(Horry County; 2000 pop. 22,759). The centerpiece of South Carolina’s Grand Strand, Myrtle Beach is an international resort and ranks among the state’s fastest-growing and most economically significant cities. Until the twentieth century the area was thinly settled by small farmers. The region’s central asset was the timber and naval stores of its abundant forests. In the 1880s the Burroughs & Collins Company of Conway began acquiring land for its modest timber value, gradually accumulating about seventy thousand acres.
The area’s first settlement was a logging camp. In about 1900 Burroughs & Collins built a railroad from Conway to the coast to extract the timber. The terminus, called New Town, was considered part of the Socastee community. In 1901 the company built a small hotel, the Seaside Inn (two dollars per day including meals) and a general store and began selling oceanfront lots for twenty-five dollars each. The settlement was renamed Myrtle Beach after the wax myrtle, a shrub common to the region. Myrtle Beach soon became popular with Horry County folk, who came by rail for a day, a week, or a season.
In 1912 Simeon B. Chapin, a northern entrepreneur, bought a half-interest in the Burroughs & Collins Company’s Myrtle Beach venture. Chapin contributed cash, and the company invested its landholdings. The partnership was named Myrtle Beach Farms, later Burroughs & Chapin, and it has played a central role in the evolution of Myrtle Beach.
In the 1920s the Woodside family of Greenville purchased a large tract, intending to develop Myrtle Beach into an exclusive resort. Their Ocean Forest Hotel and Pine Lakes golf course were completed just in time for the Great Depression. The Woodsides defaulted, and the property reverted to Myrtle Beach Farms. In the late 1930s development was refocused on attracting middle-class visitors as new bridges made the area more accessible by automobile.
During World War II, the U.S. Army Air Corps established a base south of town, and German prisoners of war were housed in the area. After the war, the air base was enlarged and became part of the U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Command. Myrtle Beach Air Force Base contributed substantially to the local economy until its closure in 1993.
In the late 1940s Myrtle Beach began a period of sustained growth as fun-seeking Americans discovered the South Carolina resort. Hurricane Hazel temporarily stalled the postwar boom in 1954, but the lower land prices that resulted created an opportunity to combine small holdings into commercial-sized parcels. Soon, national hotel and restaurant chains acquired properties in Myrtle Beach. Besides its traditional role as a family-oriented beach resort, Myrtle Beach became a golf mecca in the 1970s. Good weather and good golf drew a significant retirement population. Beginning in the 1980s, shopping and entertainment complexes added a year-round dimension to the economy. By 2000 Myrtle Beach poured a torrent of revenue into state coffers, but the need for roads and public services lagged far behind. The natural environment was another casualty of rapid expansion.
Lewis, Catherine H. Horry County, South Carolina, 1730–1993. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.