The Beginnings of Parris Island
Quarters A and Quarters B, 1889
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.
The years following the Civil War brought great changes to the Port Royal region. By 1873, a railroad was completed connecting the Sea Islands to Augusta, Ga., and the coal field of Tennessee and a new community known as Port Royal took root at the rail line’s eastern terminus. Also in 1873, the region’s state senator, the former slave and Beaufort native Robert Smalls, introduced legislation calling for the state to petition the United States Congress for the creation of a naval station at Port Royal Sound. Three years later, then U.S. Congressman Robert Smalls, introduced bills to establish navigation lights and a construction of commercial shipping facilities at Port Royal.
The petitions, coupled with the navy’s need for a warm water port, resulted in the dispatching to Port Royal of a board of naval officers to survey the sound. At the same time, a bill backed by Robert Smalls and other members of the South Carolina congressional delegation was introduced in Congress establishing Port Royal as a “Naval Station of the 4th class." The station was to be commanded by a commodore and be equal to existing bases at New London, Newport, Key West and New Orleans.
Capt. Stephen Bleeker Luce led the board that surveyed Port Royal Sound in January 1877. Luce, who would later establish the Naval War College at Newport, R.I., along with his fellow officers, recommended that a naval station be established on Parris Island. While waiting for Congress to appropriate funding, the Navy stationed in Port Royal Sound a floating supply, hospital and repair squadron consisting of the old ship-of-the-line New Hampshire, the coaling hulk Pawnee and the tug Seaweed. The vessels served passing warships by distributing supplies, coal and taking off sick sailors who were placed in the hospital on board the New Hampshire.
Finally, in 1882, Congress approved funds for the permanent naval station. Before the year ended, property was purchased on Parris Island along the Beaufort River. Work began in 1883 under the direction of the station’s first engineering officer, Ensign William Braunerstruther, and by 1884, a wharf and two quarters, A and B, for civilian engineers and officers were completed. Quarters A would eventually evolve into Quarters One, the current home for Parris Island's commanding general.
In 1886, the station’s coal wharf was finished and work continued on an artesian well and a sea wall. Lt. Charles H. Lyman, the designated commanding officer, arrived and, with Braunerstruther, began supervising the additional construction. The following year, a coal shed was completed, and a railway started to carry the coal from the shed to the wharf. By 1888, the coaling facilities were in working order. There was a setback in 1889 when the station's only horse died, and a request was hurriedly put in to purchase a new one. At the same time, calls were made to provide furniture and ice for the station’s officers. In 1890, the base was linked to Port Royal by a telegraph line.
Though an inauspicious start, Parris Island had received its first installation that would serve as the cornerstone for what would eventually become Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island.