A month or so ago, I received an email from the Senior Planner for Horry County, Adam Emrick, telling me that he really liked what I was doing with US 17 Coastal Highway – but that I seemed to be neglecting Horry County. I love hearing from folks about Highway 17, and truthfully – I really appreciate hearing when I’ve neglected something and then the person generously agrees to share with me what I’ve been missing (my apologies in advance to all of Florida and to some parts of Georgia – I promise to get down that way soon!)
What I’ve learned from Adam Emrick is that I was missing a lot – and that I was only noticing the exotic miniature golf courses and the giant crabs along Highway 17 in Horry County, and that I wasn’t noticing the history. Adam has changed my view of this quite a bit, and if I had to guess, over the next few years he’ll be changing what you see too. For example, did you know that the only remaining unpaved sections of the original Kings Highway are in Horry County? I sure didn’t, and I consider the Kings Highway an amazing legacy handed down to Highway 17. So I’d like to thank Adam for getting in touch with me, and for sharing some of what he feels is special about Highway 17 with our readers. I think we’ll be hearing more from him in the future – at least I hope so.
(All of the images posted were provided by Adam Emrick, and were posted here with his permission).
US 17: I have to start by thanking you for contacting me, and nudging me to start looking at the Highway 17 corridor in Horry County, South Carolina more closely. So, as a place to start – please tell us a bit about yourself, and about your involvement in preserving the history of Horry County.
Adam Emrick: In 2007 I was hired as a Senior Planner by Horry County, South Carolina (The “H” in Horry is silent and is pronounce O-Ree), the home of The Grand Strand, which includes Myrtle Beach, North Myrtle Beach, Surfside Beach and Garden City Beach. My role is in Long Range Planning, with a principal focus on historic preservation. Horry County is the only county in South Carolina that is a Certified Local Government (CLG), meaning we are the only county in the state that has the ability to preserve history at the local level.
The primary area of attention for Horry County is the beach, which sees nearly 15 million tourists each year. History is often overlooked, and as such, in danger of disappearing.
US 17: I know that one project you are working on is the Kings Highway Project, where you are documenting and preserving sections of the original unpaved Kings Highway that George Washington traveled upon on his 1791 Southern Tour. Would you share with us your plans for this project?
Adam Emrick: We are very fortunate to have any of the original unpaved portions of the Kings Highway remaining intact. The Kings Highway runs/ran from Boston, Massachusetts to Charleston, South Carolina and was completed in 1735. The purpose of the highway was to provide a continuous wagon road linking the east coast of the United States. Many sections of the roadway followed existing Native American pathways. U.S. 17 would eventually follow much of the already existing Kings Highway.
The first priority in the Kings Highway Project is to preserve those intact sections, protecting them from future development. The northernmost section is located in Little River, one of the oldest settlements in the County, dating to the late 1600s. This portion of the roadway is located in Vereen Memorial and Historical Gardens, a public park that fronts the salt marsh and the Intracoastal Waterway. With boardwalks and scenic views, this park is one of the most beautiful places along our coast. The original Kings Highway passes through the park. There are several improvements that need to made as step one, though. The first will be to move a fence and some small structures that are too close to the roadway so that the road is more clearly distinguishable and better preserved. Portions of the roadway are still visible extending toward the state border with North Carolina. These sections are on private property so the next step will be to coordinate with these land owners on protecting and promoting the historical importance of the highway.
The second section of roadway is located in the Meher Baba Spiritual Center. The Center is located in more than 50 acres of pristine maritime forest located just south of North Myrtle Beach on the oceanfront. Land for the Center was acquired and donated by Elizabeth Chapin Patterson in 1944 to be used as a spiritual center in perpetuity. As such, the land for the center is largely undisturbed.
The final piece of the Kings Highway Project will be to attempt to mark the entire path of Kings Highway through the County using small sign badges. Following the original Kings Highway will largely be accomplished by following US 17 through the County along the coast, with several very scenic detours along the way.
US 17: I’ve been following the Facebook page you administer, Horry County Board of Architectural Review and Historic Preservation (HCBAR), for a while now. You state the mission of HCBAR to “document and protect the heritage of Horry County by recognizing significant historical sites and creating Historic Preservation Districts”. What are the districts being created, and what is their significance?
Adam Emrick: Preservation at the County level is very different from that at any other level and as I mentioned we are unique in our efforts at least for the State of South Carolina. Most historic districts are your traditional downtowns or early urban neighborhoods. Horry County has two National Register Districts: Galivants Ferry and Socastee. These districts both center on water bodies, Galivants Ferry on the Little Pee Dee River and Socastee on the Intracoastal Waterway.
What we have focused the majority of our efforts upon is the local preservation of individual properties throughout the County. Horry County is the second largest county east of the Mississippi River and larger than the State of Rhode Island. Horry County is also both urban and rural. The beach areas are urban and have a higher density of housing and commercial structures much as you would expect of any urban area. The rural areas are also very typical of farming/agricultural related communities. But the areas of concentrated historic properties are located within existing municipalities, subject to their own jurisdictional authority. This leaves the outlying areas of both the rural and urban areas for our preservation efforts.
We currently have 190 individual properties listed on the Horry County Historic Property Register. These properties are designated as historic at the County level and they are protected from demolition or alteration by evaluation of the Board of Architectural Review. However, we have a long way to go, as there are an estimated 3,000 potentially historic properties in the unincorporated County jurisdiction.
US 17: So – if someone interested in history was driving on Highway 17 in Horry County, what sites along the highway would you want to point out to them? What is not known about the Highway 17 corridor in Horry County that you wish visitors knew more about?
Adam Emrick: If you are driving through Horry County on Highway 17, you will pass through five different cities, each with their own history, each with their own stories to tell, each with their own fantastic beaches and shorelines only steps away from where you will be sitting in your car. You will pass by nine piers, giant crabs, scores of historic and endangered hotels, an oceanfront State Park, an oceanfront spiritual center, at least four Wal-Marts, seemingly a million chain restaurants and a lot of really fantastic mom and pop ones, too.
You will drive by the site of the Ocean Forest Hotel which, regrettably, met its demise in the 1970s, but in its heyday was known as “South Carolina’s Statue of Liberty.” You will also drive passed a number of hotels, deemed to be of a style known as populuxe, due to their ornate, concrete designs. These hotels are a dying breed of ocean front and second row properties in Myrtle Beach.
One of the most unique aspects of Horry County is its seclusion for most of its life. Horry County is surrounded on three sides by water and was accessible by land only from North Carolina. A series of ferries, gave way to bridges in the early to mid 1900s. This seclusion resulted in Horry County being settled by a mostly ragtag group. It also earned Horry the nickname of the Independent Republic of Horry, a moniker still used today.
Today, Horry County is one of the fastest growing areas in the country. Really low taxes, great weather and miles of beaches, make Horry a paradise for retirees and families, alike. US 17 serves as the primary north/south roadway through the entire county.
US 17: Sometimes I think to myself ‘why am I spending all of this time slowly documenting a highway?” I’m not a historian – I’ve just always loved road trips and I love back roads. As a historian, why do you think our roadways are so important to us? Why should preserving their character and uniqueness be a priority? My dream is to turn all of Highway 17 from Winchester, VA to Punta Gorda, FL into a heritage corridor. Now how amazing would that be?
Adam Emrick: Very amazing, and count us in!
Areas develop for different reasons. A railroad could spur the building of a post office and country store. The post office and store could spur the development of a farming trade center, which spurs the development of several houses, which eventually leads to the development of a town, then a village, then a city.
A road can do the same thing in a much greater fashion. The old Kings Highway allowed for travelers to follow an improved and established roadway for hundreds of miles. These travelers needed places to rest along their journey and this gave rise to many of the cities that now dot Highway 17. And Highway 17 in Horry County has become one city after another to the point where cities now intersect through much of the pathway. Eventually, these cities will grow to the point where the entire Highway 17 Corridor, in Horry County at least, will be one constant developed metropolitan area, all beachfront and all developed to serve the traveler on Highway 17. The type of service will have changed greatly, from a bed for the night and water for your horse to a boogie board, fireworks and a cheap t-shirt, but the intent is the same.
Different roads will breed different development. Development along Highway 17 in Horry County might be of a unique and singular style, however, the vernacular of Highway 17 has really never changed, just grown.
I would like to thank Adam Emrick for his generosity in sharing this information with US 17 Coastal Highway – I hope that it makes all of you think of Horry County a bit differently (as it did for me). And I’m definitely ‘counting him in’ my daydream of making Highway 17 a Heritage Corridor. Thanks Adam!