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Edisto Island Chamber of Commerce
Media Kit: History
Edisto Island’s historical legacy began with the imprint of the Edistow Indians, its first known occupants, who lived along the banks of the Edisto River for hundreds of years. The Edisto River, one of the longest free-flowing blackwater rivers in North America, runs 206 miles to the Atlantic Ocean through its mouth at Edisto Beach.
The Spanish arrived here in the 1500s, followed by English settlers in the 1600s. With them came the Earl of Shaftsbury, one of the original Lord Proprietors, who purchased Edisto Island from the Edistow Indians in 1674. From then on, the English remained, first living off the sea, before cultivating money crops of rice and indigo. By 1790, planters had turned to the long staple cotton and began growing a type of cotton known as Sea Island cotton, one of the finest types ever produced. It was this crop that brought great wealth to those on the island.
The cotton industry, however, began to fail in the wake of the Civil War (or War Between the States, as it is often called here). The boll weevil beetles also aided in its decline. In the years following, islanders began turning toward fishing, farming, and shrimping. Meanwhile, fruit and vegetable crops started to take the place of cotton crops.
Many of the elegant houses and plantations remaining today are reminders of an affluent age that once was an opulent time in the deep South. A number of these historical treasures are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and some are put on tour annually by the Edisto Island Historic Preservation Society.
In the 1920s, signs of tourism began to appear at Edisto. Despite the rise of tourism, the area remained largely undeveloped, mostly due to the inaccessibility of the beach. Until the first one-lane wooden bridge was built in 1920, travelers to Edisto were forced to drive over beds of oyster shells at low tide in order to access the island from the mainland.
Development on the island began to increase after World War II, but inhabitants of the island sought to preserve its unspoiled beauty. As a result, it saw little commercialization. Generations following have continued to preserve its deep history and modest commercial infrastructure.
Today, Edisto is a quiet family island with an emphasis on responsible development. Much focus is placed on keeping nature unspoiled and in balance with visitors and year-round residents alike.