Horry County is more than a wonderful beach destination. Today’s tourist attractions are just the icing on a rich pastiche of history dating back to Native American times, stretching into the Revolutionary period, continuing through the Civil War, into the 20th and 21st centuries.
Native Americans and European settlers alike recognized the beauty of the areas near the ocean. In the earliest time, swamps and bogs limited access to the ocean, but the rivers acted highways for trade and general transportation. Research shows that humans traversed this area as long as 14,000 years ago. The English were the first Europeans to make permanent settlement in the area. The Vereen, Vaught and Withers families established themselves in this area that was then northern part of the “Georgetown District.”
Revolutionary War Patriot General, Francis Marion (aka the Swamp Fox), is documented to have fought only one battle in this area, at Bear’s Bluff, near Nixonville. However, there are local rumors of Swamp Fox activity as far north as the North Carolina Line. After the Revolutionary War, one of Marion’s men, Peter Horry, established himself here and the county was carved out of Georgetown District and named for him. Cemeteries, markers and a park commemorate some of the colonial era activity. Kingston, now known as Conway became the capitol of the county. Forests provided much of the income for the large landowners in the area.
George Washington stayed at many of the homes of the plantation owners here from the now gone home of the Vereen’s in the northern part of Horry County on down through the county. This was part of his southern tour to encourage ratification of the Constitution in the years immediately following the Revolutionary War.
During the Civil War, mostly minor skirmishes were fought on our beaches. This area served as salt works to province that vital element to preserve food. The Dunes Golf Club course still shows evidence of salt work buildings. A more significant action occurred at Murrells Inlet involving the Union capture of a blockade-runner ship. In the northern part of the county, the Union capture of Fort Randall was the biggest fight – the fort is gone but a marker remains where route 17 divides to go north and toward Cherry Run.
After the Civil War, two men, Burroughs and Collins, began to work on developing the local resources, timber and tobacco farming, and were soon joined by a N.Y. state native, Mr. Chapin, who wanted to develop the shore-side real estate. By the turn of the 20th century, large seaside resort hotels began to take places of honor along cleared areas so that people could use the beach. Alongside them, trailer parks and other, smaller “guest houses” catered to people with smaller budgets. The opening of the Intracoastal Waterway in 1936 provided a new path for commerce and pleasure boating.
Two world wars later, development continued. World War II saw the development of a large area of land, where The Market Common now exists, as a military base. All of this progress continued right up until Oct. 15, 1954, when Hurricane Hazel slammed into our beaches. The storm wiped out swaths of natural growth and completely erasing some of the grand hotels and pine and beach growth from Cherry Grove to Pawleys.
Locals and investors did not give up on the Strand. Instead, they took the opportunity to begin to rethink the area and to develop the tourist Mecca we know today – golf courses, high-rise hotels, and instituting festivals like Can-Am and motorcycle weeks. They rebuilt piers, constructed the Pavilion (now torn down, but artifacts remain) with rides, a dance stage and a world-class carousel. Families flocked to Myrtle Beach to golf, to play and to frolic in the ocean. Tourism was on its way to becoming the economic lynchpin of the area and to making this area into one of the state’s premier places to visit and to live.
One of the best places to see the overview of all of that history and experience it through artifacts and photos is The Horry County Museum in Conway. Another, the newly re-opened North Myrtle Beach museum, gives an overview of the area’s past with a focus on the heritage of North Myrtle Beach.
Robert W. Hill, Director of the Horry County Museum, notes that the museum covers all of this history starting with natural history and a Native American exhibit featuring artifacts, including stone tools and pottery, found in various locations. He says the museum houses “a display of text panels relating to the Waccamaw Tribe, who have their tribal grounds in Dog Bluff outside of Aynor.”
Through the Museum’s L.W. Paul Living History Farm, which opened in 2009, visitors and locals have an opportunity to experience life in this area during the early 20th century, in a living history environment.
Cathy Altman , Director of the North Myrtle Beach Museum says, “I think museums are extremely important in helping educate the residents about their history,” said Cathy Altman , Director of the North Myrtle Beach Museum. “North Myrtle Beach welcomes new residents to the area every month.”
She mentions another “founding father family,” that of, Charles Tilghman (deceased), who donated the land where several of our churches are located and the land that the Museum now occupies.
Altman cites the following among the premiere events shaping the county as it is today: the 1791 visit of George Washington to the area, the opening of the Intracoastal Waterway in 1936, the sweeping of the area by Hurricane Hazel in 1954, and the incorporation of North Myrtle Beach in 1968 which brought Cherry Grove, Ocean Drive, Crescent Beach and Windy Hill north of Myrtle Beach, together as one political entity.
Area history is not just found in museums. Historic homes (some now public buildings), cemeteries, parks, special exhibits, and more also contribute to the historic fabric of Horry County.
Experience it for yourself
Below is a sample of places you can visit that either record or show where a part of various periods in Myrtle Beach History lives. The listing starts at the south end of the beach, going north. Many of these places are free. There is a notation where a fee is charged. The historic homes, churches, and cemeteries on the list—are now open to the public as park or commercial buildings. Consult the individual listings by phone or web for hours, fees, and special programs.
South End to Middle Myrtle Beach State Park. (fee)
Phone: (843) 238-5325)
Description: A great place to see some of the vegetation as it was in early times. Park programs include pier fishing, camping, and history and nature programs.
Brookgreen Gardens (fee)
Address: 931 Brookgreen Garden Dr, Murrells Inlet, SC 29576
Phone: (843) 235-6000
Description: This 9,100-acre garden/museum preserves of native flora and fauna in a setting of outdoor sculpture garden. Programs focus on art, and history of the area including the history of the slaves who worked on the area’s vast plantations.
Atalaya Castle and Huntington Beach State Park (fee)
Phone: Huntington Beach State Park and Castle information 843-237-4440.
Description: The “castle” is an historic edifice of Spanish/Mediterranean coastal architecture. Come out and enjoy the aesthetic celebration of Atalaya on the ocean with 40,000 rambling square feet designed to mimic homes found along the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Education Center with nature programs in the park, also miles of beach and camping.
Myrtle Beach Art Museum: Franklin G. Burroughs – Simeon B. Chapin Art Museum
Description: Museum first opened to the public in June, 1997. The older part of the museum is a period 1920s beach house built by built by textile industry mogul Eugene Cannon in the Cabana Section of Myrtle Beach moved to current site when turned into a museum.
Pavilion Nostalgia Park at Broadway at the Beach
Phone: (843) 839-0303
Ride some of the traditional rides moved here from the former Pavilion site (closed 2006)which was once on the ocean. This is where the shag dance is said to have started. Today you can ride the Rocket, the historic carousel, and four new rides.
South Carolina Hall of Fame
Phone: (843) 626-7444
Description: History buffs will enjoy this exhibit, which heralds the grand achievers for South Carolina in heritage and progress. Former inductees include Andrew Jackson and Francis Marion.
Address: Conway Visitor Center. 428 Main Street. Conway, SC 29526
Phone: 843 248 1700.
Description: Pick up a map for a walking tour – the riverwalk, historic homes and churches and cemeteries.
Horry County Museum
Address: 805 Main Street Conway, SC 29526
Description: History overview from prehistoric era to present day – many exhibits
L.W. Paul Living History Museum
Phone: (843) 365-3596
Middle to North End of County: Intracoastal Waterway’s Little River Swing Bridge
Description: From 1930’s to present day, thousands of automobiles cross this bridge, one of first in the country to use single pivot wheel technology.
Parson’s Table Restaurant, c. 1885 (no tours, you can make a reservation for dinner)
Address: 4305 McCorsley Drive Little River, SC
Phone: (843) 249-3702
Description: Formerly the Little River Methodist Church, now a restaurant. The original Church was built in 1885 by H.J. Vereen, Sr., Robert Livingston and Dr. R.G. Sloan. New church built in 1952. Building was used by church as recreaqtion hall and hten became a restaurant,. Tiffany and other lovely stained glass windows are a highlight.
The Brentwood Restaurant and Wine Bistro, c. 1910 (no tours, you can make a dinner reservation)
Address: 4269 Luck Drive, Little River
Phone: (843) 249-2601
Description: The Brentwood Restaurant, originally Essie McCorsley’s house, was built in 1910. It was moved to its current location on the corner of Luck and Mulberry streets in Little River. Said to be haunted.
Address: 2250 South Carolina Highway 179 in Little River. Stay on Highway 17 North until you reach Highway 179. Vereen Gardens and CB Berry Recreation Center are on the right
Phone: (843) 249-4157
Description: Washington stayed at the home of Jeremiah Vereen on this property. Today the house is long gone, but 350 years of Vereen ancestors rest peacefully in Vereen Memorial Gardens, including both Revolutionary War and Civil War veterans. This park contains one of the few remaining unpaved portions of the colonial era Kings Highway. Programs on local history are often given at the CB Berry center.