Father Fripp: The tale of Jack Kilgore, a desolate island and a dream
It was on his first visit to Beaufort County in 1960 when 32-year-old Jack first spotted Fripp Island’s palm trees and shores lapped by the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. A friend took him there by boat, where they landed on the north point of the barrier island.
Jack was mesmerized.
“I had never seen as pristine a beach that looked a mile wide,” said Jack, now 83 and living in Columbia. “I was astounded. I had never seen a palmetto tree.”
He returned to his home in Columbia, where he was working as a sales manager, and told his young wife, Anna Jean, known as AJ, all about the island. AJ, who was 28 and pregnant with the couple’s fourth son at the time, remembers Jack’s pure excitement that night. “We stayed up until 2 a.m. talking about it,” she said.
Looking for a way to live in paradise and make a better life for their family, the couple decided they wanted to buy and develop the island. They figured the endeavor was worth the financial risk, as they were young and could start over if they failed.
“It was a real big gamble for my wife and I with four kids,” Jack said.
After some serious convincing on Jack’s part, Jack and 10 investors purchased the island from its owners, who were using the island for hunting and fishing, for $550,000. A master plan for Fripp was drawn up with the help of Charles Fraser, the mastermind behind Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island.
Development had begun.
Until the bridge to Fripp was completed in 1963 and the family’s home was built, the Kilgores rented a house on nearby Hunting Island State Park.
Their son, Glen, then 5, and his two older brothers, began what their mom describes as a “Robinson Crusoe adventure.”
“They thought they had died and gone to heaven,” AJ said.
The boys dug into their new playground of what were once expansive sandy beaches on both islands, where they played in the marsh mud, counted fiddler crabs, fished and watched loggerhead sea turtle eggs hatch. They explored the thick underbrush, discovering friendly deer and wild boars, and watched the islands’ egrets, herons, osprey, pelicans and seagulls.
Glen, now 50 and living in Beaufort, describes his childhood as “a child’s dream come true. It was an amazing time. It was the greatest time of my life. I wouldn’t trade anything for it.”
Showing off the pleasures to be offered on the island to potential buyers was a family affair. Jack would begin the tour with a boat ride around the island. This was followed by a cookout at sunset on the beach. Each family member had a role in the preparations. The boys gathered firewood for the meal of fresh fish that AJ cooked in an oversized frying pan over two cinder blocks. The meal was served out the back of the family’s Ford Bronco.
The day would end with a ride on the beach in the Bronco. “Once I took them for a ride on the beach, they were captivated,” Jack said.
For 10 years, the family soaked up the island life while Jack overcame the many challenges of development.
From 1960-63, Jack floated the Bronco, bulldozers and building materials to the island to begin construction. He secured a $250,000 bond to pay for a 1,990-foot bridge. He built roads, the golf course and a restaurant, and sold land. When it was discovered that all the wells on Fripp were salty, Jack built a water system. A well was dug on the Dempsey family property on Seaside Road on St. Helena Island, and a 12-mile pipeline was connected to Fripp.
The family moved into their first house on Fripp Island in June 1965.
“It was the perfect world for us,” Glen said. “We had the time of our lives, surfing on the beach and swimming in the pool.”
The island lifestyle didn’t come without challenges for a family with small children.
“There were people always coming and going,” AJ said. “But we had to keep (the boys) in structured activities such as Boy Scouts and attending First Presbyterian Church. That wasn’t easy living 20 miles from town.”
The first waterfront lot was sold to Robert “Bob” Jolly in 1963 for $2,500. “During a special, if they bought a waterfront lot, we gave you the interior lot behind it,” Jack said. Years later, Jolly left the lot to Beaufort Memorial Hospital, which got $625,000 for it — more than the $550,000 Jack and his investors paid for the entire island in 1960.
The Kilgores sold their share of Fripp Island in December 1972 for $3.5 million. They returned to Columbia, and also purchased a vacation home next door to Fraser on Hilton Head.
“They (Jack and Fraser) would never have imagined the growth that would come,” Glen said. “They had been begging people to come down here.”
Fripp has been made famous through the filming of three Hollywood movies, including “Forrest Gump” and “The Prince of Tides.” Author Pat Conroy, a resident, referred to it in his novel “Beach Music.”
Fripp Island now has about 2,300 homes and condos, and is a full-service resort. It has six restaurants of various sizes, five gift shops, two golf courses, a marina and a racquet club. This year, about 3,000 people are expected to participate in the island’s annual Fourth of July parade.
The growth is nothing short of amazing to Jack.
“I wanted a low-density, non-commercialized island,” Jack said. “I would have never dreamed Fripp would have that number of houses today.”
While the Kilgores will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in July, the family is also looking forward to September when they will celeb