It wasn’t that long ago that, between Hilton Head Island and I-95, you’d find nothing but timber land. Just a few miles away from this strip, you’d find a sleepy little oyster town named Bluffton. Oozing Southern charm, this quiet corner of the world lived with the tides in a one-square-mile paradise on earth. Then, about 15 years ago, the area simply exploded. Its natural beauty, coupled with its prime location, convenient to Savannah, Hilton Head Island and Beaufort, created the perfect jumping off point for development. Funny thing is, though, as big as Bluffton becomes, it’s still that quiet town perched on a river.

That explosion of development continued on to nearby Okatie, and in fact it is this newer area where much of today’s most exciting growth continues. Now, Bluffton and Okatie are some of the most vibrant and fast-growing areas in the state. Both have been very careful to balance new growth with environmental considerations, and it has paid off with an area rich in cultural opportunities and ample space for those looking to set down roots.

We begin in Bluffton, where old and new blend to create a unique and charming environment. Where else can you find a stateof-the-art tech park, home to the vanguard in technology, situated right up the road from a downtown that has remained largely unchanged since Bluffton still woke and slept by the tides? Where else can you enjoy a round of world-class golf on courses designed by the greats, take in a movie in stadium seating with the latest in picture and sound, browse the unique works of a score of talented local artists, and then plan your evening around the tides as you set up for a barbecue on the May River’s famous sandbar?

The Broad River, towns such as Bluffton and Hardeeville are seeing unprecedented growth.

The first Blufftonians were Native Americans who came to reap the bounty of this riverside paradise’s shellfish, crabs and oysters. Apart from their annual visits, however, the town’s sole resident was the majestic May. That changed in the early 19th century when wealthy planters from around the state, and largely from nearby Savannah, flocked to “Bluff Town” to enjoy the cooling breezes that the May brought with each tide. In addition to keeping insects at bay, these breezes created a comfortable climate far from the heat of the city.

Bluffton’s road access to Charleston and Savannah and coastal locations made it a trade hotspot for farmers shipping their goods to cities up and down the coast and abroad. This trade spurred tremendous growth and, in 1852, the town officially incorporated as “Bluffton.” Over time, the town’s reputation as a trading post would be eclipsed by its role in fostering secessionist thought.

According to legend, disgruntled planters from Bluffton would meet at what is now called the Secession Oak (which still stands; albeit on private property, so don’t plan a visit) to air their grievances with federal trade policies. Their discussions would eventually spawn a rebellious ideology that would come to be known as the “Bluffton Movement.” This radical new movement would soon spread across the South, encouraging secession by planters and farmers and setting the stage for the “War of Northern Aggression.”

Within 16 years, the tensions reflected in the Bluffton Movement boiled over, and the first shots of the war rang out in Fort Sumter, just up the coast. Union troops, recognizing Bluffton as the birthplace of the secessionist movement, razed the town and burned many buildings, churches, and more than 30 homes. Along with these buildings, most of the town’s archives went up in flames, all but erasing Bluffton’s rich history. What we know now about Bluffton’s past has been painstakingly pieced together from letters, state records and family stories.

The few buildings which escaped the Northern torches, silent survivors of history’s brutality, were restored or renovated once the war ended. One such home, and perhaps the most famous, is the Heyward House. Believed to have been built in 1840, this stately reminder of a bygone era, appropriately enough, currently serves as home for the Bluffton Historical Preservation Society. The Society has made great strides in protecting Bluffton’s cherished history as the town builds toward the future.

This “historic district” has helped foster yet another radical movement: a quirky, whimsical attitude that has come to be known as “The Bluffton State of Mind.” Born of the relaxed creativity of its eccentric population, this mixture of art, performance, and culture is helping to redefine Bluffton.

If this state of mind had a capital, it would no doubt be Calhoun Street, the cultural heart of Bluffton.

Calhoun Street hosts a variety of festivals and parades, from the Bluffton Village Festival to the TGI3rd Friday events, all of which celebrate Bluffton’s unique mindset and atmosphere.

Utilizing a town manager style of government, Bluffton has the people and pieces in place to face its exciting future, while preserving its history and charm. The many neighborhoods around Bluffton offer amenities to suit nearly every taste, including golf, water views and luxurious stables. Combine that with plenty of shopping opportunities, from outlet malls to big box retailers to wonderful local shops, and add a short trip to the beaches of Hilton Head Island or the big city fun of Savannah, and it’s easy to see why so many are choosing to call Bluffton home.

The Bluffton Parkway continues to link the town together, as the recently-opened portions open it all the way to S.C. 170 and new stretches one day hope to provide a second route from the bridges to Hilton Head all the way out to I-95.

Farther north, in Okatie, development has included several new commercial districts and neighborhoods. Trading on the natural beauty along the Okatie River, this region is home to various neighborhoods that exult in outdoor activities. While the development in Bluffton was just booming, Okatie patiently waited for its chance to grow. Now, that chance has come, with new retail spaces opening up and new neighborhoods in the works.

Another exciting “South of the Broad” area is the up-and-coming city of Hardeeville. Once little more than a pit stop for travelers heading down I-95, this picturesque Southern town is expanding, with new developments going up in recent years and dedication to maintaining the small town charm that has people feeling as if they’ve stepped into another world.

There’s no telling how big this region will become in the coming years. Its location, infrastructure and natural beauty assure that it will continue to draw new residents, and smart development policies promise it will continue keeping an eye on preservation.

Dr. Douglas K. Fletcher, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian ChurchACROSS AMERICA and on Hilton Head Island, people have seen their projections of retirement income decimated.

Jobs have been lost, income sharply curtailed. I would like to be able to say that my church has been spared all the chaos, anxiety, and heartache. It has not. Instead, we participate in the broader experience of the community, and our people, whether longtime members or new to faith, have no guarantee of protection from adversity, financial or otherwise.

But the issues do get framed differently in church. After all, along with the economic challenges come a number of spiritual challenges. There is the challenge of  anxiety and stress of living in uncertain times.

But then what times are really certain? Jesus didn’t counsel running away from stress, but instead invited us to remember that God cares more about us than about birds or flowers.

Karen Doughtie aims to make a difference for people with Alzheimer’s.

Karen Doughtie aims to make a difference for people with Alzheimer’s.KAREN DOUGHTIE FOUND HER calling when she began working with Alzheimer’s patients and their families. “Our elders are not always treated with a great deal of respect,” she said. “In this position, I can make a di ference.”

Originally from Houston, Doughtie is a 30-year resident of Hilton Head Island and has been with Alzheimer’s Respite & Resource for about 5 1/2 years.

“I believe that it’s a calling from God,” she said. “I was always close to my grandmother and grandfather. I have a great love for seniors because of their experience in life.”

Doughtie has a degree in early elementary special education and a background in tourism sales and marketing.

Elizabeth Hancock leads Friends of the Children of Hilton Head.

February's MVP: A Mom on a MissionFew things are as devastating as the diagnosis of a serious illness in a child. Elizabeth and Bobby Hancock faced that bleak reality, and all the uncertainties that accompany it, when their daughter Sarah was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.

Thanks to MUSC Children’s Hospital in Charleston, the Hancocks’ story has a happy ending.

Today, Elizabeth Hancock and the organization she cofounded are doing all they can to ensure that other families have the same experience.

“We’re so grateful; the care we received was incredible,” she said. “ We knew we needed to let others in this area know about and connect to the hospital and the resources there.”

Marke's recaps its charity program recipients and announces plans to continue the program in 2009.

Marke's Heating & Cooling, Inc.'s 2008 Charity Program ended December 31, 2008, but, in spite of current economic challenges, company president Tim Ferguson reported that the company is going to strive to continue its popular program in 2009.

Because of the way the program is set up, each month the public is invited to vist markesheatingandair.com and nominate its favorite charity. The organization receiving the most votes wins a $500 donation.

2009 INTRIGUING PEOPLE of the Lowcountry

Amee PatrickMeet Monthly's Intriguing People of the Lowcountry for 2009: Peter D. Baier, Debbie Berling, Steve Brown, Carlos Chacon, Fred Devyatkin, Don Hite, Erma Koenigsberg, Denise Kuss, Amee Patrick, Cynthia Rivers, Dick Stewart, Lisa Sulka, Cora Bett Thomas, Dr. Valerie Truesdale, Joni Vanderslice, Chuck Wielgus and Jim Willard.

Our area abounds with interesting personalities, making it quite a challenge to select only a handful for Monthly’s annual Intriguing feature.

To read more about 2009 Monthly's Intriguing People CLICK HERE.

In the Vanguard Mary Noonan sets the bar for Women in Philanthropy.

In the Vanguard Mary Noonan sets the bar for Women in Philanthropy.Since retiring to Hilton Head in 1995 fol- lowing a 30-year career in public relations, Mary Noonan has certainly made her mark on the community through her involvement in a number of organizations.

Noonan is a founding member of Women in Philanthropy, a fund of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry. She has also served as an advisory board member from 2003 to present, as advisory board chair in 2008-09 and as the education chair from 2003-08.

Women in Philanthropy is one of the more than 200 funds of the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, initiated in 2003 as an outgrowth of several focus groups the foundation conducted to see how they might more effectively foster women’s interests and giving in the community.

Pat Birmingham to take the driver’s seat of Meals on Wheels.

Pat Birmingham to take the driver’s seat of Meals on Wheels.Pat Birmingham is a true believer in Meals on Wheels – Bluffton and Hilton Head Inc., and the valuable service it provides to its clients throughout southern Beaufort County.

“Meals on Wheels is a great organization,” Birmingham said. “We’re not flashy, and we provide a valuable service to people who can’t prepare their own meals. You don’t get much more basic than food.”

Founded locally in 1979, the organization will soon enter its 30th year of service providing meals to clients regardless of their ability to pay. “We have never missed a day of serving meals, even when the occasional bad storm passes through,” he said.

Originally from Hoag Corners, N.Y., Birmingham started college but quit after two years to enter the Air Force Aviation Cadet program. He spent 20 years in the Air Force, for a short time as a navigator and the rest as a fighter pilot.

Lung cancer survivor achieves her North Pole dreams.

“Having lung cancer does not have to be as debilitating as it’s made out to be,” says Barbara Hillary.Barbara Hillary walks with a slight limp and reluctantly carries a cane – a stress fracture from training for her latest, top-secret adventure.

“Let’s just say I’ll be setting another world record,” the 76-year-old lung cancer survivor said with a smile, adding that her next “vacation” will take place in a dangerous, remote area.

It’s difficult to imagine anything can top Hillary’s last expedition – a three-week trek to the North Pole that required months of preparation. Hillary had to be in prime physical condition to endure the arctic elements – including 40-below temperatures and the constantly shifting ice – while skiing a majority of the way and carrying heavy supplies. The retired nurse also had to raise more than $22,000 for the trip by soliciting companies and appealing to the public.

Missy SantorumLowcountry dynamo generates energy for Palmetto Electric.

Most of us start our day with a cup of coffee to rev things up.   However, some of us come “naturally caffeinated”…our own little latte of energy.

There’s energetic, and then there’s Missy Santorum. This Lowcountry dynamo has been channeling all that get-up and go into our community since 1985 and without a coffee cup in sight. The moment you meet her, all that energy comes through and you realize that her to-do list seems to be in a whole different league than most.

When asked what she wishes she had a little more of, she’s quick to note, “I wish I could do it all.” But she’s a great example of today’s well-rounded woman who manages to balance her career, her family, which includes husband Dan and three children, and a volunteer workload and dedication to her community that might seem remarkable to most, but just part of a day in the life for Santorum.