Kiawah Island is a barrier island with a maritime forest, a rich maritime habitat, and 10 miles of beach. It is a private gated community developed to balance a residential community with the business development of the Island. Tourism plays a very important role as part of the Town’s economic vitality, and the Town supports businesses and facilities that, in turn, support Kiawah Island’s owners and visitors.
Native Indians, reformed pirates, wealthy plantation owners, enslaved people, enterprising lumbermen, and Kuwaiti investors; are some of the predecessors to current-day Kiawah Islanders.
Early History: Before 1717
Kiawah Island was named after the Kiawah Indians, who inhabited the island before the 1670 arrival of the English in South Carolina.
The Plantation Era: 1717-1950
In 1717, John Stanyarne, a wealthy planter who lived on Johns Island, bought the half of Kiawah Island that had been owned by Captain Raynor and, in 1737, bought the remaining half that Captain Davis had owned. Stanyarne and subsequent owners raised cattle and produced crops on Kiawah through the use of slave labor until the practice was abolished. John Stanyarne passed away in 1772 and left Kiawah to his two granddaughters. The west half of the Island was passed on to Mary Gibbs, and the east side to Elizabeth Vanderhorst.
In 1775, the Revolutionary War began, and Arnoldus Vanderhorst II, the husband of Elizabeth Vanderhorst, acquired the title to what is today’s Sandy Point area on the Island.
Around 1802, the state’s first British Consul, James Shoolbred, gained title to the western half of the Island, though it was later consolidated and no longer in their possession. Today, the Rhett’s Bluff community dock is built on the site where their home once stood. Along the northern side of Rhett’s Bluff road are two Schoolbred family gravesites.
In 1812, The newly founded United States of America declared war on Great Britain in an attempt to win maritime rights. Temporary naval bases were built along the northeast end of Kiawah Island to protect the Stono and Kiawah rivers.
1861 - The Civil War. The Civil War lasted until 1865, and during this time, the Gibbs and Vanderhorst family abandoned the Island due to its lack of protection and susceptibility to enemy attack. The nearby Fort Sumter in Charleston had one of the largest battles in history, only a mere 21 miles away. Years passed by, and Elizabeth Vanderhorst and her family eventually acquired the entire Island from the Gibbs family. Elizabeth and her husband, Arnoldus, built the Vanderhorst Mansion, which still stands today.Early Development: 1950-1974
In 1950, Almost 100 years later, after being in the Vanderhorst family for centuries, Kiawah Island was sold for $125,000 to Charles Clance Royal of Aiken. Royal was a lumberman and real estate developer who built the first summer home on Kiawah’s Eugenia Avenue, named after his wife. He began developing across the Island shortly after, transforming Kiawah into a private retreat for personal friends and family.
A Residential Resort Community Emerges: 1974-2010
The Kuwaiti Investment Company (Kiawah Island Company) purchased Kiawah Island for $17 million. Soon after the purchase, they undertook to develop Kiawah Island as a world-class resort and began efforts to plan, build, and manage the resort. In 1976, the Kiawah Island Resort opened, with the Kiawah Island Inn—including two swimming pools, two restaurants, and a bar—and the Marsh Point (subsequently renamed Cougar Point) golf course designed by Gary Player. The Kiawah Island Company began to sell real estate.
Since 1994, land use on the island has been subject to development agreements. Two were signed with the Island’s chief developer, Kiawah Resort Associates, in 1994 and 2005, and two with the Kiawah Island Golf Resort, in 2001 and 2010. These agreements specified the development of selected parcels of land consistent with the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations.
In 1998, Kiawah Resort Associates purchased the Island for $105 million, beginning the Island’s transformation into one of the top luxury communities.
Ownership Change: 2013
June 3, 2013, Buddy Darby of Kiawah Partners announced the sale of Kiawah Partners to South Street Partners of Charlotte, North Carolina. Included in this sale are our development companies, as well as Kiawah Island Real Estate, Kiawah Island Utility, The Kiawah Island Club, Freshfields Village, the Lodge at Doonbeg in Ireland, and Christophe Harbour in St. Kitts.