Hobcaw Barony attraction explores history, nature and imagination

Imagination, Mother Nature and history, of the Georgetown area, nation and world, have converged at Hobcaw Barony, one of the best historic attractions near Myrtle Beach, for decades.

Stopping the tour bus on a cool, sunny morning outside the red brick home of Bernard M. Baruch — a Wall Street financier and an adviser for six U.S. presidents from Woodrow Wilson through Harry S. Truman — Hobcaw Barony guide Stu Slifkin asks guests to reflect on the past while sitting on a dock along the Waccamaw River.

“Think of 1905,” he says, referring to the time when Baruch purchased the 10,000-acre wilderness with its original home for $20,000.

“Picture yourself as Mr. Baruch and his guests did,” he requests, having his guests look out across the serene water.

Slifkin explains that there was no U.S. 17 bridge spanning the Waccamaw, Black and Great Pee Dee rivers as it does today, and the International Paper and steel mills of Georgetown did not come until several years later.

At the start of the 20th century, he says, people from the Northeast bought estates in the Lowcountry “for hunting and relaxation,” and the Baruchs family lived there from November to April every winter.

Having celebrated its 50th anniversary recently the Belle M. Baruch Foundation — which preserves an estate that Baruch and his daughter Belle expanded to 16,000 acres — offers many of these introductory tours to give Myrtle Beach visitors a taste of the barony and its nine coastal ecosystems.

Touring the barony

While the two-hour tour in itself is a great option for things to do in Myrtle Beach and can provide a great afternoon of historic fun and amazing scenery, for many this is just a beginning point.

The Hobcaw Barony facility also offers many other programs that let the public get up close with the wild, on a former rice plantation, with a glimpse into an improved, yet still humble, life that descendants of emancipated slaves from the Civil War gained residing in the barony’s Friendfield Village until 1952.

Starting the 4.5-mile ride from the barony’s Discovery Center to Hobcaw House, Slifkin explains to visitors from Mount Pleasant, Greenville and states of Connecticut and New Hampshire, that the American Indian meaning of the word Hobcaw is “land between the waters.”

This refers to the area being on the edge of Winyah Bay, into which five rivers drain.

He speaks of how Belle Baruch harbored the barony from any future development after her death — at age 65 in 1964 — after a life that included world-class competitive sailing and global equestrian feats, flying in single- and double-propeller planes, and assisting the U.S. military with observations during World War II.

“You’re part of the education today,” Slifkin says as he points out a pasture where Belle Baruch kept her whole stable of horses after bringing home a slew of ribbons won in Europe.

Inside Hobcaw House

Once at Hobcaw House, tour guide Stu Slifkin hands the reins to his wife of 43 years, Karen, for insight into the history Bernard Baruch made entertaining famous guests.

Notable people including the Pulitzer family, Army Gen. Omar Bradley and president Franklin D. Roosevelt all stayed at Hobcaw Barony, with FDR making the trip for one month in 1944, before his final re-election, while deep in the trenches of both theaters of World War II.

She says the 32nd president “fished here, watched the horses, and painted and sketched” for pastimes and that “he went back to Washington, a refreshed, stronger man.”

“We’re on high ground here at about 25 feet above sea level,” Karen Slifkin mentions before heading inside to the house — a basement-equipped, three-floor vacation home filled with simple furnishings from the period.

Passing through the living room Karen makes sure to point out a piano at which Irving Berlin played, and a corner chair where former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once reclined.

Inside the house, you’ll see watercolors by Aston Knight of landscapes that Baruch had commissioned decorate walls in various rooms. There’s even ones showing the famous clocktower in downtown Georgetown.

On a tall, stately folding screen, there’s a drawn map of South Carolina that was made before Myrtle Beach came to existence 75 years ago. It bears two small flaws: Sumter spelled with a P in the middle, and Rock Hill listed as Rockmill.

According to Karen Slifkin, Belle Baruch, who lived in her own residence nearby, used the Hobcaw House for special events.

Exploring a hall around the corner from the sitting room you’ll find a wet bar used during Prohibition and a case of more than 30 sailing trophies Bell Baruch won.

Portraits of many her prized horses, including her favorite Souriant III, dot the walls including the space over the coat rack in the gun and mud room.

Return trip

Back on the bus, Stu Slifkin passes around historic black-and-white photos of Friendfield, a nearby area where Bernard Baruch had a schoolhouse built, a church enlarged, medical access arranged, and tin roofs and porches added to the meager cabins.

It’s said that Baruch paid the college expenses for every resident who earned a high school diploma.

A quick U-turn back toward home takes the tour onto a stretch of the original Kings Highway — an old path that linked Wilmington, N.C., with Charleston.

“George Washington stepped on this dirt,” says Slifkin as he turns.

Upon the tour’s return to the discovery center a pair of senior interpreters at Hobcaw greet guests and continue recounting the treasured times at the Hobcaw Barony attraction.

Baruch foundation staffer Richard Camlin, admires the wildlife spotting opportunities on site and says that he loves seeing bobcats any chance he can on the property and that there’s nothing like seeing great-horned owls snatch snakes or other prey and fly away.

Seeing two gobbler turkeys flying and fighting with spurs also brought to life a scene Camlin said he had read about in Henry Davis’ “The American Wild Turkey.”

Getting wild about the native animals comes easily for Camlin, who also remembered a family coming into the welcome center, to whom he showed some animals’ skins and skulls.

“When they walked out,” Camlin said, “the children were screaming that ‘this was fun!’ That was my turning point for working with children in camps, schools, etc. I had one mother come back last year to tell me that each summer they visited made an impact on her son’s college and career choice. He is now a paleontologist.”

Want to go?

The Hobcaw Barony attraction is a 16,000-acre (25 square miles) preserve owned and managed by The Belle W. Baruch Foundation. It is located along U.S. 17, just south of Pawleys Island and DeBordieu Colony and north of Georgetown.

The Discovery Center welcome center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and there is no cost to explore the facility or any of the other things to do.

Barony tours are offered for $20 and take visitors through the grounds including Hobcaw House. These tours  generally run from 10 a.m. to noon and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.

For more information on the area, tours or to make reservations for the many programs offered at Hobcaw Barony, call 843-546-4623 or visit www.hobcawbarony.org.

This article is adapted from a story by The Sun News reporter Steve Palisin. See the original version of this and more local news stories at MyrtleBeachOnline.com.

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