of over 7 acres per homesite. Also, 1,000 acres – about one third of the island – was set aside, in perpetuity, and the Spring Island Trust was established to ensure the preservation and protection of the island’s environment and cultural history. The result is a peaceful refuge for people looking for an alternative to the typical country club golf community. Often described as “an unpretentious place,” the members, a diverse group geographically as well as in age and interests, share the philosophy that “bigger” is not necessarily better, that “glitzier” is not always finer.
The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway and bridge, and is about 30 minutes from Hilton Head Island and the historic town of Beaufort, which was voted “#1 Best Small Town” in Southern Living Magazine’s 13th Annual Readers’ Choice Awards for 2009. Beaufort has been recognized by an award in the Best Small Town category in Southern Living for more than eight years in a row. Savannah and its airport are an easy 40 minute drive from the Island and Charleston lies 75 miles to the north.