The Grand Strand region is where one can achieve the American Dream while living in an ocean paradise. It almost seems too good to be true – beautiful beaches, a thriving economy and an eclectic cultural community all make the Grand Strand area an ideal place to work, play, worship and raise a family. Hotels, fine dining, live entertainment, great golf and the ocean lure tourists. Clean, safe medical, recreational, educational and retail facilities attract new residents. Some may call it paradise. We call it the Grand Strand. The area is made up of two counties – Horry and Georgetown – which have vastly different histories. Georgetown County has a rich agricultural history while Horry County grew from more modest beginnings.
Horry County, South Carolina
Horry County hasn’t always been the vacation destination that it is today. Horry and neighboring Georgetown counties were quite different and might as well have been worlds apart. Horry County, bounded by rivers on one side and the ocean on the other, was cut off from the plantation culture of thriving Georgetown County. The people of Horry County were hard-working farmers, timber-men and turpentine distillers. Through their labors and reliance on the available natural resources, they developed the county into “The Independent Republic of Horry.” The historical society’s publication, “The Independent Republic Quarterly,” still bears the name of the once-isolated territory.
The Horry County seat of Conway was originally established as Kingston in 1722. The railroad connected it to the Waccamaw River in 1887, and Kingston elected its first mayor in 1898. Much of downtown Conway was built in the early 1900s, paralleling the connection of the Waccamaw River in Con-way to the coast. Riverboats transported people and supplies along the Waccamaw River between Conway and Georgetown.
The river winding among old oak trees provides a beautiful setting for South Carolina’s Historic River Town. The Burroughs and Collins Company constructed a railroad in 1900 that connected the Waccamaw River at Conway to the ocean. The construction of the Seaside Inn in 1901 – the first area hotel on the coast – helped finally to lure visitors to the beauty of the beaches. The community was called New Town until the local newspaper held a contest to name the town. Mrs. F.E. Burroughs, wife of the founder of the Burroughs & Collins Company, won the contest, naming the town Myrtle Beach after the many wax myrtle trees growing wild along the shore.
At the turn of the 20th century, oceanfront lots cost $25. Less affluent individuals could purchase a lot one row back and pay in yearly installments of $2.50. The bargain was made even sweeter by giving owners an extra lot free if they built a house valued at more than $500. Some of the first summer visitors were families from Conway, who experienced razorback hogs burrowing under their cottages.
Myrtle Beach was incorporated in 1938, and 19 years later became a city. After a direct hit from Hurricane Hazel in 1954, the city was rebuilt during the 1960s and quickly became the popular resort community we know today. While visitors are drawn to the ocean air and glittering nightlife of Myrtle Beach, those who appreciate the history of the area or who are looking for a more quiet place to put down roots may want to take a look at Conway.
The names of three of the four communities that make up the city of North Myrtle Beach are interesting. The Nixon family named Cherry Grove after a group of trees belonging to them, and legend has it that Windy Hill received its name from a comment made by the first president of the United States, George Washington. Ocean Drive Beach seems to have taken its name from the now-prohibited practice of driving on the firmly packed sand of the beach, an activity that also is said to have contributed to the roots of NASCAR.
Georgetown County, South Carolina
The history of Georgetown County is markedly different from Horry County’s, laced with colorful anecdotes and memories of plantation days gone by.
After the establishment of a settlement in Charleston, Georgetown County was founded in 1670. English colonists who had fostered trade with the Indians began to move north to build trading posts. These outlying posts quickly grew into towns. In 1729, Elisha Screven drew up the plans for the city of Georgetown – the state’s third-oldest city – and began to sell divided lots. You can see the area that comprised the original town square in what is now the city’s historic district. Some buildings have been preserved, and even the street names have not changed. Indigo and tea plantations spread throughout Georgetown, but rice soon became the main crop. The wealth produced by this commodity is evident in the grand plantation homes built 200 years ago. Georgetown is a modern city that has retained the quiet charm of the past in the revitalized historic downtown district and restored residences, some of which are now bed and breakfast inns and preserved rice plantations.
Best described as a picturesque fishing village, Murrells Inlet is known as “The Seafood Capital of South Carolina.” A Captain Murrell reportedly founded it in the early 18th century. The captain probably encountered pirates during his arrival in the inlet, as it was believed to have been a favorite hideout for buccaneers. These pirates and others used the inlet as a safe harbor to escape from law authorities as well as a storage site for stolen loot. The channels of Murrells Inlet, while not threatening to small boats, proved difficult for British Navy vessels attempting to navigate through the narrow passages and around the sandbars. Blockade runners also used Murrells Inlet during the War Between the States, and rum smugglers stockpiled bootleg liquor there during Prohibition. Today, Murrells Inlet is a relaxing fishing community where locals are delighted to tell ghost stories to visitors. Ask about the legend of Alice, a tale everyone should hear.
Once known as Magnolia Beach, Litchfield Beach received its name from the Litchfield Plantation nestled on the banks of the Wac-camaw River. Like other cities along the Grand Strand, Litchfield was a major producer of rice in the 18th and 19th centuries. Litchfield Plantation is one of the few plantation homes that still stands today and is a popular attraction for area visitors. Not all of the old buildings in Litchfield Beach have been as fortunate. Many of the 19th-century homes were destroyed during the “Great Storm” of 1822 and again in 1893. Now, Litchfield Beach is a popular resort town.
Although there are many areas along the coast with the reputation for being great vacation spots, Pawleys Island is one of the oldest beach resorts in the Carolinas. Some of the 18th- and 19th-century homes include the Calhoun-Lemon House, Liberty Lodge, Summer Academy and the Pelican Inn, which is known as the home of Pawleys’ famous helping spirit, the Gray Man. Before the War Between the States, plantation owners turned the small island into one of the first summer resorts on the Atlantic Coast. Planters and their families spent summers on the cool, breezy island to avoid malaria and other diseases associated with the swampy conditions of the rice plantations.
During the war, Pawleys Island was the site of extensive salt mining operations. The island later became the summer home to many distinguished Americans. Now it offers a quiet setting for residents and many beautiful, relaxing sites for visitors.