(Horry County; 2000 pop. 10,974). North Myrtle Beach anchors the northern end of South Carolina’s Grand Strand. Native Americans sojourned here, and prehistoric shell deposits attest to the area’s long-standing popularity as a seasonal resort. Europeans and Africans began settling the region as early as the 1740s. A few families (notably Bellamys, Bessants, Nixons, and Vereens) acquired tracts encompassing much of the area. In time, large holdings were subdivided by sale and inheritance. The plantation culture common farther down the coast never developed here, but the region’s dense, old growth forests provided abundant timber and naval stores. Thus, subsistence farming supplemented by fishing and logging became a way of life for generations.
Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, farmers from western Horry County came by covered wagon to fish and enjoy the beach. They camped behind the dunes, cooked their catch over open fires, and salted barrels of spots and mullets to take home. It was at once work and recreation for these hearty folk.
With the automobile came paved roads and bridges that linked Horry County to the rest of South Carolina. Locals quickly adapted accommodations to the increasing numbers of tourists. By the 1940s communities were evolving along the north strand. Simple frame houses, some built on stilts, rose along the oceanfront. In 1950 Futch Beach was joined to the Nixon family’s Cherry Grove property by filling an inlet that separated them. The new entity was renamed Cherry Grove Beach.
A large tract to the south was developed in 1948 by Charles T. Tilghman, Jr., of Marion County. Tilghman Beach benefited from restrictive covenants and sound planning, becoming an upscale residential enclave. Farther south, Ocean Drive Beach and Crescent Beach were developed by investors from Florence. A pavilion and amusement park drew crowds to play and dance the shag. Windy Hill Beach was developed by Conway investors after World War II. Because Jim Crow laws denied accommodations to blacks and deed restrictions prohibited land sales to “persons of African descent,” an all-black resort, Atlantic Beach, was developed by black entrepreneurs.
On October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel struck. Many homes and businesses vanished, and others were made uninhabitable. Beach communities were paralyzed by the destruction. Daunted by the prospect of rebuilding, many elected to sell their property at bargain prices. Thus, larger parcels became available for hotel sites and other commercial enterprises. By removing older dwellings and expediting land consolidation, Hurricane Hazel actually accelerated development.
The beach boomed in the 1960s. Summer tourism increased, and new golf courses expanded “beach season” into spring and fall. In 1968 Cherry Grove, Ocean Drive Beach, Crescent Beach, and Windy Hill consolidated into North Myrtle Beach. Atlantic Beach declined the invitation to join. In the 1970s multistory condominiums and hotels began replacing single-family housing on the oceanfront. On the marsh at Cherry Grove, numerous “channels” were dug, draining and filling wetlands for more development. By the early twenty-first century the rapid increase in housing units had strained local resources and infrastructure to the limit.
Lewis, Catherine H. Horry County, South Carolina, 1730–1993. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998.