A Guide to Myrtle Beach History and Local Folklore
The Myrtle Beach area and the Grand Strand have a storybook history. Indeed, dozens of books have been written about long-lost indigenous peoples, colorful pirates, and roaming ghosts. But for the most part, these stories have been shared orally - told and retold over hundreds of years, generation after generation. Not surprisingly, the stories change over time, as different storytellers add their own embellishments. As a result, there are many different versions of the same tale. However, this hasn't diminished the importance of these tales to our local culture, or the enjoyment of hearing, reading, or re-telling them.
A History of the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Area
Learn more about the history of the Myrtle Beach area dating back all the way to the 16th century.
The area's first inhabitants were the Waccamaw and Winyah indigenous peoples, who named the region Chicora, meaning "the land." Kings Highway - a major thoroughfare through the Myrtle Beach area - began as trail long before Europeans settled along the Grand Strand. Later, this trail became the route from the northern states to Charleston and Savannah. These first inhabitants are the subject of the oldest and perhaps most elusive stories. While much has been written about Native Americans across the country, documented facts about local tribes in the Myrtle Beach area are scarce. Physical evidence of their existence and way of life has been more forthcoming, however, as arrowheads, pottery, and other artifacts continue to be discovered.
Early attempts by European explorers to settle the Grand Strand were disastrous. Spaniard Lucas Vasques de Allyon founded the first colony in North America here in 1526, but the settlement was ravaged by disease, and the inhabitants perished within a year.
A new chapter in the area's history and lore was introduced after English colonists settled in the area. Suddenly, goods and supplies needed to be imported and exported across the ocean. By the 1700s, scores of pirates had taken to the high seas to intercept cargo vessels and make off with the goods. The South Carolina coastal waters were especially productive for pirates - and the coves and inlets along the Grand Strand provided great hiding places for these marauders. Pirates who became local legends include Edward Teach, called Blackbeard because of his coal-black beard, and Drunken Jack, who was left behind on an island with a huge stash of stolen rum - and was rumored to have died with a smile on his face. Meanwhile, English colonists formed Prince George Parish and laid out plans for Georgetown, the state's third oldest city, in 1730. Surrounded by rivers and marshlands, Georgetown became the center of America's colonial rice empire.
Until the 1900s, the beaches of Horry County were virtually uninhabited due to the county's geographical inaccessibility and poor economy. Near the turn of the century, the Burroughs & Collins Company - a timber / turpentine firm with extensive beachfront holdings - began developing the Myrtle Beach area as a resort. In 1901, the company built the beach's first hotel, the Seaside Inn. At that time, oceanfront lots sold for $25, and buyers received an extra lot if they built a house valued at $500 or more. Previously known as Long Bay, Withers, or Withers Big Swamp, the fledgling beach community was simply called "New Town" - until the Horry Herald sponsored a contest to officially name the area. Mrs. F.E. Burroughs - wife of the founder of Burroughs & Collins - won with the name "Myrtle Beach," which she chose for the many wax myrtle trees growing wild along the shore.
In the 1920s, a group of businessmen began building an upscale resort called Arcady, at the north end of the community. Arcady featured the present Pine Lakes International Country Club -- home of the Strand's first golf club and birthplace of the magazine Sports Illustrated -- as well as the legendary Ocean Forest Hotel. Several major developments took place along the Grand Strand during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1936 the Intracoastal Waterway was opened to pleasure boats and commercial shipping. During the 1940s, an Air Force base was established and used for training and coastal patrols during World War II. The base was closed in 1993. The Myrtle Beach Pavilion was built in 1949, and the historic band organ and carousel were installed in 1954. Myrtle Beach was incorporated in 1938 and became a city in 1957.
In 1954, Hurricane Hazel demolished buildings and trees along the Grand Strand, clearing the way for new hotels and homes. During the rebuilding phase of the 1960s, a golf boom began, with new courses being built each year. The number of golf courses along the Grand Strand now totals around 115.
The Myrtle Beach Convention Center, which houses the official South Carolina Hall of Fame, opened in 1970. During the 1970s, new construction in the area topped $75 million, and the permanent population tripled. In the 1970s and 1980s, construction of attractions, homes, retail shops and other amenities increased steadily, paving the way for another boom in the early 1990s. The Grand Strand currently attracts over 14 million visitors and thousands of new residents to the area, each year. The Myrtle Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area was listed as the ninth-fastest growing area in the nation, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics released in March 2011. The area has grown 37 percent over the past decade.
Of all the tales told over time, the ones most dear to Myrtle Beach natives are ghost stories. The most enduring folklore figures are of Alice Flagg, ghost of the Hermitage, and the Gray Man. According to legend, Alice Belin Flagg (1833-1849) roams beside the waters of Murrells Inlet ... searching for a ring she received from a young man her family did not approve of. As she lay in bed ill with a fever, her brother discovered the ring on a ribbon around her neck, became enraged, and flung it into the inlet - and it is said that she still combs the creekside in pursuit of the lost treasure. The story of the Gray Man also involves a tragic love story - as a soldier returns home to marry his sweetheart. Riding on horseback, he has an accident and is killed. His spirit, however, lives on, and he is able to warn his lover of an approaching hurricane and save her life. Since that time, many people have reported seeing the Gray Man before a hurricane and heeded his ghostly warning to seek safety.
To learn more about these and many other local legends, visit an area bookstore, where you'll find a wide selection of regional books. Local tour guides and cruise operators also highlight the area's folklore.