Around mid to late January the romance of early season snow and hot drinks around warm fireplaces begins to fade. It is replaced by gray, sunless skies, bone chilling cold and depression.
The fortunate few, with extra time and money, catch planes for warmer climates, but what about us working stiffs with limited time and budgets? With you in mind our publisher and I recently previewed a weekend trip to Georgetown County, South Carolina.
You probably know all about Myrtle Beach, Charleston, and Hilton Head, which is why we picked a lesser known county that many of you only pass through on Hwy 17 between Myrtle Beach and Charleston.
[dropcap]I[/dropcap]If you don’t turn off Highway 17 in Georgetown, it’s a pretty nondescript town with the normal collection of gas stations, convenience stores, and fast food joints to serve the passing travelers. But if you head downtown to Front Street, you find an historic seaport and more Pre-Revolutionary War buildings still standing than in Charleston or Williamsburg.
The locals claim that the history of Georgetown began in 1526 as a Spanish Outpost on Winyah Bay. This would make it older than St. Augustine by almost 40 years, but the settlement only lasted six months and no remains have ever been located.
Permanent settlement began with the English in 1710 when a trading post was established on the Black River. Georgetown itself was founded in 1729 making it the third oldest city in South Carolina after Charleston and Beaufort. By 1732 it became an official port of entry, meaning that exports or imports could be loaded or unloaded directly in Georgetown without having to pass through Charleston and pay extra duties. The town boomed as a result.
Indigo and rice were major crops. By 1840 almost half the rice consumed in the United States was grown on the plantations around Georgetown. Both these crops were incredibly labor intensive with slaves comprising 85% of the population of Georgetown County before the Civil War. The emancipation of the slaves led to the total collapse of rice cultivation. Social, political, and economic upheaval led to hard times with many old Georgetown families becoming land wealthy, but cash poor. Today’s Georgetown economy is driven by tourism, retirees, health care, commercial fishing, and manufacturing.
Georgetown’s historic Front Street was rocked by a fire in September 2013 that burned seven buildings, putting 130 people out of work and displacing 13 residents. While the City and property owners are still working on rebuilding plans, the good news is that seven of the eight affected businesses have relocated to new locations downtown. The Historic District is vibrant with twelve restaurants and a thirteenth set to open. The town is bustling with shops and museums. Despite the fire, a boardwalk and docks still allows you to walk the length of Front Street along the Sampit River. The river is part of the Intracoastal Waterway making Georgetown a favorite stop for cruisers and sailors on their way to and from Florida.
Things to Do
>Kaminski House Museum
If you follow the Harborwalk west along Front Street, you dead end into the Kaminski House Museum, nestled under massive oaks on the banks of the Sampit River. Marcia Kaminski greets us at the door. Her uncle and aunt bought the house in 1931. A bundle of energy, she has to be at a meeting in 30 minutes. She gives us a quick tour of the downstairs, rattling off a detailed history of every antique and painting, before handing us off to house docent, Sue Hess, for a more leisurely conclusion to the tour.
The house was built around 1769 just prior to the American Revolutionary War by Paul Trapier, a leading Georgetown merchant. Unlike many other homes, including the Stewart Parker house next door that face the river, Trapier turned his home 90 degrees to the river to capture the breezes along the front porch that runs the length of the house. Over the years the house has had multiple occupants including three mayors of Georgetown. The house has had a mind boggling fourteen owners and at least three expansions between 1855 and 1931 until it was bought by Harold and Julia Kaminski.
Julia Bossard Pyatt was born on February 27, 1900, into a highly regarded Episcopalian family with deep roots in Georgetown plantation history. Harold Kaminski was from an equally established Jewish family. They got married in 1925.
Harold and Julia lived in the home while he served as Georgetown Mayor (from 1930-1935) and retained it while he served in Hawaii during the Second World War (from 1940-1945). Harold was the duty officer that fateful day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Harold died in 1953, but in between her world travels Julia lived in the house until her death in 1972. Her will bequeathed the house as a museum to the City of Georgetown.
The house contains an outstanding collection of 18th and 19th century English and American decorative arts and furnishings, many of them reportedly obtained by barter from planter families in the area.
1003 Front Street, Georgetown
>Swamp Fox Tour
This one-hour narrated tram tour of the historic district of Georgetown drives by early homes and public buildings and visits one of Georgetown’s historic churches.
Departs from Bienvenue Home, 814 Front Street, Georgetown
>Shelling, Lighthouse, or Plantation Tours
Guests have the option of two different three-hour daytime tours or a two-hour evening Harbor Tour departing from the Georgetown Historic Waterfront.
>Georgetown County Museum
This museum houses 300 years of Georgetown American history.
120 Broad Street, Georgetown
A plantation tour that features the birthplace of Thomas Lynch, Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The home was built in 1735 and was the residence of just five families over nearly three centuries. Lunch or Southern Tea is also available on site.
494 Hopsewee Road, Georgetown
>South Carolina Maritime Museum
The museum offers South Carolina maritime historic displays, including the lens from the historic Georgetown lighthouse.
729 Front Street, Georgetown
Guests can experience two-hour mansion and plantation tours of this 16,000-acre wildlife preserve. The property includes a Discovery Center with a 1,200-gallon aquarium showcasing fish native to the area and is open by reservation only.
The story of rice plantations around Georgetown is revealed through an extensive collection of maps, photographs, and exhibits, including the remains of an 18th century cargo ship. The museum is located in the Old Market Building.
633 Front Street, Georgetown
Where to Stay
>Mansfield Plantation Bed & Breakfast
If you are looking for a Western North Carolina connection, this is it. Mansfield is owned by Asheville’s Skyland Automotive Inc. dealer, John Rutledge Parker, and his wife, Sallie Middleton, Jr. He is a descendent of the original Parker family owners that were granted a 500-acre plot of land just outside bustling Georgetown in 1718. Today, Mansfield Plantation encompasses nearly 1,000 acres on the banks of the Black River. It is widely recognized as one of the most well preserved antebellum rice plantations in the United States. It is a fully operational bed and breakfast, and the venue is also available for private events and corporate retreats.
1776 Mansfield Road, Georgetown
>Keith House Bed & Breakfast
This house is a circa 1825 home in the Historic District that was the home of a former Georgetown mayor and has since been converted to an inn. Full service breakfast and complimentary evening refreshments are available for guests.
1012 Front Street, Georgetown
Where to Eat
>Seven Hundred Modern Grill+bar
Peter Scalise was about 60 days into his new waterfront restaurant, Zest, when the September 2013 fire burned it to the ground. The building was gone by 10am, but by 11am the intrepid Scalise and his business partner, John Cranston, were drawing up a lease for the replacement restaurant in the 900 block of Front Street. They named it Seven Hundred Modern Grill+Bar as a tribute to the block that burned. Their American flag style logo has seven stripes representing the businesses that burned and a star for their sushi chef that died shortly after the fire.
It’s a comfortable casual place with indoor and outdoor seating. The fare is an eclectic mix of salads, burgers, sandwiches, and an extensive, tasty sushi menu in an area where few sushi options exist.
916 Front Street, Georgetown
This is one of the few waterfront options left after the fire, offering a vintage local lowcountry seafood menu.
801 Front Street, Georgetown
This fine dining restaurant serves locally-sourced ingredients and the local favorites—rack of lamb and crab cakes.
732 Front Street, Georgetown
Nobody enjoys outdoor dining more than the Italians. With both outdoor and covered alley dining, Alfresco Bistro has more outdoor tables than in. You can’t miss the bright yellow Front Street storefront where Chef Eddy Chacon and Lisa Hawes have established one of the best Italian and seafood bistros on the South Carolina coast. The day we dined outside for lunch I feasted on succulent ravioli with shrimp and a lobster cream sauce, while my companion enjoyed a wedge salad topped with grilled shrimp.
812 Front Street, Georgetown
>Big Tuna Raw Bar
With waterfront, shabby, rustic dining, standouts at this restaurant include she-crab soup, tuna tar tar, shrimp and grits, and great grouper sandwiches.
717 Front Street, Georgetown
Pawleys Island, Litchfield, Murrells Inlet, Garden City
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen you have had your fill of rice plantation history, you’ll find out why Georgetown County markets itself as South Carolina’s Hammock Coast. The county encompasses over 40 miles of beaches between Charleston and Myrtle Beach. Pawleys Island, Litchfield Beach, Murrells Inlet, and Garden City all have their own distinct personalities.
In the prosperous days before the Civil War, nearby plantation owners and their families escaped the summer heat and enjoyed the breezes on the coastal islands of Georgetown County.
Pawleys Island is the least commercial of the beaches with its main residential streets (Myrtle and Atlantic Avenues) connected to the shops and restaurants on Highway 17 by North and South Causeway Road. With the exception of the Sea View Inn, accommodations on this sandy, breezy beach island are typically home, cottage, and condo rentals. The far southern end of the island has a parking lot and beach access and offers spectacular sunrises for the early morning coffee and dog walking crowd.
One island further north takes you to Litchfield Beach, named after the inland Litchfield Plantation that still functions as a bed and breakfast and wedding venue. For people wanting a gated resort atmosphere with dining and recreation amenities, the Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort will give you an upscale, full service experience compared to the more casual residential feeling on Pawleys Island.
Murrells Inlet bills itself as the “Seafood Capital of the World.” In a mere 3.5-mile strip, you find over 100 restaurants with many of them serving local, fresh seafood right off the boat.
The highlight of Garden City is a classic old fishing pier that takes you back to childhood vacations at the beach.
Things to Do
After the Civil War many of the rice plantations along the banks of the Waccamaw River fell dormant and were abandoned. In 1930 the son of a railroad magnate, Archer Milton Huntington, and his wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington, purchased and combined four plantations comprising 9,100 acres into a summer home and sculpture garden to display works by Anna and her sister, Harriett.
They opened Brookgreen Gardens to the public in 1932 and it remains privately held in a trust and managed by a board of trustees. Today, 300,000 annual guests make it one of the largest visitor attractions on the South Carolina Grand Strand.
On our visit we were greeted by Bill Cepp, who retired to the beach, got bored, and took a part-time job as a shuttle driver for Brookgreen Gardens nine and a half years ago. Today, he works full-time in guest services management.
From the visitor center Bill led us through old moss covered oaks on the original driveway to the estate. The plantation house burned in 1901 and a more modern structure was removed because it had no historical significance. The footprint of the old plantation house is now the primary water reservoir for the entire estate. The only original building left is the plantation’s outdoor kitchen, which today serves as the snack bar.
To the left of the reservoir, a butterfly shaped sculpture garden has been built on top of the formal gardens of the original estate. In those original gardens and subsequent expansions, you can find 1,400 works from more than 350 sculptors…the largest comprehensive collection of figurative sculpture in an outdoor setting by American artists in the country.
When New York sculptor Richard McDermott Miller died in 2004, he left the contents of his studio to Brookgreen Gardens. A Sculpture Learning and Research Center has been built to house his 400 pieces and other indoor sculptures.
You can also walk beyond the walls of the old plantation to the viewing stand on Brookgreen Creek that runs north into the Waccamaw River. Natural wildlife abounds. On the grounds you can also visit The Lowcountry Zoo, the only accredited zoo on the Carolina’s coast.
1931 Brookgreen Dr, Murrells Inlet
Built by the Huntington’s as their summer retreat on 2,000 acres, Atalaya Castle is across today’s Highway 17 from Brookgreen Gardens in what is now the state operated Huntington Beach State Park. A separate admission is required. Huntington Beach State Park also has great campgrounds just steps away from a stunning beach that is less crowded than other beaches in the area.
16148 Ocean Hwy, Murrells Inlet
>The Pier at Garden City
You enter through the game room and snack bar and emerge on a 668-foot-long fishing pier with a covered bar, rain shelter, and bandstand at the end. Unless you are fishing there is no charge to walk the pier and check out the catch. The Pieradise Café and the bar at the end of the pier is unfortunately closed in the winter because their seating is outdoors, but on a warmer winter’s day the pier is still a great place to check out the ocean.
S. Waccamaw Dr, Garden City Beach
No trip to Georgetown County is complete without a round or two on a spectacular golf course. The Waccamaw Golf Trail brings together eleven unique courses, including three that at one time or another have been ranked by Golf Digest in “America’s Top 100 Public Courses” (Caledonia, True Blue, and Pawleys Plantation). For golf lessons see Mel Sole Golf School below.
>Crazy Sister Marina
Here in Murrells Inlet you’ll find access to fishing, boating, jet skis, kayaking, paddleboarding, parasailing, and other water adventures. (See our companion Capital Adventurist feature on page 86 of this issue for more outdoor options.)
4123 Business Hwy 17, Murrells Inlet
Shop and stroll through these clapboard style cottages that house over twenty different shops and restaurants. Hammock weaving and sweetgrass basket making demonstrations are done daily.
10880 Ocean Hwy, Pawleys Island
Where to Stay
>Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club
With a signature Jack Nicklaus designed golf course set amidst 200-year-old, moss-draped oaks, this is an excellent home base for a Georgetown County golfing vacation. Accommodations range from standard rooms in the main complex to multiple bedroom golf course villas that can accommodate your entire party with all the comforts of home. Amenities include an outdoor pool, tennis courts, a fitness room, bike rentals, and a casual pub serving lunch and dinner.
70 Tanglewood Drive, Pawleys Island
Pawleys Plantation also offers the Mel Sole Golf School which is widely considered one of the best golf teaching programs in the country, having been ranked as a “Top 25 USA Golf School” by Golf Magazine every year since 1999.
680 Pawleys Plantation Rd, Pawleys Island
>Litchfield Plantation Beach & Golf Resort
If you want a family or romantic vacation that lets you combine golf, tennis, the beach, a marina, a spa, and resort dining in gated privacy, Litchfield is a highly-rated option. You can choose between a suite in the old plantation house, the guest house, a cottage, or a villa.
14276 Ocean Hwy, Pawleys Island
>The Inlet Sports Lodge
This intimate 34-room boutique hotel just one mile south of the Marshwalk in Murrell’s Inlet is another great choice for a golfing vacation. Upscale dining is available onsite in the Bliss Restaurant and Lounge.
4600 Hwy 17 Business, Murrells Inlet
>Sea View Inn
For a casual, non-commercial, ocean-front experience right on Pawleys Island, look to the Sea View Inn that has been pleasing guests since 1937. Reflecting beach vacations from a quieter era, the inn serves three full meals a day and offers just 20 rustic rooms on this quarter-mile-wide island, with ocean on one side and salt marsh on the other.
414 Myrtle Ave, Pawleys Island
Where to Eat
On The Marshwalk >
Locals in the area frequently refer to the region as “elegantly shabby,” which is personified by The Marshwalk in Murrells Inlet. Starting in 2007, property owners banded together to build a boardwalk linking their properties, many of them old homes converted into restaurants. The boardwalk looks out onto Goat Island with its goat and peacock population. The boardwalk also links to the rebuilt Veterans Pier that was a Crash Boat Station during the Second World War in a time when German U-Boats were active off the Carolina coast. There are lots of fun rumors about submarines off Myrtle Beach and Murrells Inlet, but the closest U-Boat wreckage was found near Cape Hatteras in North Carolina.
Today, seven different restaurants under multiple owners, employing 800 people in the season, work together to position Marshwalk to tourists and locals alike. Events include Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day, and a Small Plate Crawl called “Taste of The Marshwalk” both in fall and this winter on February 7th and 8th. On February 17th (Fat Tuesday) you can look forward to “Marshi Gras on Marshwalk” with music, beads, and party favors. A key part of the success of Marshwalk is that all seven restaurants use identical glasses so you can carry your libations with you along the entire boardwalk anytime they are open.
Managing partner, David McMillan, greeted us at the door. Starting as a kitchen manager over 30 years ago, he’s been a driving force for both Drunken Jacks and Marshwalk. The restaurant level comprises 140 seats with a larger bar area and outdoor deck below. With seafood being sourced locally just down the boardwalk, I ordered fabulously fresh yellow fin tuna, perfectly grilled medium rare, while my companion went for the fried grouper, with both dishes served with a really tasty succotash.
4031 Hwy 17 Business, Murrells Inlet
>Capt Dave’s Dock Side
This is one of the oldest restaurants in Murrells Inlet with the original building opening in 1975. The current, much larger restaurant was built on the same location in 2006, and the restaurant expanded its menu by adding more sautéed and grilled items. Casual, waterfront dining in a relaxed, classic Southern Florida style is how this restaurant positions itself. We chose to dine inside by the window rather than on the outdoor deck. I went for the classic fried seafood platter of shrimp, oysters, scallops, and a massive piece of flounder with crispy French fries…don’t tell my doctor. My dining companions both opted for a more sophisticated special of blackened grouper over grits. Service was top notch with the general manager, Russell Greene, and his team checking on us regularly.
4037 Hwy 17 Business, Murrells Inlet
Other restaurants in Marshwalk include: Bovines, Wahoo’s Fish House, Dead Dog Saloon, Creek Ratz, and Wicked Tuna.
Along the Georgetown County Coast >
This bistro offers the fine dining options of seafood, steak, and pasta in the heart of Pawleys Island. Lunch and dinner are served either indoors or under a covered patio outside.
10707 Ocean Hwy, Pawleys Island
>Franks Restaurant and Bar
This upscale American, Mediterranean, and Continental restaurant is a locals’ favorite, featuring brick oven pizza and indoor and outdoor dining.
10434 Ocean Hwy, Pawleys Island
>The Grilled Cheese & Crab Cake Company
Fabulous food can be found hidden away in a strip mall that is perfect for a casual lunch or early dinner. Patrons can find soups, grilled cheese, seafood sandwiches, and burgers on the menu.
2520 Hwy 17, Oasis Plaza, Garden City
>Quigley’s Pint and Plate
This gastropub dining restaurant offers food that is inspired by the lowcountry and served in an English pub atmosphere, with fresh brewed ales and lagers.
257 Willbrook Blvd, Pawleys Island
South Carolina Restaurant Week:
If you visit in mid-January, you will be able to enjoy all the specials associated with South Carolina Restaurant Week, from January 8-18.
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