The colonization of the Lowcountry is historically associated with British settlers and French Huguenots, but the Spanish were the first to establish a town. Santa Elena was founded on Parris Island in Beaufort County in 1566 — more than 100 years before Charleston.
Residents and tourists can learn all about it Saturday with the opening of a museum in Beaufort’s old federal building on Bay Street.
Set to coincide with the 450th anniversary of the establishment of Santa Elena, the inaugural exhibit is appropriately titled “Santa Elena: America’s Untold Story.” Who knew that the town was the Spanish capital of Florida before St. Augustine?
The Santa Elena History Center’s goal is to preserve “a lost century of American history,” which includes the exploration by Spanish soldiers from Santa Elena as far west as Burke County, N.C., where the remains of Fort San Juan have been found.
Toward that end, the Santa Elena Foundation hopes to restart archeological exploration at the town site.
Eventually, the Beaufort museum is expected to become the repository for artifacts found there.
A gala is planned Saturday for the grand opening and visitors to the museum can also visit a replica of the galleon that brought the Spanish to Santa Elena.
But only for the weekend. The flagship of Santa Elena sails on Sunday.