The Town of Surfside Beach Anniversary/Birthday Celebration
(Horry County; 2020 pop. 4,580). This popular resort town lies south of Myrtle Beach along South Carolina’s Grand Strand. The area was originally part of a rice plantation called “The Ark” by its owner John M. Tillman. The 1850 census valued the 3,200 acres, with its one and one-half miles of oceanfront, at $5,000. After Tillman’s death in 1865, the tract passed to the Roach family and was variously known as Roach’s Beach and Ark Beach. Until well into the twentieth century, local farmers came in covered wagons to camp among the dunes, fish, and enjoy the surf.
In the 1920s the property was acquired by George J. Holliday of Galivants Ferry. He renamed it Floral Beach to honor his wife, Flora. The Hollidays built a pavilion, a general store, and a few small rental cottages for summer visitors. Later a fishing pier was built. Little more was done to promote Floral Beach, however, and the area languished until the early 1950s.
In 1952 local investors including James Calhoun, Craig Wall, Ervin E. Dargan, and Collins Spivey purchased most of the original property, including a tract owned by the Burroughs family, for about $200,000. The new owners renamed the property Surfside Beach after a Florida town. In 1954 Hurricane Hazel caused significant damage to many Surfside residences, but the area was spared general devastation.
By the early 1960s the development of Surfside Beach was under way in earnest. The developers planned a mixed community of middle-class permanent residents and mostly single family resort housing for tourists. Growth increased the need for municipal services, and Surfside Beach was incorporated on March 14, 1964, with T. J. Harrison as mayor. City government wisely acted to limit housing density and commercial sprawl, avoiding some problems encountered by less prudent resort communities.
The 1970s and 1980s witnessed unprecedented growth. Although a few large hotels were constructed, single family units remained the norm. Commercial development flourished along U.S. Highway 17 parallel to the coast. As Surfside became a popular retirement destination, the influx of population from the North and the Midwest caused ripples in local politics. Nevertheless, Surfside’s mayors and councils typically acted with wisdom and foresight in balancing growth with conservation. For example, a beautiful park graces the center of Surfside, and the town boasts magnificent live oaks well over a century old.
In 1989 Hurricane Hugo slammed into Surfside, causing major damage to hundreds of buildings. Cleanup and repairs disrupted the community for months. The storm accelerated drainage problems and beach erosion. In the early 1990s Surfside expanded the city’s storm water system, although drainage problems remain. A comprehensive beach renourishment program was undertaken in 1998 and 1999. But lost sand can be replaced more easily than lost culture. By the late 1990s much of Surfside’s architectural appeal had been sacrificed by developers who replaced charming, eclectic beach homes with monotonous tract housing.
Lewis, Catherine H. Horry County, South Carolina, 1730–1993. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1998. Written by Eldred E. Prince, Jr.