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The History of the Withers Swash Neighborhood

  By  Kathryn Hedgepath

A Disc Golf Course, Dog Park and a 200 Year Old Legend

The Great Storm of 1822 wrought unprecedented damage to the Myrtle Beach area when its wind and waves pounded our coastline two centuries ago.  In addition to the devastation left behind it also originated one of Myrtle Beach’s little-known legends that was popular in the early twentieth century. 

I was born in the middle of the twentieth century so I never heard this tale growing up, but I make a point to share it now when I take guests through the Withers Swash neighborhood.  It’s located along and near Withers Swash Drive, which is off of Third Avenue South, between Kings Highway (aka Highway 17 Business) and Broadway Street. 

I did grow up with the term swash. But one day, a visitor not from this part of the country asked me what a swash was.  I was no more stunned for a moment by the question than if they had asked me what an ocean was.  I now also make a point to share its definition. 

The word swash is a predominantly southern term meaning a naturally occurring marshy area where the saltwater of the ocean meets the freshwater of a stream.  It’s smaller than an estuary which are wetlands where rivers meet the sea.  There are about a half a dozen swashes within the city limits of Myrtle Beach.

During the Civil War, Withers Swash was the location of a salt works.  With supply lines cut off by Union blockades, Southerners were crippled without salt that was used for everything from seasoning food and food preservation to tanning leather.  So they began creating their own by filling large, what they called, salt pans or salt kettles with seawater. 

The pans which were about four feet across were placed above a fire by resting them on a circular stack of bricks that were positioned to have gaps to allow air to reach the flames. An example of one is on display at the Horry County Museum in Conway.  Once the water was boiled off, the salt crystals left behind were collected.

That process was so important that, if you were a worker at a salt works, you were exempt from serving in the Confederate Army. That’s not to say it wasn’t just as dangerous because the Union targeted salt works sites.  On April 24th, 1864, Union marines set out on two long boats from the USS Ethan Allen that had anchored offshore near where the Swamp Fox roller coaster is now.  They destroyed six salt pans that they discovered at the undefended salt works at Withers Swash.  The day before, they had gotten the one up where the Dunes Club is now at Singleton Swash, known back then as Cane Patch. 

Before the war, where the Withers Swash neighborhood is now was Withers Plantation. According to colonial maps, that area’s prominent water feature was known then as Eight Mile Swash. Prior to the American Revolution, the King of England gave the Withers Family a 66,000-acre land grant for property that is in both what is now Georgetown and Horry Counties.  That included 3000 acres in the Myrtle Beach area that was referred to at that time as Long Bay. 

During the years of the Revolutionary War, the family was so often bothered on their plantations by marauding British soldiers who were stationed in nearby Georgetown, that the Witherses relocated to this area.  On their matriarch’s tombstone in the cemetery of Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church in Georgetown when she passed away in 1801, it reads in part:

Sacred to the memory of Mary Esther Withers, mother of Francis, Richard and Robert Withers.  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, teaching them by precept and example the compatibility of secular and spiritual concerns.  

Withers Plantation began with indigo as the chief crop, but it was soon found that timber cultivation proved more lucrative.  A fine house was built on the bluff overlooking the swash and all those who lived on the plantation were sustained by all that would grow in the sandy soil, be hunted on the land, and be caught in the ocean and the creek.  The land was worked for about a half-century until a horrific tragedy led to the family's abandonment of the coastal farm and Long Bay forever. 

In September of 1822, in preparation for an apparent storm that was approaching, 18 people took refuge in the Withers home on the bluff.  The house was brightly lit with candles and lanterns and someone may have even been playing music. They were possibly having a hurricane party.

Conditions exponentially worsened as the night wore on until the worst happened.  A huge storm surge rushed up from the ocean, through the swash, knocking the house off its foundation and upright into the water. 

It began floating toward the beach, still brightly lit, but now the occupants were terrorized inside.  Then another surge hit it with such force that it pulverized the structure, and all 18 souls were lost. 

The legend is that, if you are at Withers Swash on dark and stormy night, you may see, not a ghost, but a house, lit up like a ship, floating down to the shore.  Two hundred years later, unwittingly commemorating the bicentennial of this legend, the City of Myrtle Beach introduced two new attractions at Withers Swash Park located on Withers Swash Drive and the more recently created New Town Park which is at the corner of Collins and Broadway Streets, also within the Withers Swash area.  New Town was what Myrtle Beach was called until a contest was held in 1900 to come up with an official name.   Addie Burroughs of Conway suggested Myrtle Beach because of the abundance of wax myrtles here at the time.  The name that came in second in that contest was Edgewater. 

The first attraction the city introduced is the 18-hole Withers Swash Disc Golf course that takes up most of Withers Swash Park’s fifteen acres but is designed not to interfere with its previously established walking trails. As the name implies, disc golf is similar to golf in that, instead of using a golf ball and club, a player tries to toss a disc into a target with the least number of throws. 

The City of Myrtle Beach recognized that disc golf is one of the fastest growing sports in the country and enjoyed much success with their first endeavor with it, Splinter City Disc Golf course.  It is a 20-acre championship-style course located at the corner of Kings Highway and Farrow Parkway in the Market Common District.  You can see people throughout the day playing there regardless of the weather.

Its name is a nod to Myrtle Beach’s WWII history.  On that site, from 1941 to 1947, the administrative buildings, barracks, hospital and other structures were used by the US Army Air Corp at their airfield there.  The hastily built wooden buildings were given the nickname, Splinter City, by the locals.  The last of those structures was razed in the 1990s.

The shorter Withers Swash course is geared more toward beginners and children but proves to be a challenge for advanced players.  The Myrtle Beach Disc Golf Club collaborated with city officials on both courses. 

If you follow Withers Swash Drive north from that course and cross over 3rd Avenue South, you will make your way around to New Town Park where you will see the other attraction, a dog park.  As you cross 3rd Avenue, you will notice the area for large dogs on your left.  Continue on to Collins Street and turn left at Withers Cemetery and you will see the small dog area on the left near Broadway Street.  A pedestrian bridge and walking trails connect the two.   

It is the third such park in Myrtle Beach that ranks its other similar facilities as their most used parks in town.  The first, Barc Parc North, is located near 62nd Avenue North, beside the YMCA. The other is in the Market Common District.  From Kings Highway, pass the main entrance to the district at Farrow Parkway, you’ll see Splinter City as you go by, and take the next right into a shopping complex that is anchored by a Food Lion grocery store, but you may notice the Big Air Trampoline Park more readily.  If you drive to the right of the complex, behind it you will arrive at Barc Parc South.

Kathryn Hedgepath

Myrtle Beach native, Kathryn Hedgepath, loves to share her hometown’s history with visitors and newcomers to the Grand Strand.  She is the creator and narrator of the Myrtle Beach History Trolley and Step-On Tours, and the author of the book, Myrtle Beach Movies, that tells the stories behind the motion pictures that were made or premiered in Myrtle Beach.  She has traveled in 40 countries on 6 continents and uses her experience to convey our local history through a world lens. Kathryn returned home from NYC in 2002 to marry her beloved husband, Jenks, after a career in television and publishing (and even worked in Space Shuttle Operations at NASA Headquarters in DC for a semester before starting grad school at Georgetown University).  Her first career job was as Personal Assistant to television icon and wildlife expert, Jim Fowler, of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom fame. Her dad, Myrtle Beach’s first veterinarian, arranged the job interview when Jim Fowler came to Myrtle Beach for a speaking appearance at a veterinary conference in 1991.