World War II and the Postwar Boom
With the attack on Pearl Harbor and the coming of World War II, life on the Georgia and South Carolina coast would never be the same. Military funding and facilities swarmed into the area, and populations and long-depressed living standards rose as a result. In many outlying Sea Islands of Georgia and South Carolina, electricity came for the first time.
The Charleston Navy Yard became the city’s largest employer, and the city’s population soared as workers swarmed in. The “Mighty Eighth” Air Force was founded and based in Savannah, and Camp Stewart, later Fort Stewart, was built in nearby Hinesville. In shipyards in Savannah and Brunswick, hundreds of Liberty ships were built to transport cargo to the citizens and allied armies of Europe.
America’s postwar infatuation with the automobile—and its troublesome child, the suburb—brought exponential growth to the great cities of the coast. The first bridge to Hilton Head Island was built in 1956, leading to the first of many resort developments, Sea Pines, in 1961.
With rising coastal populations came pressure to demolish more and more fine old buildings to put parking lots and high-rises in their place. A backlash grew among the cities’ elites, aghast at the destruction of so much history. The immediate postwar era brought about the formation of both the Historic Charleston Foundation and the Historic Savannah Foundation, which began the financially and politically difficult work of protecting historic districts from the wrecking ball. They weren’t always successful, but the work of these organizations—mostly comprising older women from the upper crust—laid the foundation for the successful coastal tourist industry to come, as well as preserving important American history for the ages.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition