Here Indians came to fish and had their first encounters with Europeans. Pirates found shelter from pursuers and safe hiding places for their loot.
Early settlers lived on the bounty of land, sea, creek and woods and made their living in farming, naval stores, and lumbering.
George Washington passed this way on his tour of the southern states.
Once a bustling port, Little River dreamed like a sleeping princess until the outside world discovered its beauty and the pleasures of sport fishing in the 1950s. Now Little River anchors the northern end of the Grand Strand and bustles again with activity and promise.
Long before Europeans came to Horry County the Indians made regular visits to the coast to enjoy the shellfish. There may or may not have been permanent villages in the vicinity of Little River, but there is plain evidence in shell mounds that the Indians had an appetite for oysters and clams. Waties Island has a sizeable mound which may have been used for burials or ceremonies. Arrowheads and other artifacts are frequently found in the area.
William Waties operated early in the area as a trader with the Indians, but by the time Europeans began to look to this coast for settlement the Indians had disappeared. They were never very numerous, just small tribes known as Waccamaws, Winyahs, Pee Dees, all believed to be Siouan. Present day Horry County has little trace of these peoples except for archaeological sites and a few place names.
It is impossible to know when the first Europeans came to these shores, but in 1526 a Spanish expedition under the command of Lucas Vasquez De Allyon left the West Indies with a commission to explore the land the Indians called Chicora. Some historians believe that the expedition landed in the Cape Fear, NC, area and moved south down the coast. If so, they passed through the Little River area, the soldiers marching down the coast and the ships with women and children aboard following offshore. When they reached the Waccamaw Neck, they were caught between the river and the sea and settled in for an indefinite stay. They named their camp San Miguel del Gualdape and it could be said to be the first European settlement on the continent. The winter was bitter and the Spaniards suffered from disease, desertion and discontent. When the commander died, the survivors left these shores and returned to the West Indies. If there is any sign of their passage left, perhaps the archaeologists will find it one day along this coast, somewhere from Murrell's Inlet up into North Carolina.
The earliest written accounts of this area report fishing villages of these people may have been from ships wrecked along the coast, from coastal traders, or from pirate ships which sailed up and down the coast from bases in the West Indies. The villagers certainly had ties to the pirates and gave them shelter. Little River is said to have been visited by the likes of William Kidd, Edward ("Blackbeard) Teach, and Anne Bonney.
The coast, laced with islands and inlets, lent itself to the purposes of pirates and others who sought concealment and secrecy. It was easy to lose pursuers among the sounds and creeks. Little River itself is short, tidal and flows north to the ocean. Off it are Dunn Sound and other tidal creeks which wind around and behind barrier islands.
When a young gentleman traveled the coast in 1734, he reported that there was nothing between Murrell's Inlet and Ashe's in Little River. The implication is that Ashe operated a public house for the accommodation of the occasional traveler. While the name has disappeared from Little River itself, there is a community called Ashe not far over the North Carolina line.
The earliest settlers took up land in the Little River area, in Little River Neck, along the Waccamaw River, and occasionally on one of the major swashes. White Point was once known as Gause's Swash because of the William Gause family which resided there. Vereens and Lewises had land around Singleton Swash. The Vereens were French Huguenots, who came to this continent in 1680 and were in Winyah District by 1736. A stone monument in their graveyard in the Vereen Memorial Gardens recounts their ancestry. Unfortunately this cemetery has been vandalized.
Those hardy souls who ventured into this wilderness had to learn to sustain themselves by wresting a living from the land. The appraisers of Josias Allston's personal estate in 1777 found among his belongings indigo hooks and seed, corn and peas, hogs, an ox cart, yokes and chains, horses, 70 head of black cattle, 24 working oxen and 134 slaves. This was a wealthy man.
On New Year's Day, 1740, George Whitefield, the English preacher and missionary, visited the village of Little River and found the people celebrating in traditional English fashion with music and dancing. He rebuked them, preached to them, baptised one of their children, and went to bed well pleased with himself. No sooner had he retired than the fiddles started and the dancing began again.
Whitefield rose the next day, reproved the dancers, and shook the dust of the village off his feet. His disgruntled frame of mind could not resist the sight of the strand as he moved south along the established coastal trail. "For nearly twenty miles we rode over a beautiful bay as plain as a terrace walk, and as we passed along were wonderfully delighted to see the porpoises taking their pastime, and hear, as it were, shore resounding to shore the praises of Him Who hath set bounds to the sea that it cannot pass...." (A highway marker south of Little River commemorates this visit.)
Twenty-two years later the Rev. John McDowell met with more success. He wrote that he preached at the boundary between North and South Carolina on May 9, 1762, and had the largest congregation from both provinces that he had seen since coming to America and that he baptized 23 children on that occasion.
In the earliest days the Little River area was part of a very large political division known as Craven County. After the time of the Lords Proprietors when there were royal governors, it was part of Georgetown District, which covered the present counties of Georgetown, Williamsburg, Marion, and Horry and included parts of present day Dillon and Florence. This huge area was divided into parishes which also served as the local voting precincts. All Saints Parish extended from Georgetown to the Cape Fear River originally, but later the province line was its upper boundary. All the area from the ocean to Waccamaw River fell within this parish.
The famous rice plantations of Waccamaw Neck, Georgetown County, were in All Saints. Members of the same families had holdings in the Little River area--Marions, Alstons, etc. They did not, however, develop them in the same way as those farther down the coast. In the whole area of present day Horry County there were very few land holdings which could properly be called plantations in the same sense as in Georgetown and other low country districts. Although the original grants were often for hundreds, even thousands of acres, their actual development tended to be as small, economically self-contained units. In a matter of a few generations the original grants were divided among a number of descendants of the grantee and small farms were generally typical.
Unlike much of the colonization of the new world, the settling of Horry County was by individuals and families, not by large groups. When the townships were established after the Crown recovered the province from the Lords Proprietors, settlers were offered 50 acres for each member of their households, including slaves and indentured servants. They were allowed to go pretty much where they willed and stake claim to their allotment. Because of the remoteness of this area, the settlers were slow in arriving. Most of them came from the British Isles, but a scattering arrived from other places.
The Bellamy family in the area is descended from John Bellamy (of French Huguenot extraction), who had lands on the Waccamaw River (as early as 1768) and in Little River Neck and Cherry Grove. He was the father of the Dr. John D. Bellamy whose home in Wilmington became famous for its beauty and elegance. His grandson Addleton Bellamy built a house near the Waccamaw River above present day Hwy 9 in 1775 which was torn down in the 1960s. It is shown on the Mills Atlas map as the only dwelling between the Little River Community and the area of the present day town of Loris. It was for many years a landmark along the road from Loris to Cherry Grove.
Most of the settlers were from the British Isles, but the Vaughts descend from a German, John Vaught, whose son Matthias was born at sea in 1750 on the way to the new world. Matthias fought in the Revolution and lost a leg at the Battle of Cowpens, Jan. 17, 1781. The Matthias Vaught descendents live in the area of Nixonville along Hwy 90 and the descendants of John Vaught live along Hwy 9 in the Sweet Home area.
About 1737 William Gause from North Carolina had a public house or inn in the Windy Hill area. Other early grants in the area now known as North Myrtle Beach were held by Thomas Brown, William Poole, John Daniell, Matthias Vaught, Samuel Master, Daniel Morrall, Daniel Bellune, John Allston, Mrs. Judith Lewis.
W. A. D. Bryan from North Carolina became a leading citizen of the area. He operated a grist mill on Cedar Creek and a store which held the post office a little way above it. Both are shown on the Mills' Atlas map. Bryan served in the S. C. Senate (1823-1826) and was second postmaster of Little River, appointed in 1828.
The distinguished Allston/Alston family is usually associated with Waccamaw Neck in Georgetown County, but several members of that family owned land and lived in the Little River area.
The Irish Starrats established a home site in Little River Neck. Their family burial ground is near Fort Randall. No stones are there, but the gravesites are marked by shells.
Isaac Marion, descended from Huguenots, lived in a house which sat directly on the line between the provinces of North and South Carolina. The boundary house is shown on an plat of land granted to Joseph Alston in 1814, but it has a much older history. It may have been built by William Waties, the Indian trader. It was sometimes a public house, sometimes a private residence, sometimes both. Preaching services were held there. In 1767 the Rev. John Barnett reported that he was preaching nine times a year at the Boundary House. While Marion lived there, he entertained his younger brother, Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox of the Revolution.
The site of the boundary house, marked by its old chimney, was used as a point of reference by surveyors reestablishing the state line in 1928. A 600 pound granite monument near the parking lot of Marsh Harbor Golf Clubhouse marks this important historic spot.
Isaac Marion was in residence there when news came of the Battleof Lexington, April 19, 1775, the "shot heard 'round the world", which touched off the American Revolution. The courier did not reach South Carolina until May 9, 1775, and Marion forwarded the message to the Committee of Safety in Little River, part of a defense and information network connected to Charleston. From Little River it was sent on to Georgetown and to Charleston.
Members of the Little River Committee of Safety at one time or another were Dennis Hankins, Josias Allston, Samuel Dwight, Francis Allston, John Allston, Jr., Isaac Marion, William Pierce, Alexander Dunn, Samuel Price, Michel Bellune, and Daniel Morrall. Empowered by the General Committee in Charleston, these constituted the only governing body of the area in the days before a state government could take hold. They could require local residents to sign an oath of allegiance to the new government to show opposition to the English Crown.
Daniel Morrall commanded a small band of local militia patrolling the upper reaches of the Waccamaw River. On April 1, 1781, they were engaged in one of the few Revolutionary War skirmishes in the Horry area. At Bear Bluff on the Waccamaw they engaged a band of Tories who were made to flee for their lives. The petition of John Parker for a pension several decades later lists as witnesses a number of the militiamen who were in that engagement. One of the legends of the area says that an old slave was in the house at the scene of the battle, working at her loom. She was killed by a stray bullet. At night one can hear the noise of her loom.
In Little River Neck General Francis Nash encamped with his North Carolina troops in December 1776. They occupied and helped to clear land belonging to William Allston while they waited for the new American commanders to give them marching orders. Local men fought from time to time with Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox.
In 1791 President George Washington decided to tour the southern states to reinforce their commitment to the new federal government. He traveled quite modestly in a light coach drawn by four horses. The little cavalcade consisted of his saddle horse and one extra, four more coach horses, and a baggage wagon with two horses. Besides the president there were his aide, Major William Jackson, a valet de chambre and four men to drive and look after the horses. There were no advance men, no reservations. Washington accepted whatever accommodations the roadside provided.
He entered South Carolina just north of Little River on April 17, 1791 and lunched with a Revolutionary War veteran named James Cochran. He was traveling the well established, but very rough coast road which had become known as the King's Highway. Just south of present day North Myrtle Beach he lodged overnight with Jeremiah Vereen. Apparently Washington thought Vereen operated a public house, but could not persuade him to accept payment for services. Vereen acted as guide the next day until they safely crossed Singleton Swash and turned inland. By nightfall he was received with lavish hospitality by the rice barons of Waccamaw Neck.
There is an often told story of how impressed the first president was by a very large dune in the vicinity of Vereen's home. "What a Windy Hill!" he is supposed to have exclaimed, and thus gave rise to the name of the area just above White Point. This story probably has no basis in fact, any more than that which puts the blame for the sandspurs which infest this area on the fodder which Washington brought along with him to feed his horses.
A highway marker, which has been temporarily misplaced, marked the visit of Washington to Jeremiah Vereen. It stood in the area of White Point. During the South Carolina Tricentennial in 1970 Washington's journey was marked by blue highway signs which bore the outline of his light carriage.
In 1801 the people of the Horry County area petitioned the General Assembly to create a new district and to rename the village of Kingston, which would become the district seat. The petition sought to have the district named for Gen. Peter Horry, Revolutionary War hero who fought under Francis Marion, commander of the district militia, and member of the General Assembly, and to have the village renamed Hugerborough in honor of another famous Georgetown Huguenot family. The name of the new district did indeed become Horry, but the district seat was named Conwayborough. General Robert Conway was a landowner in the area, fought in the Revolution, succeeded Horry as commander of militia, and was serving in the General Assembly when the petitions arrived there. Indeed, they were referred to his committee. Small wonder, then, that the new district seat was named for him.
Just on the South Carolina side of the Boundary House, out of reach of North Carolina law officials, General Benjamin Smith fought a duel with his cousin, Capt. Maurice Moore of Old Brunswick Town, on June 28, 1805. The duel was actually begun in North Carolina, broken up by the law, and reconvened just over the line. Smith was wounded, but was rushed by ship to "Belvedere", his home on the Cape Fear River, and recovered. He later became governor of North Carolina, but this was not the last duel he fought.
Robert Mills, a native South Carolinian who studied architecture under Thomas Jefferson, among others, and was the designer of the Washington Monument, the Fireproof Building in Charleston, and many public buildings and private residences from Philadelphia to Columbia, was the state superintendent of public buildings for a time in this state. The second Horry County Courthouse built in 1824-25, now the Conway City Hall, is his design. He undertook to gather together maps of all the districts of South Carolina for a state atlas and to write a book of statistics which covered the whole state in great detail. Prized today, when it was published in 1826 the subscribers and buyers were disappointingly few.
In describing the boundaries of the district he begins,
Horry forms the N. E. corner of the state, and fronts on the ocean, which bounds it on the S E. an extent of 31 miles. It is divided from North Carolina (on the East) by a straight line bearing N 47 1/2 E. 41 1/3 miles; beginning at a cedar stake, (marked with nine notches,) on the sea-shore of Goat island, about one and a quarter miles E of the mouth of Little river, and runs from thence until it intersects Drowning creek, or Lumber river.
There is another settlement made on Little river near the seaboard of about 25 persons, who carry on a considerable trade in lumber, pitch, tar, &c. ... Little river admits vessels drawing 6 or 7 feet water up into the harbor, 4 miles from its mouth. There is a little difficulty at the entrance, but the harbor is perfectly safe from the effects of storms."
The only other settled place he mentioned is Conwayborough, the district seat, which he described as having 20-25 houses and about 100 inhabitants. In another section he pointed out that from 1800 to 1820 the population had increased by 1,457 persons even though many families had emigrated to the west. The total district population in 1820 was 5,025, of whom 3,568 were white, 1,434 slaves, and 23 were free blacks--a population density of fewer than 5 persons per square mile.
Mills included in the atlas the Harllee map of Horry District, drawn in 1820, which shows not so much a village of Little River as a community, stretching from the state line south and west. It also shows Murrell's Inlet at the northern end of the Grand Strand. This is the same inlet which was later known as Cherry Grove Inlet, now closed) and was named for the Daniel Murrell (or Morrall) who owned much of what became Cherry Grove and whose family also had land in the area of present day Murrell's Inlet in Georgetown County.
The economy of the area developed out of the forests and waters. The people depended heavily on the yield of the ocean and creeks and on lumber and naval stores derived from the great forests. Early in the 19th century commercial production of lumber and naval stores provided trading commodities which were highly valued in the outside world.
Naval stores are the products of the pine tree. The sap of the tree was drawn by scoring it heavily (boxing) and catching the resin which flowed from it. This was refined into a number of products which were marketed as naval stores and were widely used in manufacturing. Indeed, turpentine derivatives were to manufacturing of that day what petroleum is to the present. Few manufactured goods did not depend upon it at some point in their production. It was an ingredient in medicines, disinfectants, soaps, waterproof cements, explosives, waxes, printing inks, paints and varnishes--and the list goes on. Horry District became one of the chief producers of this essential commodity.
Col. Daniel William Jordan typified the age of turpentine in this area. He arrived from North Carolina, as did so many others, in 1848, and during the next ten years accumulated 9,940 acres in what is now the Little River and North Myrtle Beach area. He was engaged chiefly in the production of naval stores and had several stills. He quickly became a leader in the community. He was elected to the House of Representatives for one term and then, on June 9, 1851, he became postmaster of Little River, but served only a short time. For whatever his reasons, he sold his Horry holdings to Nicholas F. Nixon, who had come from the New Bern area of North Carolina, for $25,000. Jordan acquired a large rice plantation in Waccamaw Neck, Laurel Hill (now part of Brookgreen Gardens), and moved his family there. He made a bad business decision, for he was forced out after the Civil War, and moved permanently to Camden where he had sent his family as refugees during the war.
The big operators in naval stores became wealthy, those who owned the stills and built the commissary stores which supplied their neighborhoods with a place to barter whatever they produced for goods from the outside world. The men who worked in the woods exchanged what they brought in for wooden, paper, or metal "chits" which gave them credit at the commissary store. These people got their living out of the streams, the woods, and the little cleared plots of land which produced grain and vegetables for their livestock and their families. A survey made during the mid 1890s showed that the average per capita annual income in Horry County was $2.50.
The commercial lumber industry of the district developed in the 1820s and the timbers cut from Horry forests became famous and in demand worldwide. The giant pines and cypresses provided the long, heavy beams needed for construction in a day before there was structural steel. It was said that they could dress out beams that measured 90 feet long and 15 inches square at the small end.
Little River became an active port and shipping put in here to lumber and barrels of resin, pitch and tar for shipment to the northern markets. The village became closely tied commercially to Wilmington.
A century after George Whitefield's visit, on March 16, 1840, John Brantley, William Bessent, Joseph Vaught, Daniel Thomas and Joseph Clardy, trustees of a Methodist church, were granted two acres of land by Anthony Brantly where Cedar Creek Cemetery is still located. This is the earliest documented church in the area, though there were probably several in existence at one time or another.
The Civil War temporarily disrupted both the naval stores and the lumber production and most of the able bodied men went to serve in the Confederate forces. The South needed salt and a traditional practice of deriving salt from ocean water was stepped up to supply the demand. Most of the military action in the Little River area involved either the defense or destruction of the saltworks which were operated at several places along the coast. C. B. Berry, a local surveyor who is very knowledgeable about the history of the area, describes the saltworks:
The salt was manufactured by evaporating sea water and was a much needed commodity in the South at that time. To give you some idea of the size of the operation, the Yankee officer who commanded the forces that destroyed the factory, said there were about three thousand bushels of salt on hand and not knowing how to destroy it, had it mixed with sand so it could not be used. A salt water storage tank for this operation had water lifting pumps operated by horses and had a capacity of 100,000 gallons. There were about fifty buildings that the officer reported he burned. The discovery of some ceramic grinding balls in that neighborhood recently, leads me to believe that this was not only a salt making operation, but might have been a gunpowder factory as well.
On Tilghman Point in Little River Neck, a place of spectacular beauty, there are the remains of a Confederate battery which defended the entrance to Little River. It was called Fort Randall and was captured by the Union forces in 1863 by a naval landing party commanded by Lt. William B. Cushing. The Confederates counterattacked and drove the invaders out.
The General Assembly of South Carolina consisted of a House of Representatives and a Senate. Men from All Saints precinct who served in the House before the Civil War were: Robert Heriot (1791), Paul Michau (1792-1794), Dr. Joseph Blyth (1794-1797), Joshua Ward, Jr. (1798-1799), William Vereen, Jr. (1800-1803, 1806-1807), John Allston (1804-1805), Robert Withers (1808-1809), Gen. Joseph Alston, who was elected governor in 1812 and was succeeded by William Algernon Alston (1813 only), Joseph Green (1814-1815), William A. Bull (1816-1821), Thomas Burrington Thomas (1822-1823), Joseph Waties Allston (1824-1827), William Bull Pringle (1828-1831), Joshua John Ward (1832-1835), Joseph Alston (1836-1839), Thomas S. Randall (1840-1841, 1954-1855), John Ashe Alston (1842-1849), Daniel William Jordan (1850-1851), Allard Belin Flagg (1852-1853), Plowden Charles Jennett Weston (1856-1857), Peter Vaught,Sr. (1858-1861), and Benjamin Esom Sessions (1862-1864) in the House.
In the Senate the combined Prince George, Winyah, and All Saints Parishes were represented by Elias Horry (1778-1780), Hugh Horry (1781-1782), Paul Trapier (1782-1784), Peter Horry (1784-1787), William Allston (1787-1790, 1791-1794, 1810-1814), Paul Michau (1794-1798, 1804-1810), Joseph Blyth (1798-1802) Thomas Young (1802-1804), Joseph Alston (1814-1816), Francis K. Huger (1816-1818), Benjamin Huger (1818-1823), W. A. D. Bryan (1823-1826), Ebenezer Flagg (1826-1830), Joseph W. Allston (1830-1832), Thomas P. Alston (1832-1838), Edward T. Heriot (1838-1842), Joshua John Ward (1842-1850), Andrew Hasell (1851-1858), Charles Alston (1858-1862) and James J. Wortham (1862-1865)
During the Civil War period Dr. W. K. Cuckon practised medicine in the area. His account book (1856-1869) has survived and contains the names of many area residents of the time.
In 1868 an Horry correspondent for The Marion (SC) Star [December 16] who signed himself Waccamaw wrote
that Little River Village was a flourishing commercial place, that bids fair to become of great importance in the industrial and commercial interest of Horry and of the adjoining counties in North Carolina. [It contained] four stores, one steam saw mill, two gum stills, one academy, church, no jail (!) and a curiosity, in a new-fangled 'Pinder Picking machine.' ... Vessels of one hundred and fifty tons burden can come up to the village, and so make regular trips between this place and Northern cities, as well as to the West Indies. A large Schooner, commanded by Capt. Davis was taking on cargo for New York, during our visit. ... Prominent among the characteristics of the Little River people is their energy and hospitality, two traits ever found among those who have commercial intercourses with other parts of the world. Capt. T. C. Dunn, an enterprising citizen of this place, is an ex-Captain of the Yankee Navy, blockaded that Fort during the war, settled there afterwards with considerable capital, which has greatly benefitted others, as well as paid him a handsome per cent.
The seductive nature of local foods was already well established. Waccamaw described his eating this way:
These [mullet], with the oysters, that were abundant, and the ducks, of which quite a number were killed, to appetites already good, and highly braced by the buoyant ocean breeze, were luxuries that courted indulgence. The gain per cent. during the period of two weeks, was so great that serious thoughts, of having to send some of the party to Wilmington to be weighed, were in contemplation.
The Capt. Dunn mentioned by Waccamaw was an energetic visionary who could see Little River as a major port and undertook its development. He planned a canal to connect Little River with the Waccamaw River, a feasible undertaking since they are only five or six miles apart at one point. This would have created a safe inland waterway for shipping from Little River to Georgetown on Winyah Bay. Inland Horry District had used Conwayborough as the riverport from which produce was sent first to Georgetown and then to its destination in northern ports or in Charleston. Since most of the commerce was with northern businesses, the development of this waterway and of the Little River port would have provided a shipping point much closer than either Georgetown or Charleston.
Before the project came to pass, however, the age of canals was practically over, displaced by the age of railroads. His next scheme was the construction of a railroad from Conwayborough to Little River. Dunn, however, was distracted from his purpose by an interest in politics. He was elected senator in 1872 and Comptroller General of South Carolina in 1875. He was succeeded by his close friend and associate B. N. Ward, who served the remainder of the term.
In the election which ended the Reconstruction period in 1876 Dunn was soundly defeated in his home precinct and never again lived in this area. His political career ended under a cloud and he left the state.
During the time that Dunn lived in Little River, he was a model citizen, active in the social and civic life of the community. He was one of the founders of the Little River Lodge #163, AFM, which was chartered in 1870. Its first officers were W. J. Stanley, Worshipful Master; Thomas C. Dunn, Senior Warden; Thomas Hickman, Junior Warden; L. D. Bryan, Treasurer; Thomas W. Gore, Secretary; S. A. Sealy, Senior Deacon; J. W. Stanley, Junior Deacon; W. A. Bessant, Steward; Elkman Hickman, Steward; Sam Perminter, Tiler. They met "on the night of the full moon in each month." The Lodge did not survive more than ten years and surrendered its charter in 1880.
The last quarter of the 19th century saw little development in the area despite the promise seen by the Marion Star correspondent. The people continued to grow peanuts, cotton, corn and other small grains, to cut timber out of the forest, and tap the trees for turpentine. During the last years of the century the naval stores industry began to fade here as the great forests were tapped out. It moved on to Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and other Gulf states.
The lumber industry continued, but it became more difficult to get the logs to the mill as the cutting went deeper and deeper into remote places. A number of narrow gauge or tram railroad lines were built during this period. A quarter of a century after Thomas C. Dunn had left the state, his dream of a rail connection with the interior of Horry County was fulfilled. The Gardner & Lacey Lumber Company of Georgetown built one in 1905 which ran from Little River to Red Hill, across the Waccamaw from Conway. The logs were hauled to the Conway Coast and Western tracks at Red Hill, and then on to the Dynamite Hole at the Conway Boat Landing on Highway 905 where they were dumped into the river, rafted and taken by tug boat to the mill at Georgetown.
Shelley Point Plantation was the terminal for the many miles of tram roads. Hammer Lumber Company, which was located "on the Little River Neck side just before you turn to go around Tilghman's Point", employed as many as 50 men in its operations. The company discontinued operations in the 1920s. Around the turn of the century Tom Bessent operated a commercial oyster fishery at the spot where the Little River wharves are now. Oysters could be bought at the "factory" for ten cents a bushel.
The name of the Wilmington, Southport and Little River Steamboat Company pretty well describes the territory covered by the regular runs of the boats which served Little River. In 1902 the company built a steamboat in Little River and named it the Sanders. It was launched with a day of festivities, but the little steamer was ill fated. After five years in service it ran aground on the Little River bar and was later replaced by the Atlantic, 75'long, 20' in the beam.
W. H. (Willie) Stone had a large general merchandising store located on the present southwest corner of the main intersection of Little River, across from the Little River Methodist Church. The unpainted wooden building had a large porch on the front where customers used to sit. Stone, who received his goods by boat from Wilmington and other places, needed to know when a boat was coming into port. About 1907 he hired Carl Bessent to install the first telephone which linked his store with a house on Battery (now Tilghman) Point in Little River Neck. A lookout called the store when a boat appeared at the mouth of the river and Mr. Stone prepared to receive his merchandise.
Lucian Bryan built the Little River Hotel early in the century. He and his wife operated it and lived in it. He also had a fishery on Waties Island and operated a fish house in Little River, which packed salted fish for market.
The Bank of Little River, SC, was chartered Nov. 4, 1910. On Feb. 15, 1938, it was purchased by the Conway National Bank and liquidated and for many years there was no bank in the village. Dr. R. G. Sloan was the resident physician in Little River for many years during the latter half of the nineteenth century. Dr. J. A. Stone cared for patients almost from the time he completed his education in 1905 until his death in 1950. Another practitioner who had patients in the area was Dr. S. P. Watson, who married a Little River girl. He lived at Round Swamp and treated patients from Loris to the Waccamaw River. These were all men who went to their patients, traveling by horseback, buggy, and finally by car.
The first schoolhouse in Little River Village was situated on the east side of the old Worthams Ferry road and was in use before the Civil War. Later it was located north of the post office. A two room school was built in the same location about 1910. Sometime before 1940 a larger building was built which was used until consolidation moved the school to Wampee-Little River below the junction of highways 90 and 57.
Not a lot is known about early schools in the Little River-North Myrtle Beach area. Pig Pen Bay School, shown on the Mills Atlas, was near Nixon Crossroads. When its grounds were used as a mustering ground for Confederate troops, it became known as the Mustershed School Along the beach there were families who made their living out of the ocean and on their small farms. In the area that is now Tilghman Beach William and Abraham Bessent operated a fishery before the Civil War.
The last surviving daughter of the original F. G. Burroughs related in her memoirs that her father told one of his children, "I won't live to see it, and you may not, but someday this whole strand will be a resort." Visionary or not, before he died Burroughs had already set in motion the building of a railroad from Conway to the coast. His sons carried out the project and in 1900 the first streets were laid out in Myrtle Beach, which his widow named for the native shrub.
James Henry Rice was another who could see the potential of the beach area. Many considered it worthless because it wouldn't grow crops, but Rice, a newspaperman who had edited a Conway paper, felt that it was a sleeping giant. In 1925 he gathered newsmen from all over the state, brought them to Conway where they were greeted with great enthusiasm, and took them in an automobile caravan on a tour from Myrtle Beach to Little River. He wrote a book titled The Glories of the Carolina Coast.
A Greenville, S. C., based firm, the Woodside Brothers, purchased 65,000 acres from Myrtle Beach Farms which stretched from the area of the Dunes Club to the heart of Myrtle Beach. The agreed price was $850,000, to be paid in six installments. The Great Depression caught these investors and the land reverted to Myrtle Beach Farms, but a million dollar hotel, the Ocean Forest, which they intended to be the keystone of a very exclusive development, was built and opened in 1929. The golf course which they commissioned became the Pine Lakes Country Club, the first of the scores of courses in the area.
In 1930 the dream of Thomas C. Dunn to connect Little River with the interior of the county by waterway became a reality. The U. S. Corps of Engineers began to acquire rights of way through the county for an Intracoastal Waterway. The people of Conway argued strongly for following the plan laid down by Dunn to connect Little River to the Waccamaw River by canal, but the Corps of Engineers opted to dig a new waterway 90 feet wide and eight feet deep through high ground from Little River to Socastee Swamp. This section completed the project from New England to Florida and there was a ceremonial opening at Socastee Bridge on April 11, 1936. Several sailors who have written of traveling the Intracoastal Waterway describe the section through Horry County as one of the most beautiful in its entire length. area
During Prohibition rumrunners found the islands and inlets of the as attractive as the earlier pirates and later drug runners. Older citizens will sometimes talk of the big black cars and the strange city types who came to Little River in those days. One story tells about a large ship anchored offshore at White Point, south of Windy Hill Beach, in deep water. Small boats brought the cargo to the strand. Boards were laid down for the truck wheels to run on. After the transfer the strand and the dirt in the woods were swept to blot out the trucks or evidence. Federal agents arrested the man on whose land the ship was unloading and picked up other little people, mostly local, who were involved, but did not snare any of the big operators. When these locals were brought before a federal jury consisting of other locals they were turned loose out of a sense of fundamental fairness.
Except for its port Little River was pretty isolated until the 1930s. There were no good roads into the area. The sandy trails which led from home to home and community to community could test the hardiest motorist. Before the time of the automobile visitors came by covered or uncovered wagon and camped for days or weeks on the land of the farmers and fishermen along the coast. Most people from the northwestern interior of the county crossed the Waccamaw by ferry at Star Bluff and visited the Windy Hill area.
Local men, including Nicholas F. Nixon, Sr., blazed the trail for a road from Loris to Cherry Grove across Bellamy's landing and the Waccamaw River. It was constructed by the county. "Constructed" did not mean paved. For a number of years it remained a rough road, but it made it possible for Loris residents to spend an afternoon under the fishing shelters, pine boughs on a headhigh frame, at Cherry Grove Beach and take a swim in the ocean. The children in these family parties looked forward to reaching Nixon's Crossroads. Not only did sight of it promise that the beach was close, but there was a "monkey stand" at the Leland Bellamy store at the intersection of US 17 and Hwy 9. The monkeys in a cage and a bear tethered nearby provided youngsters and parents with an entertaining break in their trip.
The road was later incorporated into the state highway system. In the later 1930s the construction of Hwy 9, from the mountains to the sea, gave Little River and its nearby beaches a sharp boost. In 1941 US 17 was a paved road, but little dirt roads led from it into the beaches. A WPA guide published in that year called attention only to Cherry Grove and Atlantic Beach north of Myrtle Beach.
The Nixon family prepared for the subdivision of Cherry Grove, which takes its name from an early plantation in the area and for a native tree, in 1924. Nicholas F. Nixon, Sr., born in Raleigh in 1862, died in 1942. For many years he was, with his white beard and black hat, as much a landmark in the area as the family home which overlooked the marsh. In 1950 C. D. Nixon closed Cherry Grove Inlet to join Cherry Grove Beach to Futch Beach. A new outlet was blasted open to Hog Inlet so that the tide would continue to flow into the marsh. Hurricane Hazel cut a new inlet on October 15, 1954, which was quickly repaired with emergency federal funds. Cherry Grove Beach was incorporated on March 26, 1959. The first mayor was C. D. Nixon, and the councilmen were R. Marvin Edge, Nicholas F. Nixon, J. L. Vereen and K. V. McLeod.
A group of professional men from Florence, SC, bought land in 1926 to form Ocean Drive Estates and subdivided Ocean Drive in 1927. Ocean Drive Beach was the first of the area towns to be incorporated, on June 8, 1948. The citizens elected Luther W. Fenegan mayor and Hardy S. Bennett, James B. Harris, A. M. Rush and J. Blakeney Jackson councilmen. In the early years automobile races were held on its broad strand, billed as the "widest beach in the world".
Of all the northern Horry beaches Ocean Drive was probably the most famous. The Roberts family of Green Sea and Loris built a pavilion there which was a favorite hangout of young visitors. There was music and dancing and the chance for boys to meet girls. The locals came from miles around to mingle with the summer people. The kids named the beach "O.D." and spread word of it wherever they went. The pavilion was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel and "The Pad" at the main intersection became the favorite hangout.
Crescent Beach, first known as the Ward Estate, was purchased by a NC group from Whiteville and prepared for subdivision in 1937. Among the North Carolinians who came to stay were A. Elbert Jordan and Carl Pridgen. Other early developers were J. W. Perrin of Florence, SC, and Charles N. Ingram. Their development was known as Ingram Beach. Perrin became the first mayor when Crescent Beach was incorporated in 1953. The first council consisted of J. O. Baldwin, C. B. Berry, Richard K. Cartrette and Harry Livingston.
Windy Hill was mostly owned by the heirs of W. R. Lewis of Conway. In 1947 a group of businessmen formed Windy Hill Beach Corporation and began developing the property between the Lewis tracts and the Bell Tract (later Atlantic Beach). The great dune which had attracted George Washington's attention was a landmark and a favorite picnic ground for many years. Windy Hill was incorporated October 19, 1964. Its first mayor was John T. Harrell and the councilmen were Charles W. Byers, P. K. Fleming, W. Leamon Todd and David Witherspoon, Jr.
Tilghman Estates, formed by Charles T. Tilghman and members of his family, developed Tilghman Beach in 1948.
Atlantic Beach was incorporated in 1966. Its first mayor was Emory Gore and the councilmen were Millard Rucker, Daniel Gore, Le Grant Gore and John Mark Simmons. The city government is entirely black and landowners have traditionally been reluctant to sell to whites, fearing to lose their heritage. Development consequently has lagged behind that of neighboring beaches. When consolidation of the towns at the northern end of the Grand Strand was proposed in 1967, Atlantic Beach elected not to join the movement. Surrounded by North Myrtle Beach on three sides and the Atlantic on the fourth, it remains by choice largely a black resort.
After years of effort consolidation took place in 1968. A steering committee with membership from each of the towns was formed to work out the details. It was agreed that the new town would have a new name and North Myrtle Beach was chosen. Clearly the name is meant to associate the city with the larger resort down the coast, but there has always been a certain amount of rivalry between them. For many years the northern beaches featured beach houses and a few inns, but a skyline is gradually developing as the highrise movement spreads up the beach.
The first mayor of North Myrtle Beach was Robert L. Edge. Council consisted of six men, one from each of the former towns and two at large. This tends to keep the identity of the former towns intact. The first councilmen were Mance Watkins for Cherry Grove, Jennings Livingston for Ocean Drive, M. A. Thompson for Crescent Beach and David B. Witherspoon, Jr. for Windy Hill Beach, Eli T. Goodman and J. Bryan Floyd, at-large. The consolidated government was housed in the Crescent Beach municipal building. Merlin Bellamy was named police chief. Douglas P. Wendel became the first city manager.
In the first years of real development most of the beaches had houses along the front two rows and small commercial districts. Progress was fairly slow and steady. Then came the great storm which everyone who lived in the area in 1954 remembers. On October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel swept ashore at high tide, just after full moon. The eye came in directly over the NC-SC line, devastating beaches to the north and the south. One eyewitness said that the storm surge, the great wave driven by tide and wind, topped eighteen and a half feet. Other accounts put it at thirty feet or more. The memories of the locals are full of stories about the destruction and the freakish nature of some things which happened. Some structures were left in matchstick pieces, others were moved and gently set down in another place. A post office was totally destroyed. Nothing was found, not even the iron safe. The beaches were strewn with litter.
Many people sold their land rather than rebuilding and it became possible to acquire the necessary land for larger, commercial units. Capital from the outside was made available for construction. Although the northern beaches still elected to rebuild many single dwellings and small public accommodations, larger beachfront developments became possible, courtesy of Hurricane Hazel.
Little River suffered less from the effects of the storm. The village had already acquired its deserved fame among sports fishing enthusiasts and had begun to cater to this group particularly. In 1955 it already had sixteen small craft ready for hire. It boasted three small hotels, several tourist homes and two "modern motor courts", including one located at the docks which cost $10,000 to build. A reporter found that "customer satisfaction is the best advertisement, seems to be the motto around Little River." He found that "the captains have retained an ability to make each trip an adventure."
The last two decades have seen constant growth in the area, first along the strand and more recently in the Little River area. In the early 1980s there was a move afoot to incorporate Little River, but that has not been achieved. An organization was established to bring water and sewer lines to the area. With this infrastructure in place and the continued expansion of the road system development away from the strand was encouraged, all along US 17 from the welcome center near Calabash to the intersection with Hwy 9. Now the expansion is moving along the Sea-Mountain Highway toward Loris and down Hwy 90 toward Conway.
[Information in this account came from many sources, but particularly from the files of The Independent Republic Quarterly, especially articles written for it by C. B. Berry and Carl B. Bessent.]
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