The little unknown island next to Hilton Head
A History of Bull Island, South Carolina
Did you say Bull’s Island in the Cape Romain Wildlife Refuge? a common confusion, but not quite. Neighboring Bluffton, Daufuskie Island, and Hilton Head Island lies Bull Island, South Carolina, a nearly uninhabited stretch of land with rich wildlife and an even richer past.
Modern history begins with a series of wealthy and, at times, eccentric gentlemen. In the same year the United States entered World War I, a man named Alfred Lee Loomis and his wealthy brother-in-law, Landon K. Thorne, purchased land on Hilton Head Island. This 1917 purchase was for 17,000 acres, nearly all of Hilton Head Island, for the sum of $120,000. Today’s equivalent is about $2.8 million.
Alfred Lee Loomis is not a household name today, but he held many titles in his day. He was a Wall Street tycoon, veteran, scientist, investment banker, socialite, attorney, sailor, philanthropist, and the technology pioneer that is credited with helping win World War II due to his work in military radar usage and the development of the atomic bomb. He also happens to be the maternal great-grandfather of the co-founder and CEO of Netflix.
Like many well-off Northerners of the time, Loomis found value in buying Southern retreats for hunting and recreational use. After decades of enjoying the stunning landscapes of Hilton Head Island, in the 1950s, the Loomis family sold their land to Georgia real estate developers for a considerable profit. The creation of the Coastal Discovery Museum, Sea Pines, the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, and essentially modern-day Hilton Head were made possible by this sale of Honey Horn.
But what does this interesting family have to do with Bull Island? In 1962, Alfred Lee Loomis Jr. had no interest in giving up his winter retreat and decided to purchase a 2,000-acre island right across the Calibogue Sound. He purchased Bull Island from the family of a man named Powel Crosley Jr.
Before his death in 1961, Crosley was an American manufacturer, entrepreneur, and inventor. Along with being the owner of the Cincinnati Reds major league baseball team, he was a pioneer in radio broadcasting. Once dubbed “the Henry Ford of radio”, Crosley amassed a massive fortune and picked up many real estate properties along the way. He used Bull Island as his very own hunting paradise. While he may have hunted some of the local wildlife, he was known to have imported his own game onto the island. It is said that he brought exotic donkeys, sheep, and wild buffalo to this sleepy Lowcountry island.
Alfred Lee Loomis Jr. took it a step further and famously added zebras to the island after his purchase. This exotic import garnered a lot of tourist and media attention at the time and is still talked about to this day. With or without being hunted, all the exotic additions weren’t equipped to naturally survive on the island and quickly died off. No such luck spotting a wild buffalo or zebra today when you explore the Lowcountry.
Zebras aside, the Loomis family left Bull Island mostly untouched during their ownership. They treated the island’s natural beauty with the same respect they showed when they owned a large portion of Hilton Head Island. Bull Island is still so undeveloped that there are Civil War-era rice paddies in the center of the island.
In 2002, the Loomis family found the right new owners for Bull Island in Birchwood Acquisition. This holding company, created by the Chilton family, owns nearly 20,000 acres of hunting property across South Carolina. The family has preserved the island and continued the tradition of using Bull Island as a retreat and for bird hunting for family and guests.
If you are looking to see this incredible scape for yourself, a dolphin tour with Island Skiff Adventure Tours allows you to see nearly all the coast of Bull Island by way of an intimate guided experience. Learn more about the history and see one of the few truly untouched islands in the Lowcountry.