Local Organizations Join Forces to Elevate Beaufort County’s Unique Heritage and History

6/5/2020 – Celebrating five years in operation, the Santa Elena History Center sincerely thanks the dedicated volunteers, generous supporters, numerous partners, and especially Beaufort County, for launching efforts to claim Santa Elena as America’s First Capital. Now, the Santa Elena Foundation will move on to an exciting new chapter as a part of the Coastal Discovery Museum, the only Smithsonian affiliate organization in Beaufort County.

Amid the uncertainty and change of these unprecedented times lies new opportunity. The goal of both non-profits is to better serve local communities and everyone interested in the heritage of the Lowcountry. This official collaboration will be known moving forward as the Santa Elena Center at the Coastal Discovery Museum.

Aligning efforts will allow Santa Elena’s mission – To discover, preserve, and share the untold story of America’s first and lost century through the rise and fall of Santa Elena to become part of the overall mission of the Coastal Discovery Museum – To inspire people to care for the Lowcountry. Led by archaeologist Dr. Rex Garniewicz at the Coastal Discovery Museum, the Santa Elena Center will continue to discover, preserve and educate the public about the National Heritage Landmark site of Charlesfort-Santa Elena.

“This is really one of the most incredibly complex and fascinating histories we have to tell in the Lowcountry.” According to Dr. Garniewicz “It was where the brutal rivalry between France and Spain took hold in the New World and where the Spanish based their northern operations, building forts all the way into the Appalachian Mountains. Santa Elena marks the shift from European exploration to settlement, and intense conflict with Native American populations who had already established sophisticated chiefdoms along the coast. In an intense struggle for survival, these Mississippian chiefdoms were able to defeat the Spanish in the interior and burn Santa Elena but eventually suffered great losses to their culture in the face of European colonialism. “

The shared vision is to create a new center of excellence at the museum on the historic Honey Horn property to continue all the progress that Santa Elena Foundation made in its developmental phase, including public programming, special events, educational initiatives, and outreach to students of all ages.  The center will be a resource and repository for scholarly research and publications.

Additional components are in development, such as a 1,000 sq. ft. traveling exhibition to improve the public profile of this incredible story — the story of America’s first century. The first stop is Coastal Discovery Museum’s “Discovery House” on Hilton Head Island, where it will debut in October 2020, adding to the array of local information shared on that historic site. Eventually the goal is to also connect visitors to Beaufort and Parris Island through a tour of the archaeological site and a possible onsite presence, as well as continuing support for the archaeological discoveries yet to be made.

Both institutions see this as a strong, positive move and, to make it possible, they created the Santa Elena Society as an avenue for supporters to provide funding during these challenging times to enable both organizations to seize this opportunity. This will move it forward with great diligence and ensure that future generations know and understand Santa Elena’s place in America’s first century.

“It’s been a rewarding journey for those involved in the establishment of the Santa Elena Foundation,” says Megan Morris, Foundation Director. “There are thousands of stakeholders – donors, volunteers, and partners – that helped this organization progress quickly and thanks to them, we are at a crossroads of success. We are excited to transition to the next chapter and new projects.”

Look for more information about our new initiatives, ways to be involved, and how you can support this important endeavor coming soon!

About Coastal Discovery Museum: www.coastaldiscovery.org

The Coastal Discovery Museum opened at a small mid-island storefront on Hilton Head Island in 1985, moved to 100 William Hilton Parkway in 1995 and moved in 2007 to the beautiful 68-acre Historic Honey Horn property in 2007 with a mission to inspire people to care for the Lowcountry.  Throughout its operation’s history, the Museum it has always focused on education and connecting people to important aspects of the Lowcountry’s environment, history, and art, culture and natural environments.

Since opening at Honey Horn, the museum has become a trusted community resource and source of pride among Beaufort County families and visitors.  The Coastal Discovery Museum envisions that it can help take the Santa Elena story to the next level. Since opening at Honey Horn, the Coastal Discovery Museum has welcomed over 1.3 Million visitors. Beyond this the museum is a Smithsonian Affiliate (one of only 200 organizations in the country with this important designation), has educated over 100,000 students in its standards-based school programming, holds 1,200 family and adult education programs and lectures yearly, hosts numerous large-scale, community events. The Museum has over 250 dedicated volunteers and 2,500 devoted members. Since opening at Honey Horn, the museum is financially sound, even amidst the current health crisis, and has continually operated in the black for over a decade and been able to increase programming and staffing.