South Carolina’s Grand Strand is an uninterrupted strip of sandy beaches that officially stretches along sixty miles of Horry and Georgetown Counties, from the North Carolina / South Carolina border south to Winyah Bay. Unofficially, the Grand Strand has referred to the greater Myrtle Beach area since the early 1920s, following the distribution of a promotional article entitled “Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, America’s Finest Strand.” Home to approximately 216,000 people, the Grand Strand is an unbroken strip of municipalities and communities strung together by U.S. Highway 17. One of the primary tourist destinations in South Carolina, the Grand Strand hosts more than thirteen million visitors annually. Horry County leads the state in tourism, accounting for more than thirty-eight percent of tourism revenues and forecast to gross approximately $6.6 billion in sales in 2004.
Until the early 1900s the beaches of Horry County were virtually uninhabited due to the county’s geographical inaccessibility and poor economy. Indeed, the beach and surrounding marshes were considered worthless for farming, and the lack of natural harbors forestalled any seacoast development. The area that would become Myrtle Beach came into existence because of its rich timber resources, not its pristine beach. Among the timber farmers and companies that worked in the area, Franklin Gorham Burroughs of Conway and Benjamin G. Collins were chief landowners in the county, possessing about 100,000 acres, two-thirds of which were located along the Atlantic coast. By the 1890s, Burroughs realized that geographic obstacles were going to have to be overcome in order to get his company’s timber and turpentine to market more efficiently. He also understood that accessibility to visitors would give the beach significant potential as a resort, such as Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Coney Island, New York. The Conway and Seashore Railroad, completed in 1900, immediately began to change the nature of the beach from a timber and agricultural region to a tourist resort. In the twenty-first century, accessibility to the beach and within the area continued to be a challenge, impacting the health of the tourist economy and land development, as well as the quality of life on the Grand Strand.
From its earliest days, the coast was promoted as a family resort. The first visitors were middle-class and blue-collar families from the Carolinas seeking a summer getaway in their own “backyard.” The tourist season originally ran from Easter through Labor Day, but by the 1970s it stretched almost year-round, with attractions to please every age and desire: countless all-you-can-eat seafood restaurants and pancake houses, dozens of miniature golf courses, more than one hundred championship golf courses, eleven campgrounds with a total of seven thousand campsites, amusement parks, arcades, water parks, shopping malls, country-music concert venues, fishing piers, and, of course, the beach. In recent years, Ripley’s Aquarium, the Butterfly Pavilion, Planet Hollywood, NASCAR Speed Park, the House of Blues, and Hard Rock Café have joined the Grand Strand entertainment venues. In the 1990s, the Grand Strand added Broadway at the Beach, a 350-acre entertainment and shopping complex, and the Coastal Federal Field stadium, home to baseball’s Myrtle Beach Pelicans, a Class A farm team for the Atlanta Braves.
Some visitors came and never left. Retirees have helped make the Myrtle Beach Metropolitan Statistical Area the thirteenth fastest growing area in the nation, according to the 2000 census. Horry County is the number-one choice for retirees relocating to the state. During the 1990s, the county’s population of sixty-five years and older grew by fifty percent.
Improvements and additions continued for the Grand Strand into the twenty-first century. Myrtle Beach International Airport underwent a multimillion-dollar expansion, the 1.5-million-square-foot Coastal Grand-Myrtle Beach Mall opened in mid-2004, and construction began on the Grande Dunes Resort, an exclusive mixed-use community covering 2,200 acres of coastal real estate. As the communities of the Grand Strand continued to build and grow, they also actively sought solutions to traffic congestion, environmental and natural resource issues, mounting tax burdens, visual pollution, sprawl, economic diversification, and preservation of the culture that has attracted visitors to the beach for more than one hundred years.
Bedford, A. Goff. The Independent Republic: A Survey of Horry County South Carolina History. 2d ed. Conway, S.C.: Horry County Historical Society, 1989.
Lewis, Catherine H. Horry County, South Carolina, 1730–1993. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.
Rogers, Aïda. “A Grander Strand.” Sandlapper 13 (summer 2002): 14–19.