Pawleys retains an “arrogantly shabby” uniqueness. Creek docks, porches, and lookouts define its skyline. A mixed culture of natives and newcomers and of affluence and poverty, Pawleys has strong traditions. The spirit of the “Gray Man,” a local legend, is said to appear to warn islanders of impending storms in this barefoot paradise.

Oceanfront Houses on South End of Pawleys Island. Pawleys Island Civic Association.

(Georgetown County; 2000 pop. 138). Situated on the Waccamaw Neck in Georgetown County, Pawleys Island is one of the oldest summer resorts on the east coast. In the eighteenth century rice planters, their families, and slaves stayed in cottages of cypress and pine near the saltwater to escape malaria. By 1822 cottages appeared on the island, and by 1858 eleven stood on this four-mile-long, one-quarter-mile-wide stretch of sand.

The decline of rice caused a rise in timber harvesting, and Atlantic Coast Lumber Company bought land on the neck. In 1901 the company ran a railroad from the river to the beach, bought or built houses, and created an employee retreat. Others opened homes to paying guests. Beginning in 1905, northerners bought river plantations as winter retreats.

In the early twentieth century U.S. Highway 17, connecting New York to Miami, passed through the community. The Hammock Shop opened on the highway by 1939, as did restaurants and stores. Marlow’s Store sold items ranging from caviar to flip-flops. Area residents once earned a living farming, fishing, logging, or commuting to the paper mill or to motels. In 1954 Hurricane Hazel destroyed many houses on the island, yet spurred an interest in the resort. In the 1980s plantations were developed as golf communities and many visitors made the island their permanent home. In 1985 the town of Pawleys Island incorporated. Hurricane Hugo in 1989 brought major challenges to homeowners and businesses on the Waccamaw Neck.

Pawleys retains an “arrogantly shabby” uniqueness. Creek docks, porches, and lookouts define its skyline. A mixed culture of natives and newcomers and of affluence and poverty, Pawleys has strong traditions. The spirit of the “Gray Man,” a local legend, is said to appear to warn islanders of impending storms in this barefoot paradise.

Bolick, Julian. The Return of the Gray Man. Clinton, S.C.: Jacobs, 1961. Chase, Eugene B., and Lee G. Brockington. Pawleys Island: Stories from the Porch. Pawleys Island, S.C.: Pawleys Island Civic Association, 2003.

Chase, Eugene B., Katherine H. Richardson, et al. Pawleys Island Historically Speaking. Pawleys Island, S.C.: Pawleys Island Civic Association, 1994.

Linder, Suzanne Cameron, and Marta Leslie Thacker. Historical Atlas of the Rice Plantations of Georgetown County and the Santee River. Columbia: South Carolina Department of Archives and History for the Historic Ricefields Association, 2001.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Pawleys Island
  • Author Lee G. Brockington
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • URL http://www.scencyclopedia.org/sce/entries/pawleys-island/
  • Access Date March 30, 2020
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • Original Published Date June 20, 2016
  • Date of Last Update January 6, 2017