Longtime Surfside Beach residents share memories of town

akelley@thesunnews.comMarch 13, 2014 

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— Molly Owens and her daughter Teresa Thompson remember Surfside Beach before it was a town.

Owens moved into her home on South Hollywood Drive in the 1950s.

Ahead of Surfside Beach’s 50th anniversary, Owens said she thinks incorporation was the best thing to happen on The Family Beach – a name earned by the town’s family friendly reputation.

The town is holding a 5 p.m. ceremony Friday at the Surfside Beach Library, the first of several events planned this year to commemorate the anniversary – which is Saturday.

Though the Surfside Beach Pier – first constructed in 1953 – was up when Owens moved in, she said there was little else.

“It wasn’t a town,” the 91-year-old said with a laugh.

Owens and her husband purchased their lot on South Hollywood Drive for $360 in 1953.

“You could buy a lot down there for $900 on the oceanfront,” she said, explaining that the land wasn’t valuable to many in Horry County because the salty earth wasn’t the best soil for farming.

Thompson, 74, and her husband paid $7,000 for their lot and home a couple doors down on South Hollywood Drive about 55 years ago.

“I think the beach was what made this place get so popular,” Thompson said. “But, [at first] there really wasn’t anyone here. It was all woods. … For years we had to go to Myrtle Beach for everything.”

Anna Johnson said that was largely still the case when she and her husband, Dick Johnson, moved to Surfside Beach in the 1970s.

Dick Johnson eventually became mayor, a role he held for nearly 14 years, but his wife said he grew up on Dick Pond Road not far from Surfside Beach in the 1940s. It was her husband and the couple’s children who convinced Anna Johnson to move to South Carolina from Washington, D.C., in 1969.

For two years they owned and operated a motel in Myrtle Beach, where they lived on site, before heading farther south to Surfside Beach.

“It’s nice living,” Johnson said of Surfside Beach. “You don’t have to fight the winters either – most of the time. This winter is unusual; [back then] it was slower living.”

Johnson said she had to adjust.

“We just moved from Washington, D.C. where they had a shopping center about every five minutes,” she said. “[Surfside Beach] had a little grocery store on Surfside Drive where you could pick up, but you wouldn’t want to go there and buy a whole set of groceries because it was more expensive. You had to go to Myrtle Beach to grocery shop. And if you wanted to do much [clothing] shopping, you had to go to Florence or Charleston.”

Now, there are two grocery stores in town limits in addition to drugstores, a water park and several restaurants, consignment and specialty shops.

Owens said she wasn’t surprised to see the town blossom with development.

“See, Garden City was a lot older than Surfside and it was growing, so that was an indicator,” she said.

But, that didn’t stop friends and family from asking why she would choose to live in the quiet beach town.

“That was the first thing anybody would say,” she said. “They’d say, ‘You’ve got to pay more taxes.’”

Owens said being close to the beach with the comfort of things like garbage pickup and police protection that came with incorporation was enough incentive to pay the extra cash.

“I hope I can die here,” she said. “I plan on it anyway. I feel safe. I really and truly feel safe here.”

Neither Thompson nor Johnson have plans of leaving, either, though both have thoughts about the town’s continued growth over the next 50 years.

Johnson said she hopes Surfside Beach always remains “The Family Beach,” because “there isn’t much left for families.”

Thompson said she wouldn’t be surprised if the business district on Surfside Drive expanded or encompassed the entire roadway, but she doesn’t expect it to happen in her lifetime. She said she hopes landmarks such as the Surfside Beach Pier, and the A-frame church between North Cedar Drive, North Cherry Drive and Second Avenue North remain standing.

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381, or follow her at Twitter.com/TSN_akelley.

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