The Santa Elena History Center Experience

Discover a lost century of American history, when 450 years ago the flourishing Spanish town of Santa Elena was established on the shores of Beaufort County. A tour of the exhibits in this 12,000 square foot historic building and former courthouse includes the following:


Our exhibit showcases the 16th Century explorations and settlements with a focus on the Spanish town of Santa Elena which was located on Parris Island, South Carolina from 1566-1587. An eight minute film introduces the history of Santa Elena, and a self-paced tour through the main exhibit engrosses visitors in the earliest years of American history. Learn how the French attempted settlements and how the Spanish reclaimed it by establishing the towns of Santa Elena and St Augustine to the south. Discover what life was like for the settlers at Santa Elena and why they were forced to abandon their town not once but twice. Also, learn about the archaeological discovery of the town and what the excavations have revealed.


Archaeology Learning Experience

Kids of all ages can lead their own excavation to find reproduction artifacts representing what archaeologists discovered at the site of Santa Elena. Find artifacts on the scavenger hunt list, use the artifact guide to identify your finds, and learn more about the science of archaeology!

Navigation in the 16th Century

What was it like to voyage across the Atlantic in the 16th century? This exhibit describes different Spanish vessels, preparations for the journey, life aboard the ships, and how the Spanish were able to successfully navigate using an astrolabe, compass, and cross staff. See video of the reproduction galleon that sails the world today and visits Santa Elena in the 21st century!

History of 1501 Bay Street

The Santa Elena History Center is located in a historic county courthouse on the banks of the beautiful Beaufort River. It was first constructed in 1883 as a brick Victorian building and then remodeled to its current Art Deco style in 1936. Discover the history of the building and recall its use as a prestigious private residence, hospital during the Civil War, and county courthouse.

Jail Cells

If you were a prisoner awaiting trial when the building was a courthouse then you would have likely have stayed in the holding cells. See what it would have been like to await trial in one of these cells and even have your mug shot taken. Photo opp!

Education Station

See and touch reproduction artifacts that represent what the Spanish and Native Americans would have used and traded for with the European settlers. This is just the beginning of the artifacts and reproductions that will soon be added to the main exhibit!