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Feb 03 2016

Tommy Tells Tales From The Island’s History

By Jennifer Tuohy, Island Eye News Editor

Photos by Jennifer Tuohy

Tommy Hartnett talking to a crowded room at the Isle of Palms Rec. Center.

Tommy Hartnett talking to a crowded room at the Isle of Palms Rec. Center.

An appetite for history is the sign of a strong community, at least that’s what the evidence presented at the inaugural Isle of Palms’ history event last Wednesday suggested. A crowd of islanders packed into the recreation center’s multipurpose room, prompting the organizers to frantically pull up more chairs to accommodate the ever swelling numbers.

"Sitting on the roof of our house at night you could see millions of fireflies, you could see a whole galaxy of stars. It's just a great place to live. You felt safe, and with only one police officer Mr. Mayor!" Tommy Hartnett

“Sitting on the roof of our house at night you could see millions of fireflies, you could see a whole galaxy of stars. It’s just a great place to live. You felt safe, and with only one police officer Mr. Mayor!”
Tommy Hartnett

Put on as part of the Island’s birthday celebrations, the success of the evening prompted Recreation Director Norma Jean Page to suggest this might become a regular occurrence, extending beyond the second event scheduled for Jan. 27.

Wendy Nilsen Pollitzer presents images from her book on Isle of Palms.

Wendy Nilsen Pollitzer presents images from her book on Isle of Palms.

There were two speakers on the schedule for the evening, island resident Thomas “Tommy” Hartnett, a retired Congressman, who grew up visiting Isle of Palms from his Tradd St. home in downtown Charleston, and Wendy Nilsen Pollitzer, author of “Images of America: Isle of Palms.”

The IOP History talk drew a large crowd.

The IOP History talk drew a large crowd.

Hartnett’s family started coming to Isle of Palms for the summers in the 1940s, when he was a young boy.

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There were still army troops stationed on Sullivan’s Island, through which one had to drive to reach Isle of Palms,” he recalled.

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You crossed over a wooden bridge from Sullivan’s to Isle of Palms, to your left was the Inlet Inn, and then there was nothing further than 21st Ave. … There were the only two grocery stores for the island and they were both on Sullivan’s, there was nothing on IOP.

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My dad and Mrs. Long were first cousins, she was a Sotille, another family with a long history on the island. She thought it would be good for my dad, who had suffered from a stroke in his thirties, to come to the island.

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We stayed behind Mr. Long’s house each summer. His house, called RipTide, was at Ocean Boulevard and 6th Ave.

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He really loved this island and put his whole heart and soul into it,” he said of J.C. Long, founder of real estate firm The Beach Company, who was responsible for the development of the first neighborhoods on the island. “He truly was a good guardian of the island.” “It was so peaceful, quiet and serene. A wonderful place to live,” Harnett continued.

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The only break in the quiet repose came from the dance pavilions, which sadly had a penchant for burning to the ground.

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There was a carnival atmosphere every night,” he recalled. “Motorcycle gangs came here to dance with the local girls, which the local boys weren’t to pleased about.”

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My first date with Bonnie, in October 1961, was to a luau on the beach. Our chaperones were Mr. and Mrs. Tecklenberg… many years later I was called to assist the Tecklenbergs, by bringing Mrs. Tecklenberg home from the hospital with her newborn baby, now the Mayor of Charleston.” Hartnett, 74, has been married to Bonnie for 50 years.

Hartnett went on to talk more about Long’s development of the island, which had originally been called Hunting Island, then Long Island, and was christened Isle of Palms when Dr. Laurence from Beaufort, S.C. Decided to develop the uninhabited island as a destination resort.

He formed a company to construct a rail system from Mount Pleasant and built the first pavilion to attract tourists.

It wasn’t until Long came along however, that the island started to become the community it is today.

Long built the first homes on the island as low-income housing targeted towards returning veterans from World War II. He used a pattern from his brother in Atlanta, who had developed it for Puerto Rico, said Hartnett. “Most have been taken down now, or built onto,” he said.

There was no government on the island then, the Exchange Club was the quasi governing body, who petitioned for a government in 1948.

121 voted for, 68 against,” Hartnett said “The first mayor was Buck Chapam.” Hartnett, who lives on Back Bay Drive, said he is so proud of the current mayor, Dick Cronin.

I’ve personally known every mayor on the island and he’s the best mayor we’ve ever had, although we’ve got way too many police officers,” he said with a chuckle.

Twenty three?! And your budget is what, $3 million? Although you pay most of it when you roll a stop sign…”

Hartnett closed his talk with a reflection on one of his favorite memories of his time spent on the island.

Sitting on the roof of our house at night you could see millions of fireflies, you could see a whole galaxy of stars. It’s just a great place to live. You felt safe, and with only one police officer Mr. Mayor!”

The remainder of the evening was devoted to Wendy Nilsen Pollitzer, who grew up on the island and wrote the first book to be published on its history. Published in 2005, the book is full of great pictures and stories and provides a chronological history of the island. She presented a slideshow of some of the highlights of the book and took the audience through a timeline of the island.

I brought this project together to celebrate a community that is passionate about this island,” she said in closing. “I couldn’t imagine a better place to grow up.”

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