Jenean Neilsen Todd, director of the North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum, said this new enterprise has developed from a trade the city of North Myrtle Beach made with Horry County, in giving land for the latter’s new, larger library branch that opened in summer 2011 on First Avenue South when it was relocated from a site on Second Avenue North. That was then dedicated solely for museum use.
“What a marvelous gift to have given the community,” Todd said, calling herself, “a re-user, and this building is the ultimate re-use.”
Todd said this project “began as a vision” in March 2005 with Dick Hester, a former North Myrtle Beach mayor, and the museum chairman. She said meeting him her first time last year, they talked about this museum idea “nonstop for four hours” and wanted to help make the next big step from several years of an all-volunteer board meeting twice a month.
Getting more involved, Todd related to her recent retiring from 25 years in a leadership role at the Cape Fear Museum in Wilmington, and how museums in general manage budgets on “a shoestring.”
North Myrtle Beach museum coordinators have corralling donations of 1,000 artifacts and goods, Todd said, amazed at the accumulation.
She explained that most museums “have only 5 percent of their collection on exhibit, so temporary displays rotate things in and out regularly.”
Swimsuits and T-shirts
With the joy that might equal a child opening an Easter basket full of goodies, Todd gave an overview of some wares that will help define part of the fabric in North Myrtle Beach history.
For instance, some never-worn, late-1950s women’s swimsuits from an old shop “right on Ocean Boulevard, at Main Street “are absolutely beautiful,” she said, with their $10.95 price tags intact.
“Certainly, ladies wouldn’t be seen in them today,” Todd said, “but for the time, they were very fashionable.”
Another collection showcases sea shells that a local real estate agent began gathering at age 9 on family trips to the Grand Strand. Checking field guides each year for identifying each shell sparked a hobby that grew through the years to more than 200 types of finds, and a donation to the museum, all begun with a first shell brought home.
“Some of the shells are so small,” Todd said, “you want to be able to get closer to see them.”
She cited the S.C. state dance, the shag, as part of North Myrtle Beach’s own identity and sound, of course, and the surprise at learning of the Ocean Drive Cloggers’ heyday.
“We have a pair of shoes, and the bag they were carried in,” Todd said, eager to give such dancers’ costumes another bow before people’s eyes.
T-shirts form another bonus Todd has found in helping spearhead this museum’s launch.
“We’re a very casual T-shirt-oriented society,” she said. “The beach stores sell them in all kinds, and when you participate in an event, you get a T-shirt.”
A shag fan from Edisto Beach donated a mass of T-shirts, all stitched on a quilt received last month.
“It chronicles shag events across the state on one side, then photos of local beach clubs on the other side.”
Todd said every day in such a museum is different and that everything acquired is handled gently with gloves.
“Once it comes here, it becomes an artifact,” she said. “They’re all special. They’ve occupied a space in someone’s life, and each item has a story.”
The museum also “received quite a collection of tools, which people don’t associate with the beach,” Todd said, but it reflects some roots of living here.
Team effort to open
Todd said she moved to North Myrtle Beach for a reason: “I love it,” living a mile from her workplace and praising local city and county officials for making the museum pan out.
Having vacationed with family in Myrtle Beach for 15 years, the suburban Raleigh native remarked how much of this area “has changed just in the last 30 years.”
“It’s not always hurricanes that change the community,” she said, citing “the influx of new residents. One of the things I want visitors to the community to understand is that when they come down, they love the beach, they enjoy the restaurants and the environment and different attractions here, and they leave.
“They also might not realize there is a community of people who live here, get their kids to school, go to work, go to church and are active in civic groups. They are the ones who rebuild after a hurricane.”
Bob Cavanaugh, a city councilman and the museum’s vice chairman, also tipped his hat to Hester, with whom he agreed on the museum’s potential and value.
Cavanaugh remembered in election campaigning, folks telling him of their “boxes of stuff,” and some showing photos of the area before and after Hurricane Hazel, from 1954. He also has kept the historical perspective of North Myrtle Beach “as a relatively new city.”
The city exchanging sites with the county for a newer, improved county library branch, he said, marked “a joint effort” that enhanced the city, also solving “one of the biggest problems” because building a home for the museum would’ve required a “major undertaking.”
The teamwork that has arisen in filling this museum also pleases Cavanaugh, crediting Tidewater Golf Club officials for relaying artifacts for an exhibit he said will shed some light on “the earliest settlers in this area.”
He said “a lot of interesting things” will reflect well of “a young city” in an economic tourism effort through a museum that not only brings vacationers to the beach, but educates them with something to do “off the beach,” another way for families to spend quality time.
Noting how her husband’s “main mode of transportation” shifts to a golf cart for summer, Todd said, “I like to say the North Myrtle Beach Area Historical Museum is collecting history, one story at a time.”