When we picture Brays Island Plantation, we think of its many sections such as Goat Island, Eagle Island, Cochran Island, Brays Island, Scott’s Neck, and a portion of the mainland. However, this is today’s division. During the history of the Plantation, Brays Island as we know it, was both larger and smaller.
Let’s go back a few centuries. Archaeological findings show that this land was occupied from as early as 10,500 BC. More recent explorations indicated that since 1521, in addition to the Native People, the Spaniards, French, English, Scotts, and the Africans have occupied the area. (The first Africans arrived with their owners via the West Indies.)
Two different stories tell how Brays received its name. One states that the Plantation was named for an English clergyman. The other declares that William Bray became the first European to settle on what is now part of our Plantation. He came to America as an indentured servant in the late 1600’s and after serving his seven years working for someone else, he had enough to purchase the land. While Bray and his family lived here, they raised cattle and traded with the Indians. Unfortunately, he and fellow Europeans often cheated the Yemassee (Yamassees). Warned by the Governor of the Carolinas to stop, Bray and his fellow ranchers continued on their path toward destruction. He, his family, and possibly fifty-two others, lost their lives in 1715 at the beginning of the Yemassee Indian War.
The next mention of Brays Island Plantation is found in 1732, several years after the end of the Yemassee Indian War, regarding a King’s Grant of 939 acres to his Majesty’s Surveyor General, Anthony Matthew. (The exact portions of Brays that he received are unknown.) The family probably raised rice and indigo, these being the new cash crops for the colony. Both of these products required many hands for planting and harvesting, causing an escalation in the slave trade to the Lowcountry.
During the Revolutionary War and the War Between the States, many battles and skirmishes were fought for this land. More battles were fought in South Carolina during the Revolutionary War than in all the other 13 Colonies. When Sherman and his men marched to the sea, many of the small towns and almost all of the plantation houses were destroyed. To punish the people further, the military either carted away the seed crop or burned it. They also destroyed the railroads. After the Civil War, the people, both white and black, survived on a shriveled economy, and the region survived on a subsistence existence. To a limited extent, the farmers raised cotton, a product that had replaced indigo after the Revolutionary War, rice, and root vegetables.
The hurricane of 1893 wrecked the last vestiges of the nineteenth-century economy that the people had worked so hard to develop and redevelop. Ships, the phosphate factories, and many inhabitants were lost to the storm. Saltwater rushed into the creeks and rivers, inundating and destroying the remaining rice fields and other farmland. By 1900, less than 500 people occupied Beaufort County. After the disaster, the remaining population lived in virtual poverty. The only exceptions were wealthy Northerners, such as George Waterhouse, who had come to Beaufort during the War Between the States. His descendant, another George, purchased Bellevue and Belvedere Plantations, part of which make up today’s Brays Island Plantation.
Moving ahead to 1937, Francis B. Davis, Jr., an executive with E.I. DuPont and U.S. Rubber Company, purchased Brays Island Plantation. Mr. Davis raised cattle, turkeys, pigs, and ponies. He and his plantation became extremely well known for Black Angus cattle.
In the 60’s, the search for potential vacation sites and high-density developments for an expanding population began encroaching upon the Lowcountry. Hilton Head and south of the Broad were ripe for newcomers. While for another family, the Pingrees, the search was for peace, quiet, beauty, and workable land.
The Pingree Heritage
Several generations of Pingrees had prospered on an 85,000-acre ranch in Cuba, but when Fidel Castro took control of the island, they were forced to leave their home. Until they could return to Cuba, Mr. Pingree leased Huspa Plantation. When Castro’s government dashed the family’s hope of returning to Cuba, a window of opportunity opened. The Davis Plantation, i.e. Brays Island, was up for auction. To expedite the sale, the property had been divided into 128 lots - ponds, pastures, and houses, all divvied up among the parcels to be sold. Most people bidding wished only a segment or two, but Mr. Pingree offered to purchase the entire parcel. All the white buildings, except for the Golf House and the Gun Club still standing, are original to the Plantation, though some of the Island was also a part of the purchase, but the Pingrees sold this area as well as the Brays Island parcel and the connecting islands. His plan was to keep Huspah, which he had purchased, and the remaining portions of Brays Island Plantation. On this land, he would breed cattle and raise hogs.
In 1973, Brays Island and the adjoining islands became available. Sumner Pingree now sold Huspah, and repurchased the remaining segment of the present Plantation. At this time, he and his family (Virginia i.e. Ginga and son, Richard) moved into the Manor or Barony House, our Inn. For the next 15 years, the family enjoyed life on this beautiful land. As the years went by, Sumner wondered what would happen to the land he had nurtured. After discussing the future of the Plantation with his offspring, he discovered that none of them wished to farm the land. What would happen to the land that he’d come to love?
The Concept of Brays Island Plantation
Many developers offered to purchase the land, planning to put thousands of homes on the property, but Mr. Pingree resisted. He did not want the Plantation developed in the traditional ways, either high density or clear-cut for timber. This conservationist and outdoorsman sought another solution, some way to preserve the land yet allowed a limited number of people to continue to keep and maintain what he and his family had enjoyed. And so, the seed for Brays Island Plantation was planted.
Robert Marvin, a well-known landscape architect and the force behind Calloway Gardens and many other “southern treasures”, was called in to help. Robert and his lovely wife, Anna Lou, shared the Pingrees’ philosophy of having a special place, “not to make money but protect the property.” Questions and requirements arose such as “What about the roads?” We must keep the hunting area and the equestrian activities. Two men saw the necessity of building a golf course, establishing an area for shooting sports, building more dockage space for boats, all these plus more must be established before the development could commence. One major concept had been established by Mr. Pingree, the number of lots, “no more than 325.” The Brays Island plant had begun to grow.
In 1986-1987, Sumner Pingree formed Brays Island Company, Inc. for the purpose of developing Brays Island Plantation. Robert Marvin suggested dividing the residential area lots into one-acre circular lots, a concept he borrowed from Frank Lloyd Wright. The properties would each be an acre in size, with space between each lot. Covenants and restrictions would provide that only these lots would ever be offered for sale unless that rule was challenged by a vote of 90% of the membership. The completion of this concept would provide the means to privately preserve, improve, and enhance the working plantation along with safeguarding the environmental benefits for today and the future. This sanctuary does even more. Brays Island Plantation provides future generations an important part of American heritage, the gentlemanly Southern plantation lifestyle, and its timeless traditions.
The Plan Moved Forward
In addition to Robert E. Marvin, Sumner Pingree hired a special task force of environmentally sensitive consultants: Davis and Floyd - Engineers, Hurlbutt, Waldrop and Folk, Inc - Landscape Design, and Ronal Garl - Golf Course Architect to assist. The plan stated that there would only be 325 home sites on acre lots with the balance of the land to be commonly owned, managed, and used by the Plantation Owners: the community and sporting clays course, barns, stalls, paddocks, an inn, a gazebo, boating facilities, and a golf course. The above amenities would be spread over miles of unpaved roads. The remaining 3,500 acres would be used for farming, wildlife, and nature, plus ponds, fresh and brackish, and deer, riding trails, observation, and photography. The main house and carriage house would be converted to lodging facilities.
The group also decided to enhance the hunting with all the fellowship and social aspects that are essential on a Southern plantation. In addition to a skeet and trap range, a sporting clays course would be developed for hunters and non-hunters. The existing barns, stalls, and paddocks would keep a stable of Plantation horses for the Owners, plus offer private stalls for those who wished to have their own mounts. Furthermore, docks, ramps, and Plantation-owned boats would be provided with private boat storage available. The Plantation would offer community piers for crabbing, fishing, and recreational enjoyment and managed the ponds for fishing and wildlife observation. The private golf course should be landscaped with native floral gardens. Tennis courts, swimming pools, and playgrounds must be available. Professional guides and instructors would be needed for all recreational areas. And finally, the staff must truly be service oriented.
The Next Phase
The above worked well for the first few years until the recession of the early 1900’s hit. Lot sales at Brays Island were sluggish and the outlook for growth and enhanced property values were in jeopardy. This environment, coupled with a strong commitment to the Brays Island concept and a desire to control their own destiny, prompted a group of early, “pioneer” Owners to form a limited partnership and acquire the remaining unsold lots from the Brays Island Company. In late 1993, forty Owners raised and invested $7.65 million in this venture known as Shelbray. The managing partners included Archie van Beuren, Tom Rensberry, Bud Fretz, Charlie Howard, and Dick Sturgis. (Please see Shelbray article for additional information.)
Under the leadership of the new organization, plus hiring a new and energetic real estate group who advertised and sold the concept of Brays to a diverse group of individuals, the sales effort was revitalized. As the economy rebounded, so did property sales. By early 1996, earnings from lot sales were sufficient to meet the 15% return target that had been established for each member of the Shelbray partnership. At this juncture, 105 lots remained in the partnership’s inventory and as promised, the forty limited partners sold their interest in these assets to Brays Island Plantation Colony, Inc. for $10.00.
Over the next several years, various realtors, working under the direction of the Colony, sold an additional forty-six lots with net proceeds accruing to the Colony. Throughout this period, a number of major capital projects were funded via earnings derived from the sale of lots with net proceeds accruing to the Colony. Throughout this period, a number of major capital projects were funded via earnings derived from the sale of lots generously “donated” to the Colony by the pioneer investors. This plus an assessment of all the Owners allowed implementation of a number of important amenity and facility improvements, currently enjoyed by all Owners.
These changes, which included a major refurbishing of the Inn, a significant expansion of the Golf Clubhouse, and a new fitness center and indoor pool complex were realized without requiring additional capital funding from the membership at large.
Although much had been accompanied, the Owners looked to the future and recognized that nine plus sales per year left us with a large inventory and that resale properties continued to remain on the market much too long. In addition, the value of the properties were not increasing.
Owners also believed that once again, we needed a dynamic sales force and marketing process to “explain the Brays Island lifestyle”. This real estate group could help reduce the resale properties inventory as well as sell the remaining Plantation’s lots. The Colony, using the concept that had worked before of selling the remaining lots, pushed forward. This time, however, the real estate company would purchase all the unsold lots.
In October 2001, the Colony, as determined by a vote of the membership, opted to sell the fifty-nine lots remaining in its inventory to Brays Island Plantation Company, LLC, for $9.97 million. The managing partners for this new entity were Perry Harvey, Hugh Eaton, Russ Epker, David Gitlitz, and an additional eighteen limited partners invested to make the project work. In 2007, Brays Island Plantation Company, LLC via Brays Island Reality, completed the sale of their entire inventory of fifty-nine lots. Thus all original 325 Brays Island lots were sold. Our real estate people believe that they had and continue to have success for several reasons: the first being aggressive marketing, i.e. getting our name before the public, next diversifying the type of individuals contacted, such as equestrians, golfers, shooters, plus expanding to include total families, i.e. grandparents, parents, and children. Still, the most important segment is having new Owners “buy-in” to the Brays Island concept, which consists of several parts. First, we are an equity facility—our members own the whole facility; next, the basis of our Plantation—like-minded people living and playing together in a cohesive community; add the importance of continuing to maintain and improve the Colony, via the environment, the facilities, and the staff. Finally, the key to holding all of the above together is that we share the dream first started by Sumner Pingree and Robert Marvin.
A Decade of Building
The years, from 2001 to the present, have been filled with expanding of the facilities and the amenities at Brays. These changes include: a major refurbishing of the Inn, a significant expansion of the golf clubhouse, a fitness center, and indoor pool complex, major work on the golf course, additional docks, a roofed-over storage shed for Owner’s boats, a nature center facility, to name just a few of the projects. All completed without requiring major capital funding from the member at large.
From the time Shelbray purchased Brays Island, a group of Owners, duly elected by the membership, has governed the Plantation. At first, there were fifteen board members, but an amendment allowed the reduction to nine. David Clark was our first Chairman of the Board. Since then, those caring citizens, who stepped up to serve, have handled difficult situations but have always remembered to follow Brays’ founding principle: we are a Southern Plantation.
And the Result
Comparing the initial goals and objectives of Brays Island Plantation to what we have today should make each of us proud. We are following the original dream and increasing the vision by adding the Nature Center, improving facilities, i.e. sporting clays, additional pastures, Oak Grove tract, new irrigation systems for the golf course, etc. Sponsoring various classes such as painting, photography, bridge, and numerous other actives, i.e. croquet, boat excursions, field trips, all add to the appeal of Brays and diversify the membership. Our concern for the environment remains strong: our desire to hire the best professional for each of the amenities continues. Our search to include more activities for new and varied Owners endures and grows helping us to fulfill the stated Brays Island Vision. “A unique residential community wishing to conserve the natural environment while pursuing a diverse outdoor interest in harmony with the setting of a traditional Lowcountry Plantation.”
As each day passes and development continues unbridled throughout the US, Brays stands out as a very special and unique place to more and more people. Our future is bright. We have many people to thank for our wonderful Plantation. Our job, as stewards and Owners of the land, is to maintain Brays Island so that there will always be a gentlemanly Southern Plantation lifestyle available.