The Heart of the Grand Strand: Myrtle Beach

The summer is in full swing and many are making plans to stick their toes in the sand with the sound of crashing waves in the background (or at least dreaming of it).  Hitting the beach is a common getaway during the summer months and many know that one of the most popular tourist destinations along the East Coast for beach-goers is right here in South Carolina: Myrtle Beach.  Seeing several million visitors each year, Myrtle Beach sits at the heart of the Grand Strand and boasts an array of tourist attractions in addition to its sandy beaches.

In our lifetime it seems Myrtle Beach has always been the epitome of a beach destination; however, for all its popularity and success, Myrtle Beach has a relatively short history that dates back to right before the turn of the 20th century.

An aerial view of Myrtle Beach circa 1940. (via WPA Photograph Collection, South Caroliniana Library)

Situated in Horry County, the Myrtle Beach area remained uninhabited and unchanged for most of its early life. Due to its remote location, few Europeans attempted to colonize the area. It wasn’t until the 1880′s that the location began to see some settlement activity when the Burroughs & Collins Company out of Conway decided to buy land in the area for timber and set up a logging camp. Employees at the camp headed to the nearby beach on their days off. Additionally, the company built a railroad from Conway to the coastline in order to extract the timber. Once the railroad was in place and word spread of access to the coast, development in the area quickly picked up.

Initially the location didn’t have a formal name, and locals simply referred to the new train stop as New Town (perhaps in contrast to nearby Conway’s nickname of Old Town). A contest was eventually held for people to originate a name.  The winning contestant drew inspiration from the popular plant in the area, the wax myrtle, and the name Myrtle Beach was born.

The “Personal” section of the Marlboro Democrat (Bennettsville, S.C.) mentions a family vacationing at the beach in 1903.

Aside from the business potential, the Burroughs & Collins Company realized the possible tourist potential in this new area. In 1901 they built the area’s first hotel, the Seaside Inn.  A bathhouse and pavilion shortly followed. The company also began selling beachfront properties for twenty-five dollars. Throughout the summer months of the early 1900′s, the mention of Myrtle Beach in local newspapers quickly rose as families began traveling there for recreation and relaxation. The area soon became a popular destination spot, especially for those living in nearby South Carolina towns who could easily travel to the beach on a short train ride.  As early as 1902, the Watchman and Southron (Sumter, S.C.) included Myrtle Beach (via Conway) under their “Week-End Rates From Sumter to Popular Summer Resorts.” Advertisements for hotels also begin to appear in papers around the state, enticing tourists to come and stay on the “Finest Strand on the Atlantic Seaboard.”

By the 1920′s, other developers saw the opportunity in the growing seaside town and began to further develop the area with hotels and golf courses, all aimed at vacationers. Myrtle Beach became a popular spot, seeing even conventions and conferences come to town such as ones for the South Carolina Press Association and the [South Carolina] State Dental Association.

An article in the Watchman and Southron (Sumter, S.C.) draws attention to the upcoming South Carolina Press Association convention in Myrtle Beach in 1922.

A crowd enjoys the shoreline at Myrtle Beach. (via WPA Photograph Collection, South Caroliniana Library)

Although F. G. Burroughs (of Burroughs and Collins Company) had been the first to see the business potential in the area, it had also been his dream to see a resort town on the East Coast halfway between Miami and New York. After his death in 1897, his sons carried out his plan, developing the area and turning Myrtle Beach into one of the most popular seaside destinations in the country.

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