Pawleys Island and Georgetown, South Caroilna
Pawleys Island and Georgetown, South Carolina, one of the most haunted places in America.
Tiny Pawleys Island is located in the Tidelands of Georgetown County, South Carolina. Four miles long and a quarter mile wide at its widest point, Pawleys is one of the oldest beach resorts on the East Coast.
The island’s namesakes, the Pawley family, were one of the rice plantation families from the nearby port city of Georgetown that regularly crossed deep Winyah Bay toward Pawleys in the early 1800s. Most were fleeing extreme heat and disease on the mainland. They were taken across the water by slave oarsman, who sang songs with ancient African harmonies like “Roll, Jordan, Roll” and “O, Zion” as they rowed. Once the families arrived on the island, the slaves would return with cooks, nurses and seamstresses from the mainland whenever their services were needed.
These plantation families built fine, sturdy homes on the island made out of heavy hand-hewn lumber. A distinctive Pawleys style emerged, featuring homes with gabled roofs and around-the-house porches. Some of these homes were so well made that they remain standing to this day, despite years of harsh tropical storms.
The South’s devastating defeat in the Civil War hit Georgetown County hard, as plantation owners were stripped of their fortunes. Whatever cultivable fields were left were mostly destroyed by hurricanes. Despite the hardships, however, many families kept their homes on Pawleys Island. Many of these homes are still occupied by third, fourth or fifth generations of these plantation families.
Tropical storms always play a violent role in the history of an island, and for tiny Pawleys Island, they were particularly devastating. Houses were carried out to sea, sand dunes were flattened, and entire families were swallowed up by the rampaging waters. Hurricane Hazel in 1954 destroyed almost every new home built on the island since World War II. But due to the advent of a hurricane warning system, no fatalities resulted from Hazel.
Most of the picturesque old homes were sturdy enough to weather these storms, and today help give Pawleys Island its unique charm. Unlike its neighboring resort islands, parts of Pawleys have changed little since the 1700s, leading some to call it “arrogantly shabby.” Life on Pawleys operates at a slow and leisurely pace. Swimming, sunning and fishing are the main activities of the day. Night life consists of eating fresh, mouth-watering seafood at one of their fine restaurants. Pawleys is especially famous for its distinctive rope and cord hammocks, handmade by local crafts folk since 1880.
But Pawleys’s most famous attraction is the one rarely seen: The Gray Man, the island’s resident ghost. There are many stories about how he came to wander the lonely beaches during hurricane season – our story is just one of them. But many visitors probably hope that this is one local attraction that will stay in hiding. For his appearance can only mean one thing: vacation time is over!
A TV news reporter once referred to Georgetown County, South Carolina as the “ghost capital of the South.” This was no exaggeration, for over one hundred ghosts are rumored to haunt this coastal region. While many local residents scoff at the existence of such ghosts, others readily tell the well-known tales of local hauntings and paranormal phenomena.
Why are there so many ghosts here? Some say the sudden and often violent deaths associated with ocean life could be a cause. Others think that only individuals with strong personalities become ghosts, and Georgetown’s powerful plantation families certainly fit the bill. Or perhaps it’s the region’s strong link with the past that fascinates us, and makes us think we hear those noises coming from the moonlit beaches.
Georgetown itself is located at the end of a fifty-five-mile stretch of beach known as “The Grand Strand.” The hub of the Strand is Myrtle Beach, one of the nation’s largest and most popular tourist attractions. But the historic Georgetown area is a world away from the amusement parks, shopping malls and packed beaches of its noisy neighbor to the north.
Several Native American tribes settled around what was to become Georgetown long before the Europeans arrived. Many local sites still bear Native American names, and burial mounds have been discovered along the nearby Waccamaw River.
In 1526, the original Spanish settlers tried to establish a colony at the head of Winyah Bay where Georgetown now stands, but were driven out by disease. It wasn’t until 1729 that the City of Georgetown was founded by a Baptist minister, and quickly became a commercial center for the South Carolina low country. Its strategic location on deep Winyah Bay at the convergence of four large shipping rivers soon made it a major port city. Giant ships from Europe traded goods in Georgetown’s port during Colonial times.
After the Revolutionary War, Georgetown’s economy boomed due to the rise of rice as a major export. Rice plantations sprung up along the rivers leading into Georgetown. The winding, swampy river land was perfect for rice cultivation, and a rich plantation culture soon emerged comparable to the plantation culture in neighboring Charleston.
But river life also brought extreme heat and disease, and many plantation families had to literally flee for their lives when summer arrived. They were especially frightened of “country fever” (as malaria was then known) spread by the mosquitoes that infested the marshes. They soon built second homes on nearby beaches and islands, and wouldn’t return to their plantations until the first hard frost in November.
Many plantation families lost their fortunes after the Civil War, and the rice industry disappeared. Since then, the paper and steel industries have moved in, and tourism has fueled the local economy.
For more information on the Georgetown area, check out:
Photos (c)1997 Robert Clark (Photographer) and Georgetown County Chamber of Commerce.
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Tags: South Carolina
One Response to “Pawleys Island and Georgetown, South Caroilna”
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