Prior to 1699 when pirate George Raynor was given title to Kiawah by the Lords Proprietors the island had been inhabited by the Kiawah Indians. Mr. Raynor’s family owned the entire island until 1719, when it was purchased by Mr. John Stanyarne.
Over the next 50 years, Kiawah was passed down through Stanyarne family and then to the Vanderhorst family. General Arnoldus Vanderhorst, a Revolutionary War hero and twice mayor of Charleston, built his home which still exists on the eastern half of the Island in 1802. At about the same time, South Carolina’s first British Consul, James Schoolbred, acquired the western half of the Island. The Vanderhorsts, who produced sea island cotton on the island until the outbreak of the Civil War, acquired the Schoolbred portion of the island in the late 19th century and continued to own the island until 1951 when C.C. Royal, a lumberman, purchased it for $125,000. Just 23 years later, his heirs sold the same piece of property to a group of Kuwaiti investors for $18.2 million. In 1974, the land was developed into a world-class resort and residential community. In 2004, The Sanctuary a Mobil Four Star resort at Kiawah Island opened its doors. Kiawah Partners, the former master development company of Kiawah Island, was sold to Charlotte-based South Street Partners in 2013 for an estimated $400 million.
Kiawah Island incorporated as a town in 1988 and operates as a Mayor-Council form of government. The Town takes an active role in managing the natural resources on the island. Wildlife management is handled in part by a full-time wildlife biologist in cooperation with the Town’s Environmental Committee, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and other island entities. The Town supports research projects and programs in order to better understand and manage the wildlife species – deer, bobcats, osprey, raccoons, gray foxes, river otters and others – that live on the island.
The island is tightly controlled by an architectural review board comprised of property owners who have a strong commitment in maintaining Kiawah’s natural habitats. The island is a private gated community and guests must make arrangements for access prior to arrival or be accompanied by a resident.