1 - The Beginnings of Parris Island
Formed by the confluence of the Broad and Beaufort Rivers, Port Royal Sound is the deepest natural harbor south of New York. Even the earliest Spanish and French explorers recognized the area as a perfect location for a military installation. In the 16th century, Jean Ribaut, a French naval commander rightfully declared that all the navies of the world could safely anchor inside Port Royal’s deep and sheltered harbor. However, while over the centuries the area’s waterways played prominent roles in military operations, no major installation was established at Port Royal Sound until the Civil War. During the Civil War, the army, whose headquarters was on Hilton Head Island, placed bases throughout the harbor, including a coaling station on Parris Island. The navy maintained a squadron in the sound and also had some facilities on the Sea Islands. Both the army and the navy ended their operations by 1867.
2 - The Marines Arrive at Parris Island
Before there were Marines on Parris Island, the Navy maintained a small station that had been opened in 1889 as a coaling and supply depot. In 1890, Navy officials decided to enlarge the base from a coaling station to a repair facility, and a contract for a dry dock was issued to Justin McCarthy. To make way for the dry dock, the flagstaff, belfry, water tower, windmill, blacksmith shop and Quarters B were all moved to new sites. Quarters B was moved around Quarters A, 200 feet to the southeast, and placed on raised foundations. A new artesian well, boat wharf and a residence at the head of the dry dock were started. Requests were turned in for more officers housing, a Marine barracks, a hospital and a water closet to replace the common pit outhouse then in use. It was recommended that a modern water closet for 50 men be built. It was also urged that the government take over the entire island since the local landowners were demanding exorbitant prices for their property. If necessary, the engineers recommended that the government use eminent domain to obtain the island.
3 - The First Recruits at Parris Island
Parris Island has been continuously associated with recruit training since 1915 when the Marine Corps moved its recruit depot from Norfolk Naval Station to Parris Island. But some form of recruit training existed before that. One of the first of these instances occurred in 1903 when two companies of Marines under the command of 1st Lt. Benjamin Bernard Woog arrived at the nearly abandoned naval station on Parris Island.
4 - The Officer Candidates School
During the period that Parris Island transitioned from a naval station to a recruit depot, the Marine Corps situated on the island an officer candidates school. Though short-lived, the facility produced some of the Marine Corps’ most prominent leaders.
Since 1903, a school for Marine Corps officers had been located at Annapolis. Then, in 1908, Commandant George F. Elliott made arrangements to transfer the institution to the recently closed naval station on Parris Island. The organizing and equipping of the school was carried out under the command of Marine Capt. Edward Warren Banker, assistant quartermaster who procured the labor and material required to repair the buildings, to place electric lighting systems in working condition, and to purchase furniture for the school.
5 - U. S. Disciplinary Barracks, Port Royal
Following the 1911 closing of the officers' school and recruit program, one of the most interesting episodes in Parris Island’s history occurred when a naval prison was opened on the base. On Aug. 28, 1911, the designation of "U. S. Naval Station, Port Royal" was changed to "U. S. Disciplinary Barracks, Port Royal." Buildings used by the Marines were transferred to the Navy, and although the disciplinary barracks was commanded by a Marine officer and Marines served as guards, they were administratively under the direct command of the Navy. No Marine command per se existed for Parris Island from Aug. 30, 1911, to October 1915.
6 - Birth of the Depot - 1915
There are a number of people who can be considered the “father” of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island. Some give credit to Commandant George F. Elliott who attempted to establish an Officer’s School of Application and a preliminary school for recruits at New London, Conn. The Navy balked at establishing the New London Depot, but Elliott did gain permission to place the school for officers at the old naval station on Parris Island. The school on Parris Island was officially opened in 1909 during Elliott’s last year as commandant.
7 - First Commander of Recruit Training, Parris Island
Among those prominently associated with the island and the Marine Corps is Capt. Elias R. Beadle, the first commander of the recruit depot at Parris Island. Beadle enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1899. After four years of enlisted service, he was discharged to accept an appointment as a second lieutenant. He completed tours with ship detachments on board the armored cruisers USS Maryland and USS Washington and later was with the 1st Brigade in the Philippines and on expeditionary duty in Cuba. In June 1911, he was ordered to Parris Island to join an incipient recruit training program. He took over Company B, one of three companies training enlisted recruits. The program only lasted a few months, and in August 1911, Beadle and the training section were transferred to the Navy Yard at Charleston, S.C., where the training of the recruits was completed.
8 - Yemassee, S.C.
Although Parris Island’s first recruits arrived on the USS Prairie in October 1915, the Marines developed that same year a train station at Yemassee, S.C., which was the depot’s initial receiving point for the central and eastern recruiting stations. The town then had a bank, a general store, a few houses and “an abundancy of South Carolina pine.” A hotel was also there in 1915, and the Marines praised its ballroom and the gracious hospitality of the townspeople, especially its pretty girls. Recruits arriving at Yemassee on the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad would be transferred to the Charleston & Western Railroad, which ran to Port Royal. Once there, the World War I recruits would be placed on everything from side wheel ferryboats, barges, long boats or a kicker (a small motor boat) for the trip to Parris Island.
9 - Quarters One
One of the oldest structures on Parris Island, Quarters One, is the home to Parris Island’s commanding officer. Though a prominent structure, its early history is blurred, and the house has gone through numerous renovations and additions.
The house was one of two buildings constructed along the Beaufort River in 1884. The home was built for the naval station’s commanding officer and was designated Quarters A. The other building, Quarters B, was divided into four suites for the station’s civil engineer and other officers. Any excess room in Quarters B was used for storage.
10 - Iron Mike
Before there was the Iwo Jima Statue, there was “Iron Mike.” Erected in 1924 to Marines who fought in World War I, “Iron Mike” pre-dates the depot’s Iwo Jima Statue by 28 years. The statue once stood in a prominent location in the center of the base and was the symbol of Parris Island.
Though its origins are obscure, it seems that money for a monument to Parris Island Marines who died in World War I was originated “by officers and men in small amounts during the war, for the purpose of erecting a memorial to the marines who were trained at Parris Island and lost their lives during the world war.” While fund raising continued, solicitations went out for sculptors to submit designs.