The Santa Elena History Center, located in the Old Courthouse building, is dedicated to promoting the history of Parris Island and the surrounding area. This history is now well known and the museum hopes to change this through its exhibits and educational programming. It opened in April, 2016, the 450th anniversary of the establishment of Spain's first capital in the New World: Santa Elena, which occurred in 1566. The site of the settlement is on the southern tip of the island and is a National Historic Landmark.
The French were actually the first to establish a site here in 1562, known as Charlesfort, but they abandoned it a year later. The Spanish built directly on top of the French settlement and remained for twenty years, with a population of about 400-450 people at its peak. English pressure in other Spanish colonies diverted funds from the town, leading to its abandonment.