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About Horry County « Back

Myrtle Beach/Grand Strand
From A to Z

I = Independent Republic of Horry

The Grand Strand cities of Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach lie at the Atlantic Ocean eastern boundary of Horry County (pronounced OR-E). The largest South Carolina county in land size with 1,151 square miles, Horry is bordered on the west and south by the Little Pee Dee River. That means North Carolina provides the only land border to this vast area that is a land of incredible beauty varying from white sandy beaches to high ground forested woodlands to sprawling swamp wetlands cut by winding creeks. This geographic isolation encouraged independence and self-reliance among Horry's early yeoman farmer settlers and led to the county's nickname: The Independent Republic of Horry.

Early History

When Spanish and French explorers began arriving in the 1500s, they were welcomed by various Native Americans tribes to the land they called "Chicora." The most predominant of the tribes were the Waccamaw who leave their legacy in the name of the slow-moving, dark-colored river that connects Georgetown and North Carolina and flows beside the modern day county seat of Conway.

Although the English claimed the lands of "Carolana" in 1629, it was 1664 before they established North Carolina's Cape Fear colony and 1670 before they established the first SC colony in Charleston. Settlement outside Charleston was slow, so in 1734, the English designated 11 new "townships" to be located on rivers 60 to 100 miles from Charleston. The promise of 50 acres for every member of the family was established to encourage more people to emigrate from Europe.  Kingston Township (now Horry County) was one of the 11 with surveyors situating the town of Kingston (now Conway) on the northwest side of the Waccamaw River. The land was free but it had to be "wrestled from the wilderness." Slowly settlers cleared the forest, planted row crops, established grazing areas for livestock and felled trees to build their log homes.

In 1783, after the American Revolution, the new American government defined Kingston District with Kingston as the county seat, following the boundaries previously laid out for the township. The huge area was sparsely settled with most of the population centered in the town. In 1800, the county's first census counted 2,606 residents - less than 1% of South Carolina's total population. Undaunted, in 1801, area citizens voted to change the colonial Kingston names in honor of area Revolutionary War heroes. The District became Horry in honor of Peter Horry who commanded troops as a colonel in Francis Marion's hard-fighting guerilla force and the town became Conwayborough (changed to Conway in 1883) in honor of Robert Conway, a veteran of the Revolution who was also a state legislator and local landowner.

From the time of the American Revolution through the War Between The States some 100 years later, Horry County continued to be one of the least populous areas of South Carolina. It was a land of small farmers with large families and few slaves. These "backwoodsmen" proudly worked their land on their own and many also became involved in harvesting the area's timber or in producing "naval stores" (tar, pitch and turpentine) to support the construction and maintenance of the wooden vessels used by all the world's navies. The Little Pee Dee and the Waccamaw Rivers, and their tributaries, were the "highways" and calling for the ferry was a way of life for most travelers. In addition, the Waccamaw and its "Great Impassable Swamp" wetlands effectively separated the inland from the coast meaning only the brave ventured to travel from Conway to the beach. In fact, most settlers regarded the beach as beautiful but worthless since it wouldn't support growing anything one could make a living from. But change was coming, and one man, Franklin G. Burroughs, a Conway businessman, became the engineer!

In 1865, returning from the war, Burroughs and partner Benjamin G. Collins formed the Burroughs and Collins Company and began achieving success in their naval stores business. Eventually the Burroughs & Collins Company became the center of commercial activity in Horry County as they expanded into timber operations, erected mercantile stores around the area and established a steamship business on the Waccamaw. Along the way, the company acquired huge amounts of land throughout the county, including vast tracts of land along the coastline in support of Burroughs' prophecy that one day the entire coast would be a national resort destination.

By 1883 Horry County boasted 13 towns and settlements with 45 mercantile stores and leaders noted that more people were making their living in the timber and naval stores industries than in farming.  Railroad service, attracted by the lumber boom, arrived in 1887 to further "open up" the area. The railroad not only benefited commerce, but also created new towns. Loris was incorporated in 1902 and Aynor was brought to life in 1905 when Burroughs and Collins Company extended railroad service westward to take advantage of the timber and farming areas between Conway and Gallivants Ferry. Gallivants Ferry's strategic position on the banks of the Little Pee Dee was enhanced by a wooden bridge over the river.

Burroughs died in 1897 before he could see the dreams he had planted for the coast come to fruition; but his company made them happen. In 1900, Burroughs and Collins Company opened a 14-mile rail service line between Conway and the beach. In 1901, the company opened the Sea Side Inn as Myrtle Beach's first "resort." In 1914, a dirt road was built that connected Conway and the beach. The circuitous route wound through the Socastee area but it provided a sorely needed alternative to the railroad.

These humble tourism industry roots were just what the county needed. After more than 150 years of successful operation, the naval stores industry was dying as wooden hull ships became obsolete. By the 1920s, Horry's hardwood forests supporting the timber industry were almost exhausted and so were the small towns like Bucksville, Port Harrelson and Eddy Lake that had thrived on it.

To survive, men returned to their farms and many began to explore growing flue-cured tobacco.  Early experimenters with tobacco were Henry L Buck and Joseph W. Holliday, principal landholder of Gallivants Ferry. They planted seeds that would soon turn flue-cured tobacco into a major Horry County cash crop. In 1899 a tobacco warehouse opened in Conway and moved almost 100,000 pounds during the opening week.

Early 20th Century

Slowly, Horry County achieved modern conveniences. Electricity and telephone service came in the early 1900s. The 1930 census showed a population of 39,376 in the county with 2,947 inhabitants in Conway-more than three times the year-round population of Myrtle Beach! The 1930s brought more important changes that would end the area's geographic isolation. A bridge over the Waccamaw at Georgetown marked the completion of the last paved highway link in US 17-the East Coast's North-South highway. A hard-surface road that paralleled the railroad from Conway to the beach opened, eliminating the need for the circuitous route through Socastee. A new bridge over the Waccamaw into Conway opened to great excitement. It was an "engineering marvel" featuring glowing electric lamps to light the way for the more and more common automobile travelers AND towering arches that allowed boats to pass unhindered beneath the span. But the greatest engineering marvel was the completion of the final link in the Intracoastal Waterway. The route was to follow a straight line from Little River to the point where it joined the Waccamaw near Bucksport. Most of the route followed local creeks but part of it required digging through some of the highest land in the area. The project provided local jobs and a sight-seer heaven as the population watched the Army Corps of Engineers complete the channel and erect mechanical draw bridges at Little River, Pine Island and Socastee. When completed, the Waterway not only drained the swamp area that had isolated the beaches from the mainland but also allowed bridge travel between the inland and coastal areas. The fact that it allowed unimpeded water travel up and down the east coast was just an added benefit!

Modern Era

When the United States entered World War II in late 1941, life in Horry County was a little easier but ultimately not much different from pioneer days. Most people still lived in the "country" and many were without such luxuries as electricity and indoor plumbing. Major highways were paved but most rural roads were dirt. Residents were still self-sufficient, owning their hand-built homes and living off their small farms. Myrtle Beach, though growing as a vacation destination, was still a small coastal town in the off-season. But the war meant most men would either serve in the military or go off to wartime industry and women for the first time would enter the workforce. Obviously no battles occurred in Horry County but the area's strategic coastline and large tracts of undeveloped land brought some wartime activities. The U.S. Army established a gunnery school and flight training base on the south end of Myrtle Beach and trained more than 70 Army Air Corps squadrons at the site that would eventually become the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. The Army also claimed a large tract west of the Intracoastal Waterway to use as a bombing practice site. Along the coast a section was set aside for fighter aircraft to practice strafing runs and residents painted the top halves of their automobile headlights as a precaution against air raids and put black-out shades on their windows. More than 600 German prisoners-of-war arrived in Horry County and were housed in an old Civilian Conservation Corps camp at the Myrtle Beach Bombing Range.

By war's end in 1945, life would never be the same in rural Horry Couty. Men who previously had never left the county returned from battlefields around the world. The G.I. Bill allowed young veterans to attend college, buy homes and farms, open stores and businesses, invest in occupations and pursue dreams their parents never conceived of.  Across the country, Americans were ready to turn the energy they had poured into winning the war toward modernization and Horry County joined in.

The 1950 U.S. census recorded 59,820 residents in Horry County. In 1955, the Bombing Range was reopened as the Myrtle Beach Air Force Base. Roads were paved. Radio and television stations opened. Myrtle Beach was still a summer town resort that emptied after Labor Day. Previously devastated timberlands had re-grown enough to support a revived industry and would continue to be an important part of the economy. Bright-leaf flue-cured tobacco started to become big business allowing some Horry County farmers to go from subsistence to success. In fact, in the mid 1950s, Horry County was one of the largest tobacco producing regions in the world. Today's tobacco health scare has led farmers to diversify but tobacco was king for a long time. In 1954, Hurricane Hazel hit the Horry County coast. Ironically, the destruction of the countless beach cottages would lead to a revitalization that has yet to cease. New resort attractions, motels, and restaurants arose only to be replaced later by more luxurious high-rise hotels and condominiums. The Grand Strand, as the area from Little River to Georgetown would become known, continued to grow in popularity as a vacation destination and today attracts some 14 million visitors annually. Inland, golf courses multiplied giving the area the title of "Golfing Capital of the World." Increasingly people came to live instead of vacation.

By 1980, the population had almost doubled from its 1950 mark. By the mid 1990s, more than half of Horry County's population lived in town and much of the rural population commuted to jobs on the coast. The Grand Strand boasted more than 1400 eating establishments and more than 50,000 rooms for rent. The beach season became year-round, giving the Grand Strand a larger average daily population than the cities of Columbia and Charleston combined!

By the end of the 20th century, the population had doubled again and Horry County had two distinct lifestyles: east of the Waterway, an urban lifestyle dominated while residents west of the Waterway sought to maintain a traditional small town and rural life. Today, the county is more and more urban but true to its history, Horry County retains distinctions in landscape, lifestyles and attitudes. It is still "The Independent Republic" and its history can be summed up with three "t's"-timber, tobacco and tourism!

Information is deemed reliable but not guaranteed. It has been compiled from various resources and edited for presentation by The Hoffman Group.

» Contact Information

The Hoffman Group
9654 North Kings Hwy #101
Myrtle Beach, SC 29472
Phone: 1-877-671-5024

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