Myrtle Beach History

Myrtle Beach History

Myrtle Beach is a city in Horry County, South Carolina. It is part of the Grand Strand, a stretch of beaches along the South Carolina coastline.

Founded early in the 20th century, Myrtle Beach is primarily a resort town. It is the primary hub of the Grand Strand and sees upward of ten million visitors each annual season, with a large proportion coming from Ohio, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia, West Virginia, and Canada. Visitors are drawn primarily by the coastline, but also by a number of amusement parks, restaurants, festivals, and golf courses.

As of 2006, the population of the city was 22,759, with the metro area estimated to be at 238,493.

Prior to the arrival of European, the general area along Long Bay was inhabited by the Waccamaw Indians, who used the river for travel and fished along the shore around Little River. Waties Island, the primary barrier island along Long Bay, has evidence of burial and shell mounds, remains of the visiting Waccamaw.

The first settlers along Long Bay arrived in the late 17th century, attempting to extend the plantation system outward towards the ocean. Records are sparse from this period, with most of the recorded history pieced together from old land grants. They were met with mixed results, producing unremarkable quantities of indigo and tobacco. The coast's soil was sandy and most of the crops yields were of an inferior quality.

Prior to the American Revolution, the area along the future Grand Strand was essentially uninhabited. Several families received land grants along the coast, including most notably the Withers: John, Richard, William and Mary. They received an area around present-day Myrtle Swash, at the time known as Wither's Swash or the 8-Mile Swash. Another grant was given to James Minor, a barrier island named Minor Island, now Waties Island, off of the coast near Little River.

Mary Wither's gravestone at Prince George Winyah Episcopal church speaks to the remoteness of the former Strand: "She gave up the pleasures of Society and retired to Long Bay, where she resided a great part of her life devoted to the welfare of her children".

As America reached independence, Horry County remained essentially unchanged, and the coast remained barren. George Washington scouted out the Southern states during his term, traveling down the King's Highway. He stayed the night at Windy Hill and was led across Wither's Swash to Georgetown by Jeremiah Vereen.

The Withers family remained one of the few settlers around Myrtle Beach for the next half-century. In 1822, a strong hurricane swept the house of R. F. Withers into the ocean, drowning 18 people inside. The tragedy made the Withers family decide to abandon their plots along the coast, and the area, left unattended, the area began to return to forest.

Following the Civil War, most of the abandoned land along the ocean was purchased by the Conway Lumber Company. The company built the Conway & Seashore Railroad to move chopped timber from the coast inland. A "Withers" post office was established at the site of the old Swash.

After the railroad was finished, employees of the lumber and railroad company would take train flatcars down to the beach on their weekends off, in essence becoming the first Grand Strand tourists. The area where the railroad ended was nicknamed "New Town", contrasting it with the "Old Town", or Conway.

In 1900, a hotel, the Seaside Inn, had been built by the company to handle visitors from the railroad. Around the same time, a contest was held to name New Town. F. G. Burroughs, a member of the Burroughs family, suggested honoring the local abundant shrub, and the area was named Myrtle Beach.

Myrtle Beachbegan as little more than a resort town for employees of the Conway Lumber Company, now Burroughs & Chapin. It continued to grow for the next couple of decades, and in 1938, it finally incorporated. In 1940, Myrtle Beach Municipal Airport was built, and Kings Highway was finally paved, giving Myrtle Beach its first primary highway.