Conwegians have sought to preserve their past even as they enjoy the present. Many historically significant residences, churches, and commercial and public buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
(Horry County; 2020 pop. 26,620). Conway, originally named Kingston Village, was established on a bluff of the Waccamaw River about 1735. Kingston became the seat of Kingston County, created in 1785 from the northern third of the Georgetown Judicial District. In 1801 the county was granted autonomy by the state legislature and renamed in honor of Peter Horry, a hero of the Revolutionary War. At the same time, the royalist-sounding name of Kingston Village was changed to Conwayborough for Robert Conway, a popular local politician. In 1883 the General Assembly shortened the name to Conway.
As a county seat, Conway benefited from the jobs and trade the courthouse drew to town. But for much of the nineteenth century, Horry was reckoned the poorest county in the state, so this commerce was often meager. For nearly two hundred years Conway’s fortunes were linked to the Waccamaw River. Midway between the Waccamaw’s source in Columbus County, North Carolina, and its mouth at Georgetown, Conway was well placed to benefit from river traffic. Unlike most South Carolina counties, however, Horry never developed a plantation culture, and only low value-added products such as timber and naval stores passed through Conway.
Conway grew slowly. When Bishop Francis Asbury visited Conway in 1801, he estimated the population at “not more than one hundred persons.” A generation later in 1826 Robert Mills reported twenty-five houses and “about one hundred” inhabitants. By 1860 Conway had almost 300 residents. When the town incorporated in 1898 (after 160 years of habitation) the population stood at 705.
The arrival of the railroad and telegraph in 1887 linked Conway to the world. With better transportation and communications came greater opportunity and swifter growth. In the 1890s bright leaf tobacco became Horry’s first major cash crop, and the county began a long period of sustained growth. Conway merchants established a tobacco market in 1899. A dependable cash crop revitalized Conway, and the town flourished in the early twentieth century. Between 1900 and 1940 Conway’s population quadrupled to 3,011.
After World War II, Horry’s beaches began attracting visitors in ever greater numbers, and Conwegians contributed energy and capital to developing the Grand Strand. The thriving sun-belt economy offered varied employment to local residents. By the 1960s many Conway residents were commuting to jobs in Myrtle Beach. This trend continued and intensified in the 1970s and 1980s as agriculture declined.
In the 1960s Coastal Carolina College, established in 1954 as a branch of the University of South Carolina, began to play a significant role in Conway’s economy. A new campus was constructed in suburban Conway, and at century’s end, Coastal was Conway’s largest employer with 546 permanent employees.
Conwegians have sought to preserve their past even as they enjoy the present. Many historically significant residences, churches, and commercial and public buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Conway’s Downtown Historic District, anchored by the 1825 Robert Mills–designed City Hall, is home to many upscale shops and restaurants.
Bedford, A. Goff. The Independent Republic: A Historical Survey of Horry County, South Carolina. 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.
Prince, Eldred E., and Robert R. Simpson. Long Green: The Rise and Fall of Tobacco in South Carolina. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000.