In 1956 the James F. Byrnes Bridge, a two-lane toll swing bridge, was constructed at a cost of $1.5 million. This opened Hilton Head Island to automobile traffic from the mainland for the first time. The toll, which was $2.50, was discontinued in 1959. In 1978 the bridge was widened to four lanes. According to the county, the bridge is actually interconnecting twin spans. The one nearest Hilton Head, crossing Skull Creek, is the J. Wilton Graves Bridge. The other, crossing MacKays Creek, is the Karl S. Bowers Bridge.
To the casual observer, it may seem that the bridge is what brought the flood of people to an island that had been dormant and underpopulated since the War of Yankee Agression. But one local sees it differently. Retired journalist, Fran Heyward Marscher, who was profiled on Tuesday in Bluffton Today, is a Bluffton native, as was her daddy and his daddy. When she grew up here there was no grocery store, so her family went to Savannah every Saturday for supplies. There was no A.C. either. Her house had fans.
This isn’t some long lost era were speaking of. A 1959 high school graduate, Marscher mentions she was but one of six in her class. Summing up the reason for so much change in such a short span of time, she says:
Air conditioning is what caused all these people to move here.
While I love the drama and simplicity of that cold hard fact, in fairness, Marscher also says:
I could never have stayed here if the community had not changed. There would have been no newspaper for me to work on. The people who have come here include many smart, creative, interesting people, so there have been many benefits to the growth. It’s a tradeoff.